Often when I am teaching adults “how to swim”or stroke technique they tell me they thought a certain breathing pattern, typically every 2 strokes (left/right arm), or bilateral, every 3rd stroke, was the default breathing pattern.
Efficient breathing patterns vary. There is no right way, only the best way for you. In most cases, every 3rd or 4th stroke is the two I like to teach. You have to be able to breath before you can work on mechanics of your stroke. If you are struggling with breathing to the dominate side, it does not make sense to incorporate breathing to the non dominate side (bilateral breathing) until you are comfortable breathing to the dominate side. Likewise, if you are not comfortable breathing to the non-dominant side, it does not make sense to bilateral breath until you are.
Why bilateral is often the “best” answer. One issue with breathing to one side only is that it can create imbalance, especially if you are a one side frequent dominate breather. You tend to only rotate to one hip and you non dominate breathing arm is often weaker.
A newbie swimmer tends to breath every 2, left / right, arm stroke. The imbalance that occurs is they only rotate during the inhalation and always to one hip. The weakness happens when they rotate for an inhale, their non dominate side/arm tends to pull wide, or “fall”, and pull too soon, while your face is out of the water to catch a breath; and they don’t get a strong “catch and push” phase of the arm stroke like they do when they don’t breath. To combat this issue I encourage swimmers not to breath so frequently and keep they hand down to watch their arms pull over the black line, past their hip. When they rotate to inhale to the right, leave their left arm extending as they catch their breath, rotate their face back into the water and then “catch and push”.
Once you get comfortable breathing to the dominate side, practice the same techniques breathing to the non dominate side only. The best way to become more comfortable breathing to the non dominate swim is to only breath on your non dominate side. By practicing breathing on your weakest side you will also improve your bilateral breathing overall. Swimming with a snorkel is a great way to take breathing out of the equation so you can focus on your underwater catch and pull.
Once you get some comfortable breathing to the non dominate side start to incorporate bilateral breathing every 3rd or 5th stroke. If you have some limitations and are not comfortable breathing to the non dominate side then aim for a pattern for 4-6 strokes and be mindful of hip rotation and underwater pull.
Remember, the best breathing rhythm will vary from swimmer to swimmer. Practice the above techniques and patterns to see how you can get a good breath.
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