Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Hypoxic" Training

Here and there, I come upon online conversations about "hypoxic" training with regards to various athletic endeavors. I find it very interesting that the idea of holding one's breath is being examined as a training tool in sports where holding your breath would be nothing but a detriment. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, indeed, there could be great benefits with the practice.

Swimmers often practice "hypoxic" sets (breathing only x2/length of the pool, breathing every sixth stroke, etc), but in my opinion (and in Ernie Maglischo's opinion, author of "Swimming Faster"), this training will not elicit the same effect as true hypoxic training (training at altitude). The only real benefit they have is to accustom swimmers to the discomfort of struggling for air. It is here that the training does have some benefit and may be of some use to non-swimmers as well.

When I was 19, during a training camp, we had breath holding contest (floating face first) at the end of swim practice. I don't remember how many we had on the team (probably around 30), but I'd guess more than half of us lasted at least four minutes. The guy who won lasted, if memory serves me correctly, 6 minutes. None of us ever, ever practiced that. Some may say it's all bull and that it did not happen, but it was a Division I team - almost every member was a recruited high school All-American, many were all-Big 10, at least half a dozen were Division I All-Americans, and one was 400 meter world record holder. Every swimmer of any competence quickly develops the ability to relax underwater and to pace his/her breathing. Watch any long practice and you are bound to find at least one loafer who is trying to escape practice by sitting at the bottom of the pool blowing air rings.

So what does all this mean to other athletes? It means that the idea of pacing your work by breaths rather than time may hold some merit. The ability to relax and maintain proper technique in the face of discomfort caused by oxygen debt might be improved with such training. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES AM I SUGGESTING SOMEONE TO HOLD THEIR BREATH DURING WEIGHTLIFTING SETS - IF YOU PASS OUT AND HURT YOURSELF IT IS YOUR FAULT. What I am suggesting that instead of three breaths between our reps, we might try to do our sets with two breaths between reps. Breath control may indeed be an area of S&C that will see more attention given in the future.


Snizshizzle said...

Could you please elaborate on why holding your breath is not true hypoxic training?

Swimming as far as I can with one breath made my mile time go down about 50secs in a week with no additional training. I tested, did "hypoxic" swimming a few times, then tested again a week later.

Boris said...

Hypoxic training happens at altitude or in a hyperbaric chamber. Breath holding would be hypercapnia (increased CO2), not hypoxia (reduced oxygen). I don't really know much about how the two would affect physiology.