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Learning to Bilateral Breathe is the most important skill you can have as a triathlete or open-water swimmer. It’s something that Sara works on every day, and it’s the first thing she teaches every swimmer she works with.

Bilateral breathing means breathing on both sides of your body. It creates smooth, even strokes and a stroke that’s balanced from side to side.

But the most important reason for learning bilateral breathing is to increase your comfort level and confidence in open water.

For example, in a race you might be instructed to keep all the buoys on your right. If you breathe to the right, no problem.

But if you always breathe to the left, you’ll be very uncomfortable and will have to lift your body more often to sight the buoys.

Another example would be a race situation with lots of wind or an ocean swim with 6-foot waves. If the waves are hitting you from the left, and you breathe only to the left, you’ll be drinking a lot of water.

And if you suddenly find yourself swimming stroke-for-stroke with another swimmer, it’s good to be able to breathe on the other side so you can tune them out and avoid drinking their splash.

Breathing to your less comfortable side can feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, but it’s worth the effort.

Sara’s favorite tip for getting past the uncomfortable stage is to do some simple neck stretches.

Before you get in the water, spend a few minutes doing these stretches, and you’ll gradually work out the tightness you might have on one side of your neck.

If you still feel like you’re choking on water when you breathe to your weaker side, it’s probably because you’re turning your head too late, as Sara is demonstrating in this clip.

Try turning the head just as soon as the hand enters the water, you’ll have more time to get a full breath.

When you practice bilateral breathing, you don’t have to breathe every 3 strokes. On this length, Sara is breathing twice on one side, then every three, then twice on the other side.

And on this length, Sara is breathing to the right on the first half of the length... and to the left on the second half of the length.

Here, Sara is using a breathing pattern of every 3...every 1. This is a great way to prepare for choppy conditions where you find a wall of water on one side... and have to turn right away to the other side to get some air.

No matter what breathing pattern you choose, the important thing is that you learn to breathe on both sides, so it feels natural and automatic when you swim in open water.

Knowing this skill can be the difference between a calm, enjoyable day at the beach or a panic situation. It all starts with bilateral breathing at the pool.