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Learn to Love: Breathing Both Ways

Have I mentioned lately that I love swimming and that it feels like I am dancing a duet with the water? Another thing to love when it comes to swimming is breathing to both sides – it is really helpful if you are swimming for exercise. I know trying to breathe on the side you aren't used to feels extremely awkward and uncomfortable, but in the long run it is well worth conquering the skill of bilateral breathing.

The benefits of breathing to both sides might just convince you to try it, and they are:

  1. Balancing out your stroke, so you are not working out lopsided.
  2. Building symmetrical musculature on your back and arms (asymmetrical strength can lead to over use injuries).
  3. Easing neck pain from always rotating to just one side.
  4. If you swim in open water (as you would in a triathlon), you will be able to check for landmarks, avoid splashes from other swimmers as well as waves.

So next time you are swimming laps, practice breathing to the other side - once you are in the pool you will know immediately which side that is.

To see a few drills you can use to practice your bilateral breathing,


Here are a few approaches to the learning process:

  • Breathe to your right side for one length of pool and to your left as you swim back. This way you can still breathe in all the oxygen you need but still develop a symmetrical stroke.
  • Breathe to your weaker side on warm-ups and cool-downs.
  • Experiment with three breaths to the left, then three to the right and you will have it down.
  • When you feel comfortable try breathing every five strokes to work on stroke and breathing efficiency.

Fit's Tip: I remember when I was learning this skill, it felt almost like I was drowning. Pay attention to how it feels to breathe on your usual side and try to re-create that feeling on the other side. Most days I cannot remember which one side I used to breathe on.


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