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Dear Coach: Should I Practice Bilateral Breathing?

Up until recently I was an “every 4th stroke” breather except when I was racing of course. I noticed that if the buoys were opposite my breathing side I would spent tons of energy in the open water lifting my head out of the water to look at the other side. What this did was put a ton of strain on my R shoulder because I was rotating my body to only one side during practice and during races. This was taking a toll on my rotator cuff and of course I began to have some pain in my supraspinatus tendon. I was dropping my R shoulder deep into the water to pull as I turned to my comfortable side to breathe. I ended up with a R shoulder injury and then rotator cuff surgery.


I knew I had to stop wearing out my R side in the water.


When I got back into the pool I began practicing bilateral breathing. It was super awkward at first, but after a few workouts, I was finding it to be more than enough air and it wasn’t slowing me down like it once used to. My focus became pulling the water with equal effort on both sides while keeping a high elbow and arms at 11 and 1.


Now when I go to the pool I always do several sets of 100’s with bilateral breathing. I still breathe on the R as a default, sort of like being R handed, and when I’m going all out during a race, I will most likely deviate to the R side. But now I am way more conscious of practicing good swim form on both sides, my goal is to use both sides equally as I progress along in this bilateral journey. It’s just better for my neck and shoulders. Not only does it make open water sighting a breeze by allowing me to breathe comfortably on both sides, but it also helps prevent muscular imbalances and overuse injuries on the harder working side.

By evenly distributing the workload across both sides of your body, bilateral breathing ensures that your muscles stay balanced and strong. Plus, it promotes better body rotation and alignment in the water, leading to smoother strokes and improved overall efficiency.

 I also work on shoulder mobility often, using a variety of different bands and tubing. Check out my YouTube Video for shoulder mobility here:

I do Hot Yoga on the regular and it has been a game changer for shoulder mobility as well.


If you are looking to enhance your swim technique, mastering bilateral breathing is a game-changer. I’m not saying that single sided breathing is wrong. Of course if it works for you and you aren’t having shoulder issues, then don’t fix it if it’s not broken. Bilateral breathing is better in my opinion for the open water though. It enhances your situational awareness in the water making it easier to navigate the chaos of an open water swim.


Have you thought about getting a swim stroke analysis with me? This is where I take a look at your stroke from several different sides and show you how you can become more efficient and therefore faster in the water. Sign up here and I will get in touch with you! (Yes, I can do this remotely!)


Have you thought about hiring a coach for your next iron distance event? Let’s chat. Click the purple button below and fill out the short form for a free 15 min chat about your race goals!


Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach

USA Triathlon Coach

TriDot Coach

ACSM Trainer



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