What is it?
3SB is the breathing pattern that most of us progress to after first mastering basic two stroke breathing. By breathing every two strokes, your head turns to inhale to the same side every second arm stroke while exhaling into the water with your head down on the other arm stroke. With 3SB, you have one arm stroke to inhale on followed by two arm strokes to exhale on. Your head alternates from the left to right sides to inhale while still exhaling into the water with your head down.
Actually, inhaling with any odd number of strokes (e.g. 3, 5 or 7) will turn your head alternately from side to side – and any even number (e.g. 2, 4, or 6) will turn your head to the same side every time. But two or three stroke breathing are the most commonly used patterns.
How do we do it?
It is far better to only think of counting your strokes and breathing on every third, rather than trying to remember to turn your head to one side and then the other - that’s a sure way to muck it up.
A drill I sometimes use is to teach the student to count from one to three in a language they do not know. For example, they count their strokes Eine, Zwei, Drei, (or Un, Deux, Trois, etc) remembering to inhale on Drei (or Troi). It is a simple trick from the brain training literature that really does work. You are thinking of the new words rather than what seems like an impossibly hard breathing technique.
What are its benefits?
- 3SB evens out our stroke so that our stroke on one side is on same as on the other
- It exercises our muscles (arms, shoulders, etc)on both halves of our body evenly
- Our body’s directional alignment is better
- In open water, we swim a straighter line
- 3SB helps us to relax. Because 3SB involves two exhalation strokes to one inhalation stroke – or, to put it another way, we exhale for twice as long as we inhale – we relax more. Exhalation is a proven yoga relaxation technique (relaxation, itself, is an important swimming tip)
- 3SB also allows us to completely exhale more easily. With two-stroke breathing, we often struggle to completely exhale as we have only one stroke to do it on. If we don’t exhale fully, we can’t take a full breath in and, if we don’t take in a full oxygen-rich breath, how far we can swim - or how fast – is severely limited
- Finally, with 3SB, we get to exercise both hemispheres of our brain. After all, swimming is very much a cerebral activity.
Do I have to do it all the time?
No. If your body is telling you that it needs more air that it is getting, you should revert to two-stroke breathing until you are ready to resume your ‘default’ 3SB pattern. Also, if you are in the open water and it is rough, you do not want to inhale on the windward side – that will only give you a mouthful of water. So you need to adapt to the conditions.
A final word. There are many technical reasons why 3SB is better but, in the end, you do whatever breathing pattern works for you.