Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Great Bilateral Breathing Controversy: A Critique




I am but a humble swim teacher and as such I try and stay away from controversy between coaching professionals. But sometimes I just can't and that is the case when it comes to this article called "The Great Bilateral Breathing Controversy"

The reason I have to comment is Paul from swim smooth, is a little bit influential on the internet (I even put up many of his articles on Facebook) and it concerns me that there are beginners out there that are a little confused by the information.

In my blog post Learn How To Swim 101 - Freestyle - Bilateral Breathing (breathing on both sides), I argue that bilateral breathing is not that big a deal because elite and professional swimmers don't do it when they are competing. Paul argues that this is not true. But he kind of cheats a bit.

Now I don't mean that he has lied or been deceptive in any way. What I am referring to is that he says that elite and professional swimmers do in fact do bilateral breathing but he makes this claim by changing it's definition.

Whilst acknowledging that: "The most common way to do this is to breathe every 3 strokes (or 5 or 7) which means you swap sides every time you breathe"; he goes on to say that:"However, breathing two or three times in a row to one side before swapping to the other is also bilateral breathing"; that is a redefinition.

Is it a redefinition that is commonly used amongst coaches? I have no idea but it is clearly something that only advanced swimmers should be worried about. If you are a beginner and you are struggling with learning to breath properly don't let yourself be caught up. You do what you have to do to get swimming.

Are there advantages to breathing on both sides? Yes: under both definitions; but you can learn it as you get better.

Do I teach it from the get go? Yes but if a student is struggling with it I will have no hesitation in changing to single side breathing.

Are the rest of the arguments put forward by Paul valid? Wells yes and no.
    Not in order:
  • Fish tailing (or zig zag) is a learned behavior and is easily unlearned in the pool but in open water is much harder because of the lack of reference points. The new definition of bilateral breathing may be great at fixing this in open water but is inapplicable to fishtailing in the pool.
  • The reason that is given for running out of oxygen is perfectly true but only for the unmodified definition (where you swap sides every time you breathe). Swapping sides every time you breathe will, run you out of air when competing or hard training. When you only swap sides every lap, you are still only breathing on that one side. I have never met anybody who has said that changing your breathing side each lap will run you out of air. If there are coaches making such a case then Paul would be quite correct to argue against them because it's a bit of a silly argument as the amount of oxygen you use is the same no matter what side you breath on.
  • The arguments Paul makes, even if they were 100% definitive still only apply once you reach a certain level of proficiency and you have an intent to use it in a competitive environment.
I don't really have a problem with the article per se. He makes some very good points for competitive swimmers. But if you are a beginner and you are struggling, just trust your teacher if they are not getting you to bilateral breathe.
Enjoy
Richard

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