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.