Breathing to one side only?

Triathletes who experience chronic injuries often lack awareness that their incorrect breathing patterns while swimming may be the underlying cause of their injury. The motion of swimming crawl closely resembles the movement of our neck, arms, and trunk during running. As the right arm reaches upward, the trunk undergoes a slight rotation towards the left, and vice versa when the left arm reaches upward. In the illustration below, this means that the muscles coloured in turquoise on the front of the model, contract or shorten when the right arm is elevated, while the darker-coloured muscles contract as the left arm moves downward.

During inhalation, while the right arm is elevated, the muscles shaded in turquoise in the back of the neck and trunk and dark in the front of the neck and Pectoralis, rotates the neck towards the left. The rotation of the neck added to the trunk rotation, means that the left anterior upper spiral line (as indicated on the image below) is now fully contracted, while the opposite left posterior upper spiral (not coloured in) is in the fully lengthened and vulnerable position.

At the same time, the opposite posterior spiral line is contracted as the right arm moves downwards, and the left shoulder contracts towards the right hip to rotate the trunk.


If the swimmer breathes to both sides, it means that the combination of movement on the images above, keeps switching between the left and the right, maintaining alignment, balance and full function.

However, if the swimmer consistently breathes only towards the left, it will result in a gradual shortening of the shaded areas. Consequently, the mirror image muscles on the opposite side will progressively lengthen and weaken.

For swimmers who solely engage in swimming as their primary sport, they may be able to tolerate this muscular imbalance for a considerable period, depending on the intensity of their training. However, when the intensity and/or volume of training increases, chronic symptoms will begin to manifest, particularly in the non-shaded areas. The muscles that have become “short” are typically protected by shortened fascia, but the lengthened muscles not only become weaker but also highly susceptible to injuries.

Triathletes who practice one-sided breathing will notice certain effects from this practice. When running, one arm tends to move forward more while the opposite arm remains closer to the side. Additionally, they may experience one shoulder being higher than the other.

If a person who works with computers also breathes predominantly on one side while swimming, they may start encountering neck pain and headaches due to neck misalignment. Moreover, they might face issues with their shoulder, arm, or back as a result of the rotation.

The implications do not stop there. 

Take a moment to observe the image below, which demonstrates how the spiral lines extend through the hips and down the leg. When swimming crawl, we are aware that the pelvis and hips also rotate. In the image, you can observe how the spiral line’s contraction continues through the pelvis and downward along the leg.

While the impact may be less significant when in a non-weightbearing position such as sitting in an office or on a bicycle, it becomes a considerably more significant issue

when in a weight-bearing position such as walking, running, or standing on a bicycle. This is because larger muscles, including the Gluteus Maximus,  Biceps Femoris, Tensor Fascia Lata, and others, are actively engaged in these weight-bearing activities.


Once again, we must focus on the non-shaded muscles as the ones susceptible to chronic injury. This applies particularly to athletes engaged in bilateral weight-bearing sports such as running. Maintaining proper alignment and balanced function of the body is crucial. The illustrations above of a swimmer who exclusively breathes to the left demonstrates how a seemingly minor action can have far-reaching effects, potentially leading to a chronic injury in a completely unrelated area.

For individuals grappling with a chronic injury that fails to respond to conventional symptomatic treatments, a comprehensive evaluation of the entire body will swiftly identify both the primary sources of the problem and the habits that contribute to the injury.