Is it possible a simple change increased my speed?
I'm still evaluating this but my name swimpaired is a REALLY accurate description for me. I'm the slowest swimmer you'll meet any time soon. But something happened this week. I welcome any comments on this experience.
I haven't been swimming long and started freestyle just for triathlons. Having never done it my first problem was breathing at all. I have a medical background and once you think about it - breathing (shortness of breath) isn't driven by need for oxygen in healthy people - it's driven by build up of CO2. So the concern to relax breathing in water is more in the "exhale when in the water" than in the "catch your breath while you're out of it".
I'd often get off course in open water and so this week with a race 6 weeks out I decided to "bite the bullet" and breath bilaterally so I can keep an eye on things. Adding distance to my swims is a really bad idea at my (lack of) speed.
Anyway, I've found the bilateral is easier (only a few days mind you) than I thought. The HUGE difference though (for me) is speed. My speed improved dramatically. Maybe 20 to 30% faster. All I can think is really bad rotation and balance that the breathing to the other side helped correct. Do you see this often as an easy stroke correction drill for beginners? Or is this just me?
What are the pluses and minuses of bilateral breathing vs one sided?
When you say you were swimming bilaterally do you mean breathing to your "opposite" side for a certain distance and breathing every other stroke, or breathing on opposite sides every three strokes? The distinction will make a difference on the issue of speed.
Sorry for the confusion,
I am right handed and had been breathing only to my right side. I was doing this every other stroke. I changed to breathing on both sides alternating the side every third stroke.
Your insight is perfect and I love the way you phrased it... that relaxation is more concerned with getting rid of air underwater rather than taking it in while above. This alone may have improved your relaxation and efficinecy in the water.
The choice of breathign every 2, 3 or 4 (or more) strokes is really just a matter of matching your exertion level with your breathing (or vice versa).
if you could only breath on the right side, you'd have limted options of breathing every 2, 4 or 6 strokes or more. in no other athletic event do we meter out breathing rather than breathing just when we need to (musicians could be an exception).
Breathing 3 strokes isn't necessarily the magic answer either, but having the ability to
a) Breath on your 'weak side' and
b) Breath every 3 breaths
More than doubles yoru breathing options. Now you can breath every 2 to the "weak" side (that alone has doubled your options for example being able to breath away from wind/sun/waves, etc). But now you can also breath every 3, 5 (or even 7 breaths) to match your exertion.
It's good to practice breathing every 4 to each side (4 slows you down enough that you can focus on form), as well as every 3 to learn the pattern and timing of exhalation, AND every 2 breaths if your exertion demands it.
As someone who has struggled with bilateral breathing and now seems finally to have cracked it, I agree that it can have very beneficial effects, including increased speed, although I can't say I have seen dramatic improvement in that area. I'm hoping it will have that effect soon, though. The nodding drill is a great help.
Yes it can be so
I teach open water swim skills to new triathletes and I can attest that it is indeed possible to make huge time improvements by breathing bilaterally. One of the tasks we do in class is to swim with eyes closed for about 100 strokes in open water and see how far off course the students get. There are usually students that will swim in a complete circle in that time.
Bilateral breathing has several advantages:
1. Just the action of breathing on both sides evens out your stoke so you don't tend to pull to one side. You swim straighter so you don't have to swim as far.
2. Bilateral Breathing doubles the sighting opportunities( above and below water) without lifting the head. If you open your eyes when you breathe, you can get your bearings and make constant, fine adjustments. I find that many beginners either close their eyes or don't really connect with what they see when they breathe so they take many head up strokes to see where they are going. Learning to minimize the number of head lifts will help your speed and will limit tendencies toward seasickness too.
3. It allows you to get air where and when circumstances allow. Sometimes the chop is only on your right side, so breathing on your left is the better option. Likewise, there might be a swimmer right at your shoulder and you don't want to be literally in his face when you take a breath so being able to breathe on the other side is an advantage.
Bottom Line: Bilateral breathing is excellent. Congratulations!
Good post - brings back unfond memories. I used to swim about like a tricycle missing one back wheel . . .
The speed increase might be due to simply swimming straighter - are you seeing the 30% increase in the pool, open water, or both?
Another explanation could be that your breathing strokes create significantly more drag and/or generate less propulsion than non-breathing strokes. Ideally, there should be little difference, but in reality, head lift, arm drop, dead spot, scissoring, etc. on a breathing stroke are all draggy, slowing factors. If that's the case, breathing every three instead of every two may generate more "speed" just by reducing cumulative drag - i.e., instead of fast-slow-fast-slow-fast-slow, you're doing fast-fast-slow-fast-fast-slow. Might be informative for you to swim at the same stroke rate with a swim snorkel, or if its just a 25, taking only a breath or two over the length (take breathing mechanics out of the equation entirely) and see what THAT does for your speed - if you swim the same stroke at the same rate and see a big speed increase just by taking out all or most of the breathing strokes, that tells you something about what those specific strokes are doing in terms of adding drag or losing propulsion - and why you may be going so much faster by doing less of them in bilateral (every 3) vs. one-sided (every 2).
If we're swimming arcs (much less circles) breathing to one side only, there is more wrong than the breathing pattern - the stroke is bigtime assymetrical - the right half is not mirroring the left half, or the breathing side is not mirroring the non-breathing side. Bilateral may produce a "net" straighter line - there's a veer right for every veer left - but bilateral in a cross-chop just means hassle every other time you breath, instead of every single time, and doing with less air. It probably makes sense to try to even out the stroke so you can swim straight to the next buoy, breathing to either side exclusively - many more respiratory cycles, much more 02, and less fatigue or more speed over the distance.
Swimming in a lane with eyes closed is a quick easy way to check symmetry and line of travel - if you can go 10-12 strokes and stay over the black line - good stuff; if your hitting the lane divider on your 5th or 6th stroke (as I was at one point) . . . to quote Homer Simpson . . . Doh!!! To improve it, what worked for me was just focus on making the right half match the left - closing the eyes for the middle 5 strokes of a length, trying to sense the same rotation, same pressure, same timing etc.- and one-arm drills, rotating and breathing to the nonpulling side - challenging at first, but effective.
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