Why Breathing on Both Sides When Swimming is Important

As with any sport, breathing properly when swimming is vitally important. Not only will it help ensure you get as much oxygen to your muscles as possible, but choosing when to inhale and when to exhale can have a serious effect on your stroke technique and, consequently, how quickly and efficiently you go through the water.

Whether you breathe in from the same side all the time or breathe in from different sides for each breath can have a major effect on your stroke. Find out more about it and how to avoid any issues right here.

Why Breathing on Both Sides is Important

At Swim Smooth we are big fans of “Bilateral Breathing”. This means regularly swapping breathing sides, taking some breaths to the right and some to the left when you swim. The classic way to do this is to breathe every third arm stroke so that you alternate from one side to the other every breath.

If you are currently doing so every two strokes to the same side then you risk the stroke becoming very lopsided. With single sided breathing, there’s a strong tendency to over-rotate the body to the side to which you are breathing, which can easily lead to the lead arm crossing the centre line in front of the head:


This is called “a crossover” – it causes you to snake through the water and makes it difficult to get good propulsion on the following arm stroke.

Over-rotation like this can also easily cause a scissor kick at the back of the stroke:


Obviously, this adds a huge amount of extra drag, as well as making your kicks less effective at pushing you through the water.

It’s amazing how only breathing to one side can have such an impact on the rest of your stroke without you even realising it. The good news is that by removing the cause we can reduce – or even remove – the effect elsewhere in your stroke without you having to think about those aspects of your stroke directly.

So in a nutshell, bilateral breathing helps you keep your stroke technique in good nick without conscious effort on your part.

Take a Breath Every Three Strokes

The next time you are in the water give bilateral breathing a go. If you have trouble co-ordinating it, repeat the mantra one-two-breathe-one-two breathe… to yourself. Count one and two on normal strokes and on the third stroke breathe.

If you find breathing every three strokes challenging then the likely reason is that you are holding your breath underwater. This causes CO2 to build up in your system which makes you feel very short of air.

The secret is to exhale (blow bubbles) into the water through your mouth or nose between breaths. The water gives you some resistance so it requires a little more “push” to get the air out than on land.


To help you with that, let’s develop the one-two-breathe mantra and make it: bubble-bubble-breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe. Literally say the word “bubble” into the water on each stroke to help you develop your exhalation technique.

Remember to keep your exhalation smooth and relaxed – it should feel like continuously sighing into the water.