Bi-Lateral Breathing

Bi-lateral breathing (BLB) is a great asset to any swimmer or triathlete. BLB requires the swimmer to change breathing sides after each stroke cycle. The cycle could be 3 strokes, 5 strokes or so on. This skill will help eliminate neck and shoulder fatigue and it promotes better balance and body alignment. BLB is also an essential navigational skill in open water.
Why Bi-Lateral Breathing?
BLB helps swimmers balance out their stroke and teaches them to rotate their hips on both sides of their stroke. One of the most common faults in freestyle swimming is to under roll on the non-breathing side. It's easy to roll on the side you breathe too, but not so easy to roll on the side you do no breathe to. This under-rolling can lead to less power as you don't finish your swim stroke as strongly as you could if you were on your breathing side. BLB helps smooth out the stroke, keeps you balanced and in some cases lets you swim in a straighter line.

One of the most important benefits of BLB is that it helps you limit the amount of stress that is put on your shoulders due to the constant strain of breathing to only one side. Another benefit of BLB is that it allows you to watch your recovery (is your elbow high and are your fingertips dragging across the water?) and you can watch your hand entry (does your hand enter in the order of fingertips, wrist, elbow and at a 45-degree angle?). Being aware of what happens on both sides of your stroke will allow you to make corrections as you progress. One last advantage of BLB is that in a race you can see what is happening on both sides of you. If the waves are breaking over your right side, you can switch to breathing to your left or vice versa.

How Do I Improve My Bi-Lateral Breathing?
The best advice if you are not proficient at BLB is to just do it. Start with breathing on your weaker side. Try jumping in the water and swimming 25 meters while only breathing to your weaker side. Then switch to 50 meters of your normal breathing, followed by another 25 meters of breathing to your weaker side. The goal is to progress from 25 meters up to 200 meters after a few sessions. Once you get to 200 meters, then you begin to swim sets (e.g. 5x200 on 10 second rest BLB). The key is to swim the BLB sets easy enough that you are not sucking wind (think long and strong on your swim stroke). If you can do this, then soon enough you will be swimming 1,000 meters or more fairly easily.

Moderate BLB Swim Sets
  • Warm-Up: 200 meters alternating BLB every 3rd length
  • Main: 4x100 on 10" rest, with 1st and 4th length being BLB
  • 4x100 on 10" rest, with middle 50 being weak side breathing
  • 3x200 on 15" rest. Swim 200 as follows: 50 BLB, 50 weak side, repeat
  • Cool Down: 200 meters alternating BLB every 3rd length
Advanced BLB Swim Sets
  • Warm-Up: 200 meters alternating BLB every 3rd length
  • Main: 45 minutes of 200s BLB on 10" rest. These are easy enough to not need much rest, but hard enough to make you focus on the BLB. Slow the stroke down and focus on all aspects of your breathing, hand entry, pull, finish and recovery.
Swimming: Bi-Lateral Breathing, D3 Multisport

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