Freestyle is the most common of the 4 major swimming strokes. It will often comprise up to 75% of a competitive swimmer’s workout. Proper form and technique are paramount for improvement, as opposed to endless yardage or time in the water.
If a swimmer does not bilateral breath, or take a breath to both the left and right sides, they will very quickly develop muscular imbalances. By only breathing to one side, imbalances can be can actually present in the low back or hips, affecting the kick too. An imbalance can range from completely symptom free to intense shoulder or neck pain tendonitis, numbness, etc.
For example, say a swimmer is right arm dominant and only feels comfortable breathing the right. Their left arm winds up having to balance the body and hips by consistently working harder by being in the water for a longer time. The right arm or ‘dominant side’ and shoulder complex will actually get weaker over time. While the head is turned out of the water towards the right to breathe, the right arm and is out of the water longer, as well. The difference is most noticeable when attempting to breathe to the left side, where a swimmer will lose technique and timing and often feel awkward or un-balanced.
A good starting point to fixing one’s stroke is to perform single arm drills. This will highlight the difference in strength of one arm compared to the other. Keep the right arm out in front of the body and leave it there, while only the left arm takes strokes, and vice versa. There are many progressions to the drill, but start with that.