Greetings! And thanks in advance for any insights. (Apologies for the length)
As the thread title indicates, I'm having issues with bilateral breathing and am hoping some experienced swimmers can help. A few background points so you understand where I'm coming from. I'm a multi-ironman, but self taught swimmer. When I began doing tris many years ago, I did some reading, went to the pool and worked out a stroke that got me through races. As I moved up distances, that stroke served me ok. Although I was remarkably consistent, I was slow and a left side only - every 2 stroke - breather. (To give an idea of speed, I have 4 finishes at 1:23 and change. I have one finish at 1:30 in rough conditions, and one race where the swim was cancelled. BEST SWIM EVER!)
For years my approach to swimming has been to get myself up to the distance in training. Stay comfortable there, and spend my training time on the other disciplines where I could make greater time gains. This year I decided to improve my swim in the hopes of shaving off a bit of time. To do so I've gotten the help of a friend who is a much better swimmer than me. (He swam collegiately.) He's helped me take my pathetic stroke apart and improve technique. While it all feels somewhat un-natural, I trust the improvements he promises will come. The one area I'm really questioning is breathing.
He insists that if I want to improve I need to breath bilaterally. That it will improve my form and make me a better swimmer. The problem is it's killing my endurance. I can swim 2.4 miles comfortably breathing to the left only, but find myself having to stop after 400 yards to catch my breath when breathing to both sides. I often find myself gasping for air at the end of short sets. I feel like this oxygen deficit is having exactly the opposite effect it should on my stroke. I spend each set thinking about how much I want air instead of about form and technique.
Is the bilateral breathing really necessary to become a faster swimmer? And if so, how on earth do I get to the point where I don't feel like it's killing me? (Btw...I am sure I'm exhaling well. I know that's the usual cause of problems.) I know my fitness is good. But I feel like the most out of shape newbie when trying to bilateral breath.
Any thoughts are really appreciated.
welcome in the forum.... and you are aware it's a Total Immersion Forum? Our work starts in Balance-skills, followed by Streamlining-skills and Propulsion-skills as last ones. Where breathing-skills are part of the last and most heavy ones. As TI-coach and without having a look at your stroke I'd suggest to give each of our steps some minutes -better more- of your normal pool times. Terry's Mastery courses 1.0 and 2.0 will have many worthy tips for you, not only about breathing.
Besides these highly recommended tips, I'm nearly sure there are some more or less symmetry-issues in your stroke. Let your friend have a look what's so different on your right and left stroke side and work on smoothing them out.
And why are you working only on left or only on right side? Why not emphasizing the right side a little bit. 50m right side - 25m left side breathing... If running into O2-shortness slow down your tempo and recover with right side - breathing (if doing so, in some weeks, you'll love your right side....). And as you wrote: Running into breathlessness lets break down every other goodness in your stroke... and you should never practice struggle...
And yes, if you want to get most possible out of your "machine", you'll only get it with best possible balance, best possible streamline, best applied power for propulsion and best symmetry (which means breathing to both sides and will be a result of best balance...)
Enjoy your pool sessions more than staying otuside :-)
Do you feel equally comfortable on both sides? If not, try to analyze what feels different. You might also have somebody take a video of you swimming so that you can look for asymmetries.
One of the things I realized, after I'd been practicing bilateral breathing for several years, was that when I breathed on my familiar side, my eyes were looking back, but when I breathed on my unfamiliar side, my eyes were looking to the side. I began focusing on looking back when I was breathing on my unfamiliar side and looking more to the side when I was breathing on my familiar side, and immediately my stroke began to feel more symmetric. Several years ago, at a TI coaches workshop, another of our coaches, Shane Eversfield, pointed out that there is an asymmetry in my kick, at least when I am doing a 2-beat kick, and I'm pretty sure that is also left over from the days when I breathed on only one side.
Even if your stroke is now perfectly symmetric, there is still the issue of whether you're breathing enough. I gather that you've been trying to breathe every 3rd stroke. Is that correct? If so, you are only breathing 2/3 as often as you were before. I can do that for 100m, but when I go for longer distances, I begin to feel like I'm not getting enough air.
Breathing bilaterally doesn't have to mean breathing every 3rd stroke. 14 months ago, I swam 400m freestyle in competition, and I used a more complex breathing pattern, alternating 2 breaths on my left with 2 breaths on my right (i.e., stroke-and-breathe, stroke, stroke-and-breathe, stroke, stroke, stroke-and-breathe, stroke, stroke-and-breathe, stroke, stroke, stroke-and-breathe, etc.). This allowed me to breathe more frequently while still breathing equal amounts of the time on both sides. I also sometimes, when I'm swimming in a pool, breathe to my right when I'm going one way and to my left when I'm going the other way.
Once I started using these two breathing patterns, my swimming endurance increased significantly.
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