Near-Tragedy in Illinois Reminds Coaches of Dangers of Hypoxic Training

Cinenewsnow.com, a local news station in the Chicago area, is reporting of a near-tragedy at Peoria’s Notre Dame High School that was averted by one swimmer’s quick thinking.

Read the full report here.

16-year old Alex Bousky was trying to break a breath-holding record, and after 75 yards he passed out and suffered a seizure at the bottom of the pool. After a teammate noticed his absence, 17-year old Charlie Cain jumped into the water and pulled his teammate to safety. The team and the coach then took all appropriate actions, turned him onto his side, and called an ambulance.

“I went over to make sure he was okay, I didn’t expect to find him,” said Cain to Cinenewsnow. “He was on the bottom of the pool. I brought him up and over the wall and our coach got down to pull him out. All the guys were doing stuff for him, we opened the doors up and we got him on his side. One of the guys found someone to call the ambulance.”

Cain was trained by his coach, Steve Frye, in a Red Cross lifesaving class. Even though he was never a lifeguard, he took the class in hopes of furthering his medical career, according to the article.

Cain’s heroics are certainly to be commended, but this is another scary reminder about the dangers of these sorts of underwater challenges.

The dangers posed to swimmers at practice has been highlighted by two recent incidents at two of the country’s major clubs. In one case, a teen at SwimMAC was transported to a hospital by ambulance after nearly drowning. In the other, tragedy was not averted when teenager Louis Lowenthal drowned at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. There are still no firm details (and may never be) about precisely what happened in that situation. Aside from highlighting the risks, both of these cases also highlight the importance of having as many trained lifeguards on deck as possible; both in a formal role, as well as coaches and other athletes who might be observing practices.

While USA Swimming has not issued a specific ban on the type of challenge activity described above, some organizations like the YMCA have issued bans targeting these extreme challenges.  Regardless of bans, such challenge activities continue to occur in our pools.  In order to maintain a safe training environment, coaches are expected to consider the age, distance and recovery time when undertaking any breath control training and never push or challenge their athletes to place themselves in duress or a dangerous situation.  The Safety Training for Swim Coaches course, required of all USA Swimming member coaches, addresses the issue of inappropriate hypoxic training.



  1. CraigH says:

    50 yards/meters seems fine. Any adolescent/adult in decent shape should be able to finish those lengths without any problems. I see two major issues:
    1) We don’t know if swimmers (especially at a young age, in a high school setting) have undiagnosed medical issues. It’s especially unfortunate if the stress of hypoxic training is forces these dangers to the fore.
    2) These distanced underwater races are just dumb. When each person is trying to go further than the last guy, eventually somebody is going to push themselves too far and get hurt. Restrictions need to be in place (even if just at the coach’s level) to keep people from hurting themselves.

    • Charlie Cain says:

      Hey, I’m Charlie Cain. Just to clear something up, our coach did not have us doing a hypoxic set. We had free time because we were tapering and one of our guys was still going (distance guy). There was a team dinner at his house after practice, so we were waiting for him. Alex did that on his own, after our assistant coach had told him not to. When he left (our main coach was still there) Alex started to see how far he could go. Our coaches are very responsible, and our main coach handled the situation perfectly. Please delete your comment or amend it or something; I don’t want my coach’s image being ruined by a botched recount of this story (the local media and this site got it very wrong).

  2. swim coach says:

    any coach who trains the 18/under athlete to perform skills of this nature should be banned from usa-s for life. period.

    in what race is it required the swimmer be able to travel underwater for such a period of time or not breathe?

    the human body, for lack of a better comparison, is an internal combustion engine. it requires 3 things to work – fuel (food), spark (nerves to fire muscles) and OXYGEN!!!

    to all those idiot coaches who ask their athletes (read: children) to perform such as task… how about you go outside and run around the parking lot, holding your breath until you pass out.

    and then get out of swim coaching.

    • CindyE says:

      Ditto on what “Swim Coach” said.

    • Nostradamus says:

      I completely disagree. I was a sprinter in my career and I found that hypoxic training was essential to my training. At my peak I could do a 75 with no breath repeating 4 times on 1:30. Did the coach force him to not breathe? NO!!!! He was just not smart about it. If you need to breathe, breathe. Pretty simple. Banning a coach for this? If you wanted to do that, lots of coaches would be out of jobs. What a dumb knee-jerk reaction.

      • ChestRockwell says:

        Just curious in what decade you swam? And how you singled out the hypoxic training as being “essential” to your training?

