I've never quite worked out what the big deal is about bilateral breathing (breathing on both sides).
There are many swim schools and parents alike that insist that it is taught to their swimming students at a very early stage in the swimmers development.
Whilst I have no problem with teaching it early I do also make the point that there are a number of instances where it should not be insisted on.
First of all there is the obvious one: the student just doesn't get it.
This may be because they are not yet (and some never are) physiologically developed enough to be able to bilaterally breathe. It takes timing and a little bit of strength to breathe.
Some swimmers, children in particular, don't have that strength on both sides and the timing is just beyond them till much later on.
The other reason that swimmers struggle with bilateral breathing is lack of lung capacity. The fact is that some swimmers have not developed enough lung capacity to be able to breathe out for the period of time that is required for bilateral breathing.
Swimming is strong exercise and it requires a lot of oxygen to be able to keep going. If the lungs are not developed enough to be able to bring in that oxygen or have some sort of inhibitor such as asthma, then the swimmer is going to run out of oxygen before the next breath.
More than this have you ever watched any of the top swimmers on the TV when they are in competition?
Have you ever noticed how few of them actually breathe on both sides when they are?
This is because they need more oxygen when competing and bilateral breathing doesn't do it for them. If they, choose to breathe on one side only in certain circumstances why shouldn't other swimmers!
Having said this there are some things that breathing on both sides can do for you:
- It helps to develop both sides of your body equally
- Ironically it can help develop lung capacity
- It helps with the streamline of your swim
Its very simple really. All you need is a kick board and practice.
1) Using the other freestyle breathing lessons on this blog learn how to breathe on one side.
2) Holding the kickboard in front of you, fingers on top and thumbs underneath start by blowing bubbles. When you have exhaled all the air out of your lungs turn you head to one side and breathe in.
It is very important that you exhale all the air in your lungs before you turn your head. If you don't you will have to finish your exhale when turning your head and that will muck up your timing.
3) Now repeat 2) only this time turn your head the other way.
4) When you have practiced the above a lot of times start to walk in the water doing the same thing.
5) When you have practiced 4) a lot of times, start to swim using the kickboard for support.
As you start to use your ams you need to keep in mind that you do not breathe on every arm stroke.
6) Start by blowing bubbles, do a stroke, now as you take the stroke with your other arm, turn your head in that direction to breathe in.
7) Put your face back in the water as your hand grabs the kick board and blow bubbles.
8) Now keep your face in the water and take two more strokes (exhale all your air).
9) Take one more stroke, turning your head in the direction of the arm you are stroking and breathe in. If you have done this right you should now be breathing on the other side to which you were breathing last time.
10) Repeat from 6).
11) Once you think you have gotten your timing correct its time to dispose of the kickboard and swim without it. Remember to kick harder, start to turn your head at the beginning of your breathing stroke and pull hard with your breathing arm when you breathe.
Now all you need to do is practice. It is of course much easier to learn from an instructor because they will have different drills that will help. Also keep in mind that you are going to suffer from all the common freestyle faults that you did when you learn to breathe on only one side, so you will need to work on correcting them now on the other side.
When it comes down to it, if a swimmer is having too much trouble with bilateral breathing I'm not going to teach it. There are other ways to develop anything that bilateral breathing can develop except the actual breathing on both sides. So for some there is no need to do it.