What is hypoxic swim training?
Updated: Mar 30
What is hypoxic training in swimming - Simply put, hypoxic training in swimming is where you increase the amount of strokes you perform between breaths. Mainly used when swimming Front Crawl. It’s exercising without an abundance of oxygen present. It requires you to hold your breath for longer but still be exercising (swimming) hard. The effect is very similar to that achieved by altitude training. You’re asking for your muscles to respond to the physical demand but at the same time you are purposefully depriving them of oxygen. You build a greater affinity to utilise the little oxygen present in the cardiovascular and muscular system whilst performing exercise. Therefore when you revert back to breathing more frequently, you have an abundance of oxygen present and swimming at a higher intensity should feel easier than before.
If you’re thinking of bringing this into your training routine only do so after considering the following or seeking further advise from a professional coach:
1. Your stroke technique should be in a great place before trying hypoxic training as it may encourage some negative change to the stroke. I.e. an increased arm rate or disrupted stroke rhythm.
2. Current swimming ability / fitness level. If you’re just starting out on a swim fitness campaign, give yourself time to feel fitter with your swimming prior to adding this into your routine. Build a great foundation of swim fitness first.
3. Drip feed hypoxic training into your routine. Start by using it over shorter distances (50 – 100m swims) before moving into longer distance swims. Also start by using shorter stroke amounts before increasing this. I.e. try breathing once every 4 strokes before moving onto once every 6,8 etc strokes.
4. Be prepared for headaches. Best avoided, but a side effect can be a headache as you are limiting the amount of oxygen intake to the body whilst exercising. If you feel a headache coming on, go back to swimming with regular breathing or better still, stop and rest. Do not persevere, it won’t go away.
5. Avoid hypoxic training if you suffer from high / low blood pressure or any other cardiovascular contra-indications. Always consult your GP prior to trying it out, especially if you’re unsure.
6. Never push / over exceed the duration of breath holding to a dangerous level. What I mean here is to not get near that point where you’re gagging for air! The side effect is dangerous and could lead to a black out. This is obviously to be avoided at all costs.
7. Make sure this training method is appropriate to what you are looking to achieve with your swimming. If you are a recreational swimmer it won’t really make sense to use it. Competitive swimming and increasing your swimming fitness can very much benefit from an element of hypoxic swim training.
For more guidance on how to perfect your Front Crawl technique and more download the series of swimming books by Mark Durnford.