      • Robin says:

        I haven’t coached swimming, but my question about that is how do you put the burden of a) realizing you need to breathe at the tail end of such an exercise, b) making the decision, and c) successfully getting to the surface before a medical issue such as a seizure happens, solely on the immature judgment of a child or adolescent? This boy probably didn’t have any physical warning that he was about to have a seizure and slip to the bottom of the pool, or if he did, he may not have had the time or ability to get safely to the surface. A coaching culture of “hey, guys, this isn’t smart, don’t push that” as opposed to “hey, guys, yeah, *they* say it’s not smart but we all know it’s pretty cool if you can push that, wink wink” could be the thing that gets a kid to decide to surface before it becomes impossible. I’d rather have my kids’ coach understand exactly what hypoxic training is intended to accomplish in adolescents and err on the side of smart safety vs. extreme.

        • CindyE says:

          Thank-you Robin. That needed to be said. … FYI, when I did some research on this, after it happened to a family member (Div. I scholarship swimmer), that usually there is a euphoria just prior to going unconscious.

        • coach88 says:

          I always knew when to come up because I would start to feel like I might lose control of my bowels. So the thought of how embarrassing it would be if I s*** in the pool in front of my team mates, ALWAYS overcame the desire to push my limits and get a little further…

      • Does sound so simple to Just Breathe when you need to, but Shallow Water Blackout does not allow you to know this…I reccommend you READ information and correct information, before making such a statement.
        Holding You Breath in Water is NOT a game, nor a game of chance or luck! We are all susceptible to blacking out if you continuously, repetitively or competitively breath hold or hypoventilate….if you choose to use these kinds of activities, you should have someone spotting you 100% of the time…

    • Sam says:

      I disagree. The point of hypoxic training when done correctly is to train the body to operate using less oxygen. Just like high altitude training. When an athlete trains at high altitude, theoretically they will perform better at sea level compared to those that do not train at high altitude but train at the same intensity.

      The coach here did not ask the athlete to do this. Any athlete that feels they are running out of oxygen underwater should surface. This is the athletes fault for pushing past his limits. Hypoxic training is very useful and should not be a banned activity.

      • CindyE says:

        Nope, Sam. It is NOT like high altitude training. It does not cause the physiological adaptations that altitude training does.

        Btw, look at the references that RyanM and @SWB_Australia listed. The point is that “shallow water blackout” can happen because the swimmer does not know exactly where that limit is. It can happen to ANYONE, and is actually more likely to happen to elite swimmers who are especially good at pushing the threshold (it’s what they’ve been trained to do their whole careers!). There can actually be a euphoria just before blacking out.

        (“This is the athletes fault for pushing past his limits.” = dumb statement.)

        • Charlie Cain says:

          You two can argue about this as long as you want, but I just want to point out that our coach told him not to do it. We had some free time at the end of practice while our distance guy finished up (we were tapering). He did it on his own without our coach knowing. Before you comment about our coach not paying attention, please look at a pool full of people swimming and tell me if you can find the person who isn’t turning to the side to breathe (he was not swimming underwater, he was doing normal freestyle). I understand your concern, but it’s not something you notice when you aren’t looking for it.

          • CindyE says:

            (Sorry!) Charlie – I certainly did not mean to imply that this incident was your coach’s fault in any way, shape or form (!!!), when I said it is not the swimmer’s fault. I understand that. (Thanks for sticking up for your coach!) Somehow an article about this incident got everybody on both sides going about hypoxic and breath holding training in general… And regardless of where you stand on this issue, there just needs to be a whole lot more accurate information out there for ALL involved – coaches (all levels), swimmers, parents, because it can potentially be dangerous.

            It just gets me goin, when claims are made that holding your breath while swimming is somehow like training at high altitude, when it is not!!! Just another example of the misinformation out there. (And yes, I agree we all hashed this out long enough the last time! Yikes!)

            Good Luck to you Charlie!

  3. RyanM says:

    Shallow water blackouts are very dangerous. It can and does happen to anyone.


  4. JB says:

    I can understand 5-6 seconds underwater working your dolphin kicking at the end of races, but swimming 75 yards underwater for training is the equivalent of going into a weight room and just seeing how much you can put up on a bench. No reason to be doing this stuff.

    • CraigH says:

      5-6 seconds? OK, that’s nothing. You need to be able to at least finish the second half of a 50–so say 12 seconds for most decent high school aged swimmers. If you swim a stroke that requires underwaters, you need to be able to have great underwaters off of every wall in at least a 100, which requires even more “mental training.”

  5. pvk says:

    As a swimmer myself, I can say that I see this kind of stuff happening quite often, and it’s very dangerous.

