Bilateral Breathing

When should swimmers learn bilateral breathing?  It is a question or topic of debate that has been among swimming industry professionals for many years.  At World Wide Swim School (WWSS), we believe that as soon as a swimmer is ready to learn side breathing, they should learn to breathe to both sides.  Learning to breathe to both sides does not necessarily mean bilateral breathing where swimmers alternate which side they breathe to each time they take a breath.  This can easily be done in learn to swim programs so that by the time swimmers are in squad groups, bilateral breathing will be a breeze.

At WWSS we focus on breaking down individual skills and mastering them to a tee so that when the time comes to put it all together it is automatic and there is little effort required to get it right.  Keep reading for some tips and important considerations when teaching breathing to young swimmers.


Tips for teaching side breathing:

  • First and foremost, swimmers should only be introduced to side breathing when their kicks are strong enough to hold them in a good streamline body position. If kicks are weak in the early stages of breathing development, poor body position will create resistance and make it harder for swimmers to keep moving efficiently through the water as they turn to breathe.


  • Start on a ledge or in shallow water where swimmers are supported when they first learn to turn to the side. This will ensure correct technique and head position is achieved before combining kicking and breathing skills.


  • Once kicking and breathing skills are mastered, instructors can introduce arms into the mix building on each individual skill until great freestyle technique achieved.


  • Whenever choosing breathing drills for your lesson plan pick a focus point (e.g. grandstand, kiosk, change rooms) and have swimmers breathe to that side at all times. This will mean swimmers will learn to breathe to both sides without having to concentrate too hard on the skill.  When swimming in one direction, students will breathe to the left and then to the right when they come back in the other direction or vice versa.


  • If you are instructing a class from the pool deck, ensure swimmers are breathing to the side where you are positioned. This allows you to communicate and give non-verbal feedback queues to swimmers as you pace along beside them.


  • By following a building block approach in the initial stages of teaching side breathing, once swimmers are more advanced and are asked to breath on the count of 3, 5, 7 and so on, it will be an easy and natural transition to the traditional bilateral breathing technique used in freestyle.


Remember, it is natural that some swimmers may favour a particular side when they breathe in freestyle.  This is often attributed to whether they are left or right handed.  It doesn’t matter which side is more comfortable for a swimmer and it may help them to find a better rhythm in races and competitions.  It is important, however, that swimmers are capable of breathing to both sides as it can aid in seeing where their competitors are for tactical reasons when competing.

When teaching side breathing always focus on mastering pre-requisite skills and following a building block approach to ensure success for both you and your swimmers.

What techniques have helped you teach side breathing?  Share your experience in the comments section below.


To learn more about what you need to know CLICK HERE!


Laurie Lawrence


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  • Lisa Charnley

    Thanks for the tips and informative articles from WWSS. We teach bilateral counts and rolling onto the back before introducing side breathing. I believe you encountered this method at your Master Class in Sydney and liked what you saw Laurie. Your Masterclass was the BEST seminar I’ve attended in the past 17 years…. a big thank you to you and your team. Your inspiration was infectious!!!