Do marathon swimmers breathe every stroke?

RiverRatRiverRat Member
edited February 2013 in General Discussion
Trying to implement bilateral breathing for 2013, but now wondering if this is a good strategy. Do you breathe every stroke on a marathon swim?

Comments

  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    Try as I might, I always go back to breathing every right. When I'm not being escorted, that's a problem, as I have to sight every 8-12 strokes. But when I've got an escort, oh so nice to not have to worry.

    I don't have any problems with one side of my body being sore or rubbed raw as a result of breathing unilaterally.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    RiverRat said:

    Do you breathe every stroke on a marathon swim?

    I think you mean every stroke cycle, yes?
  • ChickenOSeaChickenOSea Charter Member
    I'm a bilateral breather. It's handy when you want to see the scenery on both sides. Sometimes I breathe every second stroke, though, for practical reasons.
  • In general, I breathe bilaterally. The waves sometimes force you to breathe on one side only, though.

  • bobswimsbobswims Charter Member
    I breathe bilaterally when I am swimming slow . . . I guess that's all of the time. However starting at 10K I switch more and more to my dominant side as the distance of the race is shorter.
  • In general I breath bilaterally. Probably could not change if I wanted as it is a 50 year habit. Back when I was a young swimmer if you did not breath bilateral you would hear about it from your coach in no uncertain terms. In a marathon swim I cannot even imagine breathing to only one side, especially if it is to the side away from the escort boat.
  • RiverRatRiverRat Member
    edited February 2013
    evmo said:

    I think you mean every stroke cycle, yes?

    Yes, sorry for the confusion. I have a long slow marathon stroke and I think it is making it harder for me to breathe bilaterally. It is easier if I increase my stroke pace "start spinning my wheels". For distance I have always breathed every stroke cycle to the right. I am trying bilateral breathing in hope of "balancing my stroke" to prevent pain in the left shoulder so I can continue to do marathon swims. I believe part of the stoke imperfection that is causing the discomfort is coming from breathing only to the right.
  • jcmalickjcmalick Charter Member
    edited February 2013
    About five years ago on an escort/boot camp swim with Ron Collins in Clearwater, FL, he advised that bilateral breathing was a handy skill to have in open water, long distance swimming. It took quite some time, and a lot of practice, but I did get a rhythm down and that's all I do anymore...as others have hinted, it is good to be comfortable breathing to both sides especially considering the circumstances...wave crests and wind directions, fumes from the boat, ugly mugs sitting on top of a kayak, gazing at the scantily clad beachgoers (or not), etc. Provides for versatility and also helps to break up the monotony in longer swims if you can play games such as breathing 100 times to one side then switching. Food for thought!
  • RiverRatRiverRat Member
    edited February 2013
    jcmalick said:

    it is good to be comfortable breathing to both sides especially considering the circumstances.

    I can breathe to the right or to the left every stroke cycle with no problem. I think it is the lack of oxygen with my slow paced stroke rate, waiting that extra "half stroke".
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited February 2013
    Bilateral breathing should be distinguished from breathing every three strokes.

    Being able to breathe on both sides is very useful in open water swimming. However, depending on your stroke rate, breathing every three strokes may not provide enough oxygen. I'm about 60-64 SPM at distances of 10km+, and I don't get enough air with every-3 (i.e., one breath every ~3 seconds).

    So, I usually end up breathing every stroke cycle (every two strokes) to one side. I prefer the right but can do the left if necessary.

    A good alternative would be a pattern along the lines of: 2 strokes (right breath), 2 strokes (right breath), 3 strokes (left breath), 2 strokes (left breath), 2 strokes (left breath), 3 strokes (right breath), etc., etc.

    3-2-2-3-2-2-3-2-2-3
  • RiverRatRiverRat Member
    edited February 2013
    evmo said:

    Bilateral breathing should be distinguished from breathing every three strokes.

    Thank you, yes I am trying to breathe every three strokes!
  • Surely the pattern makes no difference? I was always under the impression that as long as you have enough oxygen the rest doesn't matter. I am able to breathe on both sides and choose to breath on one side for 1k then switch to the other side.
  • I've been working toward breathing every 3. Sounds like my experience is similar to others: If I'm moving slowly (stroke count about 52/minute), I don't feel like I'm getting enough air breathing every 3.

    Would having a blowhole surgically installed be a violation of CSA rules? If so, how about CS&PF?

    Jon
  • gnome4766 said:

    Surely the pattern makes no difference? I was always under the impression that as long as you have enough oxygen the rest doesn't matter. I am able to breathe on both sides and choose to breath on one side for 1k then switch to the other side.

