A vital skill to master when trying to improve swim performance is proper breathing technique. How and when you breathe is a skill that should be taught and developed at all levels. While swimming, are you aware of when you are actively exhaling? Most swimmers, even my best, are not.
If you struggle with bilateral breathing, it is a strong indicator that you are not exhaling properly. Proper respiration when swimming should be no different than when jogging - inhale and exhale in a continuous flow. To do so, you must blow bubbles (exhale) when your face is in the water. That way, when you roll your head to breathe your exhale is complete and your inhale will be quick and efficient.
The benefits of exhaling into the water include being more relaxed, better body position, and reduced carbon dioxide build up in your system.
I have two recommendations for focusing on exhalation. The first is simply humming. Humming requires exhalation and can really help you stay focused. The second is from my training as a Swim Smooth certified coach, called Bubble, Bubble, Breathe. The drill has you actually say the word bubble underwater to activate exhalation. Push off the wall and as your hand enters the water on the first stroke say bubble, on the second stroke say bubble again, and on the third simply inhale (no need to say breathe). After trying this for a couple of 25’s, try swimming with continuous exhalation in a relaxed manner. If you catch yourself holding on to your breath simply go back to the mantra Bubble, Bubble, Breathe. A bonus to this drill is that you are bilateral breathing, which is so important to your stroke symmetry.
You may not be able to transform yourself into an elite swimmer overnight, but you can breathe like one.