Originally Posted by CoachStuartMcDougal
I'll chime in a bit. Bilateral and unilateral breathing is a bit too broad and can easily be easily misunderstood. Bilateral is often understood as only breathing on every 3rd stroke or "on three's", alternating breathing left and right. Unilateral breathing is often understood as breathing every 2nd stroke toward the same shoulder.
Open water swimmers should be able to get air easily on both left and right sides (bilateral). You can even breath on one's, every stroke, which is breathe off one shoulder then breathe off opposite shoulder on very next stroke (bilateral). Sun Yang breathes on one's going into the wall (two breaths on last two strokes) and coming off the wall (first two strokes). Being able to do this in open water is critical since if you didn't quite get a full tank of air due to chop, piranha, or you just need it - then get air off opposite shoulder on next stroke. To say 'don't bilateral breathe' is a bit misleading and can be easily interpreted to breath off one side only.
Get air when you need it. I need the air and breathe mostly on two's, but will switch sides after 10 strokes or so, i.e. 2-2-2-2-1-2-2-2-2-3-2-2-2-2-1.... or same side in clean conditions, 2-2-4-2-2-4-2-2-4... and so on. Breathing on four's allows me to focus a bit more, but still get plenty of air to support the effort.
I know some very quick swimmers that breathe mostly on three's and seem to get enough air. So it's really personal to each swimmer, but the main thing is don't starve yourself of air, get it when you need it, even if that means breathing on one's when necessary.
That's fantastic you teach that b/c the vast majority of swimmers I run across who like 'bilateral' limit themselves to 1 breath every 3 as a steadfast rule and that can be a massive limiter to anyone. Going 5 or 6 to one side and switching to 5 or 6 to the other is just as good. Get air when you need it and try to keep some type of mix to both sides. As long as I'm not going full tilt I go left side odds right side evens. Full gas sets it's all left.