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Importance of Bilateral and Unilateral Breathing

Importance of Bilateral and Unilateral Breathing
Photo credit- Wally Skalij, USA's Michael Phelps takes a breath while swimming in the 200m Freestyle in the 2004 Athens Olympics Monday.

This article explains some basic tips and drills that will help to get proper breathing technique while swimming. Learning proper breathing technique is often one of the major challenges for swimmers. The common breathing patterns in the freestyle swimming are unilateral breathing and bilateral breathing. Let’s get a small knowledge about these two breathing techniques. Also, a good breathing technique helps to reduce drag while swimming.

Bilateral Breathing Vs Unilateral Breathing

1.Unilateral breathing:

In unilateral breathing, we are familiar with word “Uni”(one) this means you breathe in every other arm stroke or one breath per stroke.

  • This means you always breathe in on the same side(only left or only right).
  • This technique is widely used for short races.
  • This gives you plenty of oxygen.
  • Your swim stroke can become one-sided if this is the only breathing pattern you use while training.

2.Bilateral breathing:

In bilateral breathing, Again we are familiar with word “bi”(two) this means you breathe after two strokes or breath per the third stroke.

  • This means you alternate your breathing side.
  • This pattern gives you better balance as it forces you to become used to breathe in on both sides.
  • This pattern is commonly used by long distance
  • Also used by fitness swimmers.

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Breathing Drill

It is important to be completely comfortable exhaling underwater. For this drill please do follow these simple steps:-

  • Stand up straight in the pool
  • Bend your knees, dropping down into the water until your chin is touching the water surface.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Drop down further into the water until the line of the water is just below your goggles.
  • Exhale very slowly (until your lungs are completely empty).
  • Repeat this exercise at least five times.

Breathing with Full Stroke

Once you feel comfortable with exhaling and inhaling (Bilateral or Unilateral), mix it in with a relaxed and smooth arm stroke. I prefer you to try breathing in every three strokes i.e, Bilateral breathing.

Focusing on these following points:

  • During Exhaling, exhale completely until your lungs are totally empty.
  • Turn your head to the side and take one sharp intake of breath(do practice).
  • Increase the speed of lower your head back into the water.

Repeat this until you finish your length if you feel comfortable with your breathing then continue swimming but  if you are not, return to breathing drill a few more times.

Science behind a good breathing technique

  • A normal breath you generally only exhale about 75% of the air in your lungs. Remaining 25% in your lungs and sits there stale.
  • You can do breathing drills/exercise to increase your lung capacity and improve your performance, In a more simple way “the amount of air that goes in and comes out of your lungs”.

Do you know ?

To make the most of the following drills, you should always complete them from one to three, starting with the breathing exercises. Even top athletes practice breathing exercises regularly to maximize their lung capacity.

Breathing Tips

Here are some breathing tips for the freestyle swimming stroke:

  • To be more relaxed, Do not hold your breath but to exhale continuously while your face is turned downward in the water. The problem with holding your breath while swimming is that it increases the pressure in your lungs.
  • You must exhale all the air in the water before the mouth clears the water because There is not enough time to both inhale and exhale.
  •  Don’t slip into old habits of breathing.

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  • A major problem for the beginner swimmers is they often lift their head first then roll on their side to breathe in. However, this causes their hips and legs to drop and this create huge drag during swimming and for swimming with these breathing techniques you need a lot of energy. Also this cause lack of balance. Our swimming drills let you practice balance to correct this problem.
  • If you observe professional or experienced swimmers, you will notice that they do not use to lift their head to breathe in. when they breathe in it looks as if their head rests on the side on the water surface.
  •  Just rotate your head a little bit further at the end of the roll so that your mouth can clear the water.
  • As explained above, always inhaling on the same side can make your stroke asymmetrical but if you are going to participate short race then it is fine to use Unilateral breathing. but for long races, this, in turn, makes you less efficient and can also lead to swimming injuries. So it really is important to learn to breathe on both sides(Bilateral breathing).
  • Finally, you can experiment with a nose clip to keep water out of your nose. This way you only have to avoid getting water in your mouth.

 Bonus tips:-

If you are an open water swimmer or want to participate in open-water swimming competitions, being able to use Bilateral breathing. You could have a fellow competitor kicking water in your face when you want to breathe, and you can work around this problem by breathing on the other side. On the other hand, if you can only breathe on the side where you get water splashed in your face, breathing can become challenging.


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About the author

Sanuj Srivastava

Hello everyone ! myself Sanuj Srivastava, I'm a National swimmer and Computer Olympiad winner. I'm working on writing articles for competitive swimming. If you have some problem in swimming that needs some creative injection then that’s where I come in!
My aim is to bring across your message and identity in the most creative way.

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