How Often Should Triathletes Breathe When Swimming?

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

Image Credit: Triathletes Jasmine Rogers &  Michanda Myles Ironman Triathlon Training in Pool
Image Credit: Triathletes Jasmine Rogers & Michanda Myles

The number of times you should breathe while swimming in open water or the pool is determined by a number of factors, including the stroke you're using, your speed, and whether you're sprinting or swimming a long distance.

Many swimming styles provide triathlete swimmers the option of controlling when they breathe. In a freestyle, for example, swimmers may opt to breathe every second, third, fourth, or even more strokes.

The goal of most competitive swimmers and triathletes is to be the fastest in their wave. You can work up your muscles, perfect your stroke, and even shave your entire body, but if you ignore your breathing, you may never attain your full potential or capture your best race swim times.

Bad breathing makes swimming more difficult, adds resistance and exhausts your body. The more oxygen you provide your body, the better you will function.

This endurance training blog post is geared to educate new triathletes and even veteran swimmers on how breathing strategies can improve your swim pace and race experience.

Can my breathing technique have an effect on my speed?

Yes. Your breathing technique has a significant impact on your swim pace. Your swimming technique and form, as well as how and how often you breathe, will affect your speed.

Effective breathing patterns will allow for more stronger & fuller strokes and increases your distance per stroke in most cases.

Tips for Improving Your Swim Breathing Techniques

It takes time, patience, and dedication to improve your breathing technique. There are exercises, drills, strategies, and tips that will help you breathe more effectively and efficiently in the pool and in open water - which can be found freely on YouTube.

Top 3 focus areas to improve your breathing and swim speed:

  1. Bilateral Breathing

  2. Body Alignment

  3. Don't hold your breath - exhale forcefully - know the bubble, bubble breathe song?

Tribe Shoutout: Jasmin Rogers shaved 12 min off her best Olympic swim at Rev3 Williamsburg by working on her Tri Swim technique and breathing with a coach.
Black Triathlete Jasmine Rogers Exiting Rev3 OLY Swim with a PR
Image Credit: Triathlete Jasmine Rogers Rev3 OLY Swim PR

Become Familiar with Bilateral Breathing.

When swimming freestyle, it's important to practice breathing on both sides of the body. This entails breathing in odd strokes and alternating which side you breathe on.

This is a crucial skill to master if you want to improve your performance in a swimming competition, triathlon pool swim and open water races.

A bilateral breathing pattern produces symmetrical and balanced strokes, making swimming in a straight line in open water easier.

It also teaches you to breathe comfortably on both sides, which is extremely useful if you face challenges like another triathlete splashing water in your face or the sun in your eyes during an open water competition.

How Often Should Triathletes Breathe When Swimming?

When it comes to triathlons and triathletes swimming in open water - our coaches <who are also age-group athletes still in the game> suggest that you have a full strong breath every 3 strokes or a 2 -2 pattern alternating breathing sides every 2 strokes.

8/10 endurance swimmers and triathletes experience an improved swim pace practicing bilateral breathing over time.

10/10 long distance swimmers and open water triathletes credit bilateral breathing for helping learn how to deal with chopping waters and tired arms/shoulders.

Take Action Tip: To do a bilateral breathing pattern, make sure your inhale and exhale ratios are set to a "out-out-in" count. Regardless of the change, you should keep your breath moving and not hold it at any point.

One last thing: Some sprint triathlete athletes may choose to swim using unilateral breathing {breathing always on the same side or on even strokes}, but we strongly recommend incorporating bilateral breathing into your training to balance your strokes and avoid swimmers shoulder niggles by using the 2-2 method.

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