View Full Version : Bilateral breathing problems

February 17th, 2007, 10:42 PM
I have been a right side breather for over 50 years. Last year, I tried for a full year to breathe on the left but encountered a lot of problems and I am a patient person when learning something new/different.

Here are the problems:When I breathe on the left: I get a headache quickly; also, I get extremely dizzy, and finally, I start seeing spots optically. I also don't swim straight which I am famous for doing and that is because my non-breathing arm is probably traveling to the left.

I can breathe on the left for about 10 to 20 strokes before these problems start occurring. Today, after I came home from swim training, I started thinking about why all this is. The one thing I did do was, as I was sitting, was I turned my head to the right and my chin goes beyond my shoulder. I tried this to the left and it wasn't even close to my shoulder. So now I am thinking that muscles/tendons in my neck are not lengthened and flexible when turning it to the left thereby the problems I may be encountering when I try to breathe to the left.

So, if anyone has any ideas, or knows of any exercises I could implement to get my neck to turn to the left, let me know. I truly don't think that swimming 19 miles breathing only to the right is the way to go; it may even cause me to abort the swim.

Breathing to the left is almost impossible because once my vision starts to go, I get nauseaous. Ideas?


Peter Cruise
February 17th, 2007, 11:07 PM
Donna- this is a subject that affects me as well. To me the key is that the breath to the left becomes an intellectual effort. If it is thus, it is doomed to fail. The key, I have found, is in completely exhaling(making a point of it), emptying the lungs as you rotate to the left. That creates a vacuum-effect in your lungs and presto! you take in a very efficient lungful of air upon your inhalation and you're off to the races. The unpleasant feelings that you had can all be ascribed to unexpelled carbon dioxide in your lungs. Eventually the breath to the left will become second nature.

February 17th, 2007, 11:56 PM
Thanks for both posts. Although for me, the left side is my "comfort side," and I'm weaker on the right side, I always find the bilateral breathing a challenge. Sometimes I try swimming whole lengths just breathing on my weak side, but I'm always immensely relieved when I can go back to the comfort zone, so I'll try the suggestions also.

February 18th, 2007, 01:08 AM
I am working on breathing to the left too. I find that I have to roll prpoerly and pull effciently with my left arm to get my bod to the correct position or else I have to lift my head. As I tire this get's a little less controlled, I was only trained to breath every 4 strokes on the right as a kid.

February 18th, 2007, 07:59 AM
If you think there are some alignment issues, maybe you should find a chiropractor that can look at you and see. I see one regularily, and when my hips get out of whack, the first place I feel it is in the water. I lose my balance.

February 18th, 2007, 08:37 AM
My effort to bilateral breathe began in earnest when I started coaching. I think it is the best way to develop the most symmetrical stroke.

On long swims (>mile) I find it useful to breathe ten right: ten left. During each cycle of 20 breaths, focus on one very specific part of your body (chin position in relation to shoulder, head tilt, right hand entry position, left hand entry position, etc.) Start on your comfort side and maintain the same focus through the 10 breaths on your developing side.

Although I am very comfortable breathing both sides in all kinds of training conditions, I still return to my comfort side when racing (almost exclusively).

February 18th, 2007, 09:33 AM
I´ve given up. It is too late to learn something new. My head doesn´t turn enough to the right and I also mess up my forearm push when trying to breathe on that side. What I do is rotate as if I were going to breathe on the right side, faking it, but not opening my mouth or trying to really breathe. I just look to the right but continue breathing always on the left. The rotating move of the body to the right side is a learned process, doesn´t come naturally but I am learning to make it more and more automatic. I swim distances without having any problems in the neck or shoulder area. When first coming back into the swimming year, or after a two or more week break in training, I get numb hands when swimming longer than 400 meters. However that goes away pretty soon, and it is the brachial plexus being stretched as I reach long with my arms. Nothing to do with my head or neck or shoulders. Take care, billy fanstone

February 18th, 2007, 12:00 PM
Bilateral breathing why worry. I have done it, I use it when teaching, if you have trouble swim a couple of lengths then revert to breathing on one side. It is a great stroke balancer but I never used it in a race except to occasionally glance at the swimmers on my right side. I breathe on the left side.

I have seen a lot of triathletes who use bilateral breathing but I like my air every 2nd stroke not every three strokes.

February 18th, 2007, 02:55 PM
Wow, I had no idea I was not alone in this problem. My main concern is I am starting to find that at the 4 mile mark while breathing only on the right side, my neck is getting a tad stiff and if I am to complete an 18 mile swim, I am concerned this could become a problem and cause me to abort the swim due to fatigued neck. I am not looking for problems, but just trying to cover as many bases as possible during this long training journey.

There are no chiropractors here, barely one doctor, so I can't go that route but I appreciate the suggestion.

When I breathe on the left people say it looks just as natural as on the right. But it sure doesn't feel very good. It seems I have to rotate close to 90 degrees from horizontal to get a good breath because my head seems so not flexible.

But I guess I'll work on this problem for yet another year to see if I can get more comfortable with it. And I do think I am fully exhaling because I take a big breath, but will, starting tomorrow, take another look at it and how it feels to make sure I am doing on the left what I normally do on the right.

And if anyone has any suggestions regardless of how unique they may sound, send them this way. I thought I would mention that I breathe every single stroke, always have on anything over a 400. If I can keep oxygen in my body, I just don't go into much body or limb failure at all. Ongoing intaking of oxygen is like gasoline in a car for me.


February 18th, 2007, 05:23 PM
I wasn't much of a bi-lateral breather until the last few years. I would force myself to swim an entire practice breathing to the left, then the next practice would do half and half to see how things compared, then the next practice all left again. During those "left only" practices, I found it easiest to try and mimic what I was doing on the right side with the left side.

