Hypoxic Training

The term hypoxic is the adjective form of hypoxia which is defined as in adequate oxygen in the blood.  Swimmers have traditionally used hypoxic work in their training when they are limiting their breathing to one breath every three, four, five, six or more strokes.

I grew up doing this form of training, as did most of my swimming peers at the time (graduated college in 1981). As I look back coaches probably overused hypoxic work and at the time many believed it improved training. There has been no evidence demonstrating that hypoxic work improves aerobic ability. For me hypoxic training has two, while limited, real uses:

  • The pain of sprinting. When you are in the last five to ten yards of an all-out sprint, it hurts, a lot.  That need of oxygen is intense and you want to grab that breathe of air.  When you do you have lost speed. 50s and 100s are about a hundredth of a second and taking that breath just lost you several.  Training no breather 25 yard sprints will prepare your brain to deal with, and not succumb to the pain of the oxygen debt you are in at the end of a sprint race.
  • Double the distance off the wall. Whether it is two full breaststroke pullouts or double the number of kicks, focus work on extending the distance underwater. If you do work in practices where you extend your time underwater significantly past what you will need in a race off of each wall, then you will be comfortable doing one pull out, or your normal number of kicks in a race.  Walls are a critically important portion of pool races, don’t lose your race because of your walls.

These are two strong uses for hypoxic, or limited oxygen work.  What I don’t really recommend is doing long sets yardage where you limit your breathing.


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