Be Careful of Hypoxic Breathing
By Coach Dennis Baker
When I was young we did a lot of breath control sets, or hypoxic breathing sets. Usually we were sprinting and not breathing very much at all. This type of training in repetition can lead to shallow water blackout which is very concerning in the swimming world as of late. You must be very careful with this type of training and for that matter racing without breathing very much as well. Let’s look at a better way to use hypoxic breathing and talk about a few swimmers who breathe a lot.
Later in my swimming college years we used hypoxic breathing in quite a different way. We used it to actively recover from our intense main set. I use this method today in coaching my kids and Masters swimmers. Usually we do it during our pull set and a typical set would look like this: 8 X 125s free pull with the last 25 trying to breathe the least amount of breaths possible. Or we will do a few 400s free pull with a breathing pattern that switches from 2 to 4 to 6 to 8 per 50. Other times we switch up from 3 to 5 to 7 pattern breathing in whichever distance we are doing. In all these sets you are never going very fast. This is mostly mind/lung control and learning to be in control while your body recovers. I feel this is a very beneficial tool as practice is winding down and it will help you be in control more in your future races. Control in a race or practice is of the utmost importance.
The type of hypoxic training I mentioned at the beginning of the article, high intensity no breath, is the kind of training that scares me and is a needless way to train. While some of the top sprinters in the world don’t breathe much during a shorter race, we are seeing many more that do breathe more. I personally have witnessed Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte go under 19.5 for a 50 yard freestyle breathing almost every stroke. Why?? They are efficient breathers and taking a breath doesn’t slow them down. Air is good and it is good in a race and good in a practice. Don’t fall into the trap of too much high-speed-low-breath-rate training that is not safe. Use hypoxic training to gain mind and body control and a slower pace and you will be well on your way to better racing and training.