Donna, As for the not swimming in a straight line, I think you're overcompensating with your right arm when you're breathing. You're either bringing it too far in on the catch or not catching close enough to your body. Next time you try breathing to your left, watch carefully where your arms go when they come in and where they are when they pass under you. Then try to notice the same thing for when you breathe. There may be something there...

February 18th, 2007, 05:47 PM

I, as of tomorrow, will spend more time realizing what actually happens when I breathe on the left. I know my right arm, non-breathing arm, is probably traveling across my centerline so I will be more focused on it. I normally swim in a completely straight line, even in ocean current/tide, when breathing on my right side.

I've just spent so much time on this, a year so far, but obviously not enough focused time. But I sure am starting to think that a lot of it is because my head won't turn left far enough yet.

I know when I do breath control sets, I always make sure they are odd-numbered which forces me to left side breathe. I guess I have a lot more work to do on this problem; I want it fixed!!!!! The seeing spots and dizziness really needs to go away.


February 18th, 2007, 06:25 PM
Donna, since a chiropractor is not available, a massage therapist might be able to at least loosen the muscles, so your movement is better on that side. If you can find a good one, they are very good at evaluating inbalance and helping correct them.

I was lucky. Since I learned to swim at age 39, I knew from watching the kids that I needed to bilateral breathe so it comes a bit easier. I still favor the left side though.

February 18th, 2007, 07:09 PM
Hi Dorothy,

I sure wish that when I was 10 I had naturally learned to bilateral breathe. If I weren't going to try to do such a long swim, there would be no issue at all. The problem is I live on Roatan. Not only is there not a doctor who ever went to school, a massage therapist they have never heard of; this is Honduras island. Most of us fly to Tampa or Miami just to go to the dentist!!! I see black island girls saying they are massage therapists and all they do is slap on some oil and rub away on tourists; they have no clue!!

So what do you think about me doing stretching exercises and including some neck turn (slightly only) to length those tightened muscles/tendons? Sadly, I will say that the doctor on the island is also the vet and he has never been to any school. This is very typical of islands outside of the continental USA especially Central America!! This is why I go home for one month each year to shop and see doctors/dentists!!!

Any thoughts except to keep working on breathing on the left as much as I can?:dunno:

February 18th, 2007, 09:11 PM
You're definately not alone in this. I've been working on it too, primarily because my strokes feel uneven from side to side, and I think breathing to both sides equally might help me get things balanced out.

If I start out trying to breathe to my awkward side, I get panicky, dizzy and nauseous. I find that if I work up to a full stroke through drills, I do much better both breathing to my awkward side and bilaterally. I do the following drills. I start with kick set laying on my weak side, lower arm extended with my head neutral (mostly under water). Turning my head up to grab a breath feels much more natural. Then I do an exaggerated catch-up drill, breathing every stroke on both sides. Then I'll swim just breathing to my awkward side. And finally I'll do a set breathing bilaterally. I guess I'm taking away the stroke to start, and then adding it back in bit by bit. I feel more in control and by the end, breathing to my weak side seems a little more natural.

I have no idea what swimming drills in an ocean is like (I'm trying to image trying to get comfortable this way with waves breaking around me :eek:), but this has helped me in the pool.

My aim is to even out my strokes

February 18th, 2007, 09:50 PM
Maybe you could google and find more about the neck muscles and what could help you. It is very concerning that you are getting dizzy, sick and seeing spots. That seems like some kind of nerve impingement that you never have discovered until now when you are forcing something new. I can also see why you have to solve this before trying this swim. Being able to switch sides seems important.

For me, finding a knowledgable massage therapist and chiropractor have kept me pain free. But they do have to know what they are doing, and I certainly would not trust your island girls!:p

I wish I could help more, my neck muscles are tight, and massage therapy helps a lot. The therapist tells me that at times they feel like they are made of cement. It always feels better when she loosens them. Helps headaches too, so that is why I think you could get help with this.

February 18th, 2007, 09:53 PM
I'm feeling relieved that even accomplished swimmers such as yourself reports troubles with the bilateral breathing. I feel like I don't get any air breathing on the L side and feel like a non-swimmer despite decades of competitive experience. My turnover rate is very slow and if I try to breathe every 3 I feel distressed. One thing I can say is that when I am pulling with paddles and pull-buoy I don't have nearly as much trouble seizing up on the "wrong" side. I don't know if having my L shoulder surgically reconstructed in 1987 had anything to do with it. Bottom line is that coach yells a lot at me for not breathing both sides and it really conflicts with my "enjoyment of swimming".

Peter Cruise
February 18th, 2007, 10:33 PM
I don't mean to harp on it, but the dizziness can be from incomplete exhalations resulting in a carbon dioxide buildup.

February 19th, 2007, 10:25 AM
Peter, feel free to harp on it, it is a valid consideration. Barb, if a coach yelled at me it would be his last yell. Negative/fear management is not productive. A coach can pull me aside and talk to me about his viewpoints, but hollering at me will get him in hot water from ME.

The ocean was unswimmable today, the seas were only about 8 feet but the undertow was horrific. I swam for 12 minutes and went about 2 yards only. Had to "tack" to get back in, so did not work on left side breathing; it was out of the question!!!!


February 19th, 2007, 10:31 AM
The ocean was unswimmable today, the seas were only about 8 feet but the undertow was horrific. I swam for 12 minutes and went about 2 yards only. Had to "tack" to get back in, so did not work on left side breathing; it was out of the question!!!!

Poor Donna...just think of the endurance you're building fighting those swells though!