    Generally speaking, if you pay attention to balancing out your stroke, it doesn't. One of the reasons I forced myself to learn to breathe bilaterally is that I got in the bad habit of not rotating enough to the side I wasn't breathing on. When I made myself breathe bilaterally, my stroke got more balanced, and my shoulders thanked me.

    I guess it's because I'm so big, but I've never had a problem at any slow pace with holding a 3 stroke breathing pattern. If I start going hard and swimming something short, like say a mile, then I have to drop down to breathing every 2 strokes.
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoMember
    +1 for the breath every 3 strokes crowd. I find that it helps me keep a straighter course in open water. I have a fairly slow stroke rate (50/minute), for those occasions that I switch to one sided breathing I tend to go with one breath every 4 strokes.

    I only started swimming seriously a few years ago, and made the conscious decision to learn bilateral breathing. I definitely had a preference for right side breathing, but would alternate which side I was breathing on every lap. These days I am perfectly fine on either side.
    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer
  • Breathe every three in the pool and OW, unless it gets tricky/tiring. Only learned last year though :-) Couldn't go a long way breathing just to my right though. That's something I need to work into training. I quite like breathing drills during long sessions though, as it makes the miles go by faster....
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited February 2013
    gnome4766 said:

    Surely the pattern makes no difference? I was always under the impression that as long as you have enough oxygen the rest doesn't matter.

    Having some sort of pattern helps promote a sense of rhythm in one's stroke. During a long swim I'm always trying to attain (and sustain) a good rhythm, to settle into a groove. It keeps me focused and mindful, and seems to make time pass more quickly.

    The specifics of the pattern aren't important: 3-2-2-3-2-2-3 was just one example. But I do think balanced patterns are superior to unbalanced patterns. As @dc_in_sf suggests, it can help you swim straighter.

    There's an interesting article on this subject by Gary Hall, Sr. --
    http://www.theraceclub.net/aqua-notes/to-breathe-or-not-to-breathe
    dc_in_sf said:

    I have a fairly slow stroke rate (50/minute), for those occasions that I switch to one sided breathing I tend to go with one breath every 4 strokes.

    So that would be one breath every 4.8 seconds, or 12.5 breaths per minute. It is amazing to me that you get enough oxygen with that.
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoMember
    edited February 2013
    evmo said:

    So that would be one breath every 4.8 seconds, or 12.5 breaths per minute. It is amazing to me that you get enough oxygen with that.

    Well I am pretty slow so my swimming might be more akin to a brisk walk than running :-)

    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer
  • david_barradavid_barra Charter Member
    So.... my question(s) is(are):
    What is your stroke rate/breathing pattern?
    Does changing your SR change your BP?
    How? If it changes during a long swim, is this strategic or organic?
    Does temperature have an effect on your SR/BP?
    Will Evan split this into 5 separate threads?
    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited February 2013

    So.... my question(s) is(are):

    I agree with DB that these are important questions, possibly more important than the one originally posed.

    btw, the reason for splitting threads is that it makes them easier to find and follow after the fact.
  • Mike_GemelliMike_Gemelli Member
    edited February 2013
    I like breathing every 3 strokes for many of the same reasons mentioned above:
    Balance and sighting .

    That being said, you could easily open a whole other can of worms based on Evmo's and David's comments:
    evmo said:

    Being able to breathe on both sides is very useful in open water swimming. However, depending on your stroke rate, breathing every three strokes may not provide enough oxygen. I'm about 60-64 SPM at distances of 10km+, and I don't get enough air with every-3 (i.e., one breath every ~3 seconds).

    What is your stroke rate/breathing pattern?
    Does changing your SR change your BP?
    How? If it changes during a long swim, is this strategic or organic?

    After doing some calculations, I find my Stroke Rate (SR) ties in pretty well with my Breathing Pattern(BP). If I want to take a long relaxing swim, I'll breathe every 5 strokes. This keeps my stroke rate right around 50ish. For long races(5-10K), I like to settle in to a 3 stroke pattern with a SR of 55ish. For short races(2 miles or less) I go with a 2/3/2 or 2/2/3 and my SR can get above 60.

    So, at what distance do you treat a marathon swim like a race as opposed to an endurance test? If you are racing and trying to stay at your threshold pace, more breathing = more speed (to a point). If you're going for endurance, staying below your threshold pace with an easy stroke can make for long distances. Of course, this can only be answered by the individual swimmer and depends on fitness level, form and experience.
  • david_barradavid_barra Charter Member
    So, I guess it was rude of me to throw out a bunch of questions without a bit of personal commentary, so:
    It took me a few years to become comfortable breathing on either side. My decision to put in the effort was based mainly on trying to adopt a more symmetrical stroke and avoid those injuries and chronic issues caused by imbalance.

