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Endurance Athlete Consulting covers a broad range of topics regarding human performance in sport, sport related injuries, and rehabilitation. If there is something specific you would like to inquire about, please feel free to email me at: bradsenska@yahoo.com.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Swimming and Bilateral Breathing

Many seasoned and experienced open water swimmers, triathletes, and adventure racers may already know the importance of bilateral breathing when swimming.  There are several very good reasons for practicing this breathing pattern during swim practice and especially during swim competitions.  Here is a summary of these reasons:
1. You swim a straighter line in open water when breathing bilaterally
2. You are able to see where your competition is on both sides of you
3. Bilateral breathing improves your bodies ability to use available oxygen more efficiently
4. Most important, if you have a long swim and the swim is the first event, then getting out of the water, running to the transition area, and then donning your running or cycling gear will be more fluid, coordinated, and will save you what could be enough time to put you on the podium.
Let me explain each point.  

Number 1:  
I'll use the analogy of driving a car, walking, or riding a bike.  When you look to your right, the normal response when looking to your right or to your left is to head in that direction as well.  The key to performing acrobatics, diving, or other stunts like free style ski jumping is to always look where you want your body to follow.  When I was first learning backflips and double back layouts on a trampoline when practicing for our acrobatics team, the first thing you learn is to lead with your head and eyes.  Our bodies are programmed to follow our line of sight, to follow where our head leads.  In other situations in life, this can be bad news and trouble, but in this context, it's necessary for improving your performance in open water swimming of which a transition to another sport discipline immediately follows.
In summary, if you employ bilateral breathing when open water swimming, you will swim a straighter line and not drift off course as many rookie open water swimmers do.  
Number 2:
You'll know where your competition is on both sides of you.  Knowing where other competitors are is essential especially if you're eyeing someone you've targeted to beat.
You also want to avoid getting too close to someone that may decide to take advantage of your slipstream.  Just as with cycling, speed skating, running, etc., a swimmer can slide in behind you and significantly reduce their energy expenditure in the swim leg.  Once someone does get in to your slipstream, it's very hard to shake them.  You certainly can't zig-zag around.  This would be detrimental to your race.  So, if you know that this person is someone that you are competing directly against for a podium spot, then it just may be that you've given your podium spot away.
Email me and I'll tell you how to shake someone out of your slipstream without putting yourself in the anaerobic red zone.  I'll also tell you how to maneuver around the turn buoys faster and more efficient than your competition. 
Number 3:
Bilateral breathing can have a profound effect on your bodies ability to utilize available blood oxygen more efficiently.  Because your breathing is in a controlled rhythm, this has a secondary effect on your bodies metabolism.  By practicing bilateral breathing, this causes a reduction in the uptake of oxygen.  Your body adapts to and overcomes this oxygen deficit by an increased ability of your body to grab on to un-utililized oxygen that is yet in the blood.
In addition to this, oxygen rich blood is delivered to the working muscles via increased capillary density through anastomosis.  When a muscle becomes short of oxygen and it's ability to perform work, this signals the body to produce more blood delivering capabilities to this area.  This is a process known as anastomosis.
Number 4:
Here is another analogy.  Have you ever played that game where you bend over with your forehead on the end of a bat with the other end of the bat on the ground.  Then for so many seconds or turns you spin in one direction then drop the bat, and attempt to run a straight line without falling or being penalized for going too far off course while getting from point A to point B?
The same thing happens after swimming a 1.5km swim while unilaterally breathing.  You reach the dock or shore, stand up, try to doff your wetsuit and swim cap, and all the while you're trying to run a straight line to the transition area.  But instead, your running into the aisle ropes and other people  Your vision is out of whack, and at times you're falling down because you're too dizzy.  It's extremely difficult, frustrating, and can be very time consuming when trying to focus on donning your running or cycling shoes, glasses, helmet, tuck in a goo packet, or whatever.   
This dizzy and spinning sensation can cause a significantly longer transition time than necessary.  The fluid in your inner ear has been spinning one way for the last who knows how long during the swim leg and is now mis-directing you on which way is up and which way is forward.
The way to fix this is, if you just can't get the hang of bilateral breathing over a long swim course, then switch to bilateral breathing for at least for the last 5 - 6 minutes of the swim leg.  This will normalize the inner ear fluid and straighten out your onboard GPS and guidance center.  You will save you a whole mess of time,  you'll remain upright, oriented, focused, and even at times keep you from tossing your cookies.
So, if you haven't tried bilateral breathing, give it a try in practice.  Take note the line that you swim, the tempo in breathing, the difference in coordination of your swim stroke, and then hop out of the pool and go for a jog around the block just to see how you do.  I think you'll be pleased with the result.


In Good Health & Until Next Time...

Brad Senska, PT, DPT, BS, ASTYM.


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