Tips for Bilateral Breathing During the Freestyle
“Swimming is the only sport I can think of during which there are moments you are unable to breathe even if you want to.” -Alex Kostich
Let’s be real: Getting water up your nose while swimming sucks.
However, breathing underwater while freestyle swimming doesn’t exactly come as naturally as breathing on land. Swimming is a unique sport for the simple fact that you can’t breathe whenever you want to (not comfortably, anyway), which is why learning bilateral breathing is key.
Once you understand the fundamentals, you can reserve your focus on your technique — and have more fun while doing so! Let’s dive in.
Tips For Bilateral Breathing
Oddly enough, most of us have the instinct to hold our breath when we’re underwater. The irony is that getting a consistent source of oxygen is essential to a fast, efficient swim. When we hold our breath, our brain begins to alert our body that we need oxygen, which detracts from your ability to focus on the stroke.
The first key to mastering your breath is finding the proper body position. For the freestyle, your body should be horizontal, with your face parallel to the bottom of the pool. Make sure your hairline is aligned with the water’s surface. Keeping your body flat and level will help you move faster through the water.
According to CA swim instructor Carl Barr, it’s also essential to keep your head in line with your body, so that your hips stay high.
For beginners, this face-down aspect can be intimidating. That’s where ‘bilateral breathing’ comes in.
CA Columbia Clippers coach Kelsey Lord explained that bilateral breathing just means breathing to both sides to create smooth, even strokes and keep your body balanced. This method helps with symmetry and swimming in a straight line, rather than lopsided.
“In freestyle, we breathe by turning our head to the side in which the arm has pulled down,” said Lord. “For example, if your right arm has pulled down to your right side, then you’ll turn your head to the right side to breathe.”
You’ll want to inhale when you turn your head to the side, and exhale as your face and arm enter back into the water. Make sure you exhale fully; holding back will cause you to tense up. When turning your head to the side, one eye should be above the water and one eye submerged. It’s important to turn to the side 90 degrees — anything more requires more effort, which will throw off your balance and efficiency.
“Becoming a bilateral breather takes time, but will only strengthen your freestyle,” said Lord. “Start by breathing to your dominant side, and as you become more comfortable, you can practice breathing to a pattern such as every three or every five strokes.”
Beyond breathing purposes, it’s also important to let your head rotate with your body and face for proper body positioning. “If your head is up, something must be down, and it will likely be our legs and hips,” said Barr. “To practice keeping your head low, try to keep one of your goggles below the surface while getting a breath.”
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CA offers one-on-one swim lessons for all ages and skill levels. Our coaches and swim lesson instructors are passionate about helping you work on your technique and become a stronger, more confident swimmer. Learn more here.