    I am now quite comfortable breathing on both sides, but sighting to my right side is still less than optimal. I believe that having the option to breathe either side is a valuable skill for any open water swimmer to have... I know of at least one swimmer who’s EC attempt was shortened due to the fact that he could breathe only on one side and couldn’t reposition himself when the diesel fumes became unbearable. My EC pilot requested that I try to swim on the port side so he would have a better view from the wheelhouse. I did, and to this day, that is the only time I ever completed a marathon swim alternate breathing. Typically, after 10 hours, I fall into a breathing left every stroke cycle pattern.

    My stroke rate varies from 60 - 72. I like to spin a little faster at the start... to get loose, to warm up...etc. A lighter catch allows things to settle in without fatigue, and breathing every 3 feels natural. When I settle into 64 spm (my average) I am still comfortable breathing every 3, unless I am fatigued, or really trying to keep my distance per stroke long; then I will switch to left side breathing every stroke cycle.

    There have been several memorable occasions when I have had the need to breathe less frequently:
    Maui Channel: I swam this tandem with Terry Laughlin and WIllie Miller. I had a nasty sinus infection that really hurt when I moved my head. My breathing pattern was left side ever 2 stroke cycles (4 strokes) for the duration.

    8 Bridges 2011 Stage 7: Pulled muscle in my shoulder blade. Breathing pattern left only.

    Memphre: Esophageal irritation + acid reflux = burning sensation when exhaling. I went for long stretches holding my breath for 5 strokes.

    For cold water swims, I sometimes start on my back breathing every (yes EVERY) stroke.
    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
  • mmeadmmead Charter Member
    My humble professional opinion:

    I breath every 2 strokes. I personally need to keep pumping oxygen into my system in order to hold 80+ strokes per minute for hours at a time. I can however breath bilaterally and do......I take a few breaths on one side then switch to the other. Being able to breath on both sides is important, breathing every three is not.

    Some people do not need to breath every two strokes to keep their pace. If you don't need the oxygen, by all means breath every 3 because you will be more "balanced."

    On a side note, the main reason a 3-breather swims straighter than a 2-breather is because people tend to overreach their entry during a breath. 3-breathers are switching sides so they are auto correcting. While this may result in a straightish line it's still ineffiecient.....correcting true imbalances in your stroke should be number one priority.

    One more reason I like to breath every two......because if I breath every three I spend more time looking down. It took me having a few panic attacks to realize that even if I'm swimming moderately I still need to breath every 2 in order to keep my mind off of "the man in the grey suit."
  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
  • SharkoSharko Sonoma County, CAMember
    Has anyone here swam a long training swim with a front mounted snorkel....and what are the pluses and minues....I am not sure you can get a full inhilation/exhilation....but it might help in the concentration and the balancing of the stroke...I think I might try it!!!
    "I never met a shark I didn't like"
  • ssthomasssthomas Charter Member
    @sharko- that sounds like torture! Good luck!
  • mmeadmmead Charter Member
    @IronMike I was asked to present at END-Wet and considered it, but ultimately had to pass based on the Grand Prix schedule. Didn't think my shoulders could handle three marathons in three weeks.
  • I spent the first 40 years of swimming breathing to one side. Seeking balance, I've switched to bi-lateral. I've found that alternating two breaths on the left, 3 strokes then two breaths on the right works best for me (2-2-3-2-2-3). Still a little inefficient to the weak side but as an added benefit it's helped with a weak side shoulder issue.
  • NiekNiek Heiloo, NetherlandsMember
    edited May 2013
    Here's some footage about the importance of bilateral breathing.
    But I don't think that the lack off bilateral breathing is the only reason those swimmers swerve so much. I think they don't sight enough.
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • SharkoSharko Sonoma County, CAMember
    edited May 2013
    This swimmer is Pedro of Water World...who ever said that all experienced open water swimmers can sight??!!??


    "I never met a shark I didn't like"
  • heartheart Member
    I breathe bilaterally, and try to adjust my breathing pattern to the conditions.

    I've recently come to a sad conclusion that my shoulder injury during Tampa was probably caused by faulty breathing to the right. My kayaker was to my right for pretty much the entire race, and I've now noticed that, when I breathe to the right, I have a perverse tendency to lift my head slightly as I turn it, which causes stress to the left arm. So, the lesson for me is to work on flawless breathing technique, and to ask my kayaker next time to change it up once in a while.
  • ChickenOSeaChickenOSea Charter Member
    @heart I'm exactly the same. I breathe bilaterally for the most part but my right side breathing is wonky so I always request my kayaker be on my left (but change it around a bit if necessary)
  • MvGMvG Member
    Unilateral left breather - much to my regret. Breathing bilaterally is a big plus for all the reasons mentioned already by others in this thread & it helps avoid imbalances in one's stroke that can lead to neck and shoulder discomfort (ask me). I gave bilateral a try when I was preparing for the EC a few years ago, but I never really managed to get comfortable with it.
  • oopwateroopwater Member
    edited November 2013
    Do you guys find that your SPM is higher when you don't breathe bilaterally? I'm trying to get my SPM up as it is way too low for cold water swimming, but as soon as I try and get it up I just start swimming faster and get fatigued. That being said, I breathe bilaterally on the classic 3 stroke pattern.
  • i struggled this week end to breathe bilaterally. I am very comfortable with it in the pool but with the cold water and adrenalin of the swim I had to breathe almost every 2nd stroke. Managed to breathe every 3rd stroke only after about 1.5km of swimming and this was only for part of the way. had to revert back to every stroke most of the way
  • edited November 2013
    Fwiw, my stroke rate is in the low 60's and I normally breathe every cycle, 3 on one side, then 3 on the other and throw in a sighting / head forward breath every now and again. I'm equally comfortable on both sides, but when the pace is up I take more breaths on each side, to prevent the loss of oxygen while switching sides.
  • I have to say I tried to get the hang of bilateral breathing and failed. I don't know what a stroke 'cycle' is but I breath every 4th stroke and on my left. When I'm in OW I swim fairly straight, I sight about every 10th stroke (not sure if that's a lot...)
  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    I preach to my swimmers to bilateral breath, because you can swim straighter that way. But, as the saying goes, I don't practice it. As soon as I'm in the heat of the race, I go to my every right breathing pattern. And I've been swimming straighter, so I must have adjusted to match my non-bilateral breathing.
  • I find that my shoulders get tired faster when I breathe bilaterally on every stroke, but if I swim the 3 stroke pattern it feels smoother. I really need to get my SPM up though, anyone have any ideas?
  • IronMikeIronMike Bishkek, KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    Swim Smooth has good drills, check them out.
  • Thanks @IronMike, I'll have a look. I spoke to a more experienced swimmer in the pool last night and she suggested to swim with a recovery stroke.
  • @KieranM, to clarify:
    What I mean by stroke cycle is every time your left arm comes round. In my book a stroke (or stroke cycle) is two pulls, left arm then right arm. So my normal pattern is 3 breaths in a row on my left side, then hold your breath for a bit as you switch over to the right side, then 3 more breaths in a row.
    On long swims, I don't see the point of breathing bilaterally and switching sides after only one breath. For me, that's too much breath holding.
  • I used three stroke bilateral breathing to help hold me back and pace a bit better on a 15k this year. It worked too well as I felt somewhat fresher than expected at the finish.
  • what is a recovery stroke?
  • oopwateroopwater Member
    edited November 2013
    Sorry @mongoose I meant high recovery, it's when you keep your elbow higher to apparently make you more efficient.

    Here's some info:
    http://teamatomica.com/fix-your-stroke-high-elbow-recovery/
  • This thread keeps stringing along.

    I breathe every third stroke to start long races as a way to keep myself from going out too fast.

    But then when it's time to get going, I breathe every two stroke to whatever side is advantageous. Usually away from the waves but occasionally away from bright sunshine if the sun is low on the horizon..
  • I completed my first 5k this summer. My longest swims prior to this were 2.5k and 2 miles. On those swims I swam a pattern of 3, 3, 2, 2, sight. For the 5k this summer my pattern was 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, sight. I don't know if the breathing pattern made the difference or I was in better condition, but my pace per mile was faster on the 5k than the shorter swims.

    I do believe that bilateral breathing is better, at least for me. However, I will revert to breathing every two strokes at the end of the swim when I'm sprinting to the finish.
  • I used three stroke bilateral breathing to help hold me back and pace a bit better on a 15k this year. It worked too well as I felt somewhat fresher than expected at the finish.

    That's interesting. I have come to view my intake of Oxygen and the control of it similar to a throttle on an engine. The more oxygen I feed my muscles the faster I go. Of course as I try to sprint, I will go into oxygen debt at some point, but by keeping a good steady stroke and adjusting my breathing pattern I find I can regulate my speed. For example I can estimate my pace reasonably well without looking at the clock by using the 3 stroke bilateral pattern as a base for time per 100 yards:
    5 stroke Bilateral = BASE + 6
    4 stroke same = BASE + 4
    3 stroke Bilateral = BASE
    2,3,2,3 = BASE - 2
    2,2,3,2,2 = BASE - 3

    This comes in handy when training without a clock.

    FWIW - In just about every swim I have done that is longer than 2 hours, I have maintain the 3 stroke bilateral.
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