  6. CoachGB says:

    This has been shown to be a stupid thing to do forever but it still persists that people allow it. Some scoffed at the 15meter rule to cut down the advantage some had on underwater back but it goes back to 56 when you where limited to one underwater on breast not to be able to goes as far as you wanted. The Japenese Furakawa went the full length and others imitating began to pass out and you don’t know it is happening. A search will show incidents. Their are still some coaches who think it is a fun contest should be banned. The 15 Meyer cuts back some but it prevents idiocy.

  7. David Berkoff says:

    Hold on kids. Before we relegate hypoxic training to the dust bin of stupid human ideas, you need to understand that hypoxic training does have its place in swimming and training.

    Phelps didn’t just decide “Hey I’m going to kick 15 meters off the wall at the end of my 200 free” without training for it. I am sure he did a large amount of high intensity hypoxic work in order to train his body and mind to deal with the reaction the body has to hypoxia when lactate levels are going through the roof.

    I often did hypoxic work in the buildup to 1988 and 1992. One of my favoriate sets was 16×50′s LCM kicking on my back underwater on 1:00. It was hard and I worked up to it. Eventually it was pretty easy. The hardest set I ever did was 50×100′s on 1:15 SCY–going (1) first and last 25 no air; (2) recovery; (3) middle 50 no air; (4) blast 100 back under 1:00; (5) recovery. We actually re-started at 35 because Anne Koerkel cheated so we ended up doing 73 in total before we ran out of time. And remember, I was only underwater in 1988 for 17 seconds.

    The key is: (1) work up to the set; (2) don’t force the swimmer to do the set–encourage better effort and technique; (3) always have a coach watching (I tell our lifeguards when we are doing hypoxic so they are on higher alert); and (4) don’t do anything crazy or inherently unsafe.

  8. love2swim says:

    I recently witnessed a 12 yo kid doing dolphin kicks underwater, witdths, and he took in a huge amount of water. He was coughing horribly and water was expelling from his lungs. The coach yelled at him to “get back in!” . The kid was crying, running to the trash can because his instinct was that he was going to vomit. (he said that later). All the water never came out. He got back in the water, did more widths underwater, not making the whole thing, coughing and having trouble breathing after each one. Coach yelled, rolled eyes, acted like he was a wimp. It was scary to watch, because you could tell the lungs were still half full of water.

    This stuff is dangerous and coaches better be careful.

  9. love2swim says:

    Another thing: coaches ignore kids with asthma symptoms (again, treating them like wimps if they need to slow it down or rest), and this stuff can be dangerous for kids with asthma.

    • [email protected] says:

      You are exactly right- Most coaches blow off kids with asthma and treat them like dirt because they can’t make it through a set without hacking their lungs out. There should be rules and regulations on this topic.

      • love2swim says:

        True. But also some kids are quiet wheezers and are tough kids, like swimmers are, and hang in there. They may need to change their pace, and coaches then think they “aren’t working hard enough”. Since the coach is in denial, the kid doesn’t feel comfortable getting his/her inhaler, and the asthma gets worse and worse, especially during the winter season when exposed to illnesses.

        There should be rules and regulations on this as it is very common and severity ranges. USA Swimming does have an educational piece out on this, and they should ensure coaches are reading and using the latest information…and trained on how to help a kid having an attack.

  10. Dutchwomen says:

    As is often the case, situations like this cause knee-jerk reactions and people want rules, regs, and all kinds of things put in place. Commonsense should rule the day. As David said, hypoxic training has it’s place and it’s benefits. If you want to hate on underwater swimming and training for underwater swimming, tell FINA to move the red markers to 10 meters instead of 15.

    I once saw Austin Stabb swim the last 25 of a 100 fly with no breath. He went 44.1…..Tell me again that sensible, well planned hypoxic work has no place in competitive swimming.

  11. CindyE says:

    Yes, ANYONE can blackout. AND the high level swimmers can be even more susceptible to it, as they are better able to push through pain and ignore the impulse for air. It is dangerous at ANY level. Kids will continue to get hurt and some will even die if we don’t take a serious look at this kind of training….

    • JG says:

      More people will die this year because they tripped and fell than will swimmers from hypoxic training — should we line the street with mats to ensure this number go down???

      • swim coach says:

        the fact of the matter here is this “idiot” training is being conducted with KIDS. CHILDREN. under the age of 18.

        is there a place for hypoxic training? sure. but lets face the facts… the amount of streamline time for stroke events will range 5-7 seconds. times 4 = 20-35 seconds total, if swimming in a 25 yard pool. about 1/2 that in an LCM pool.

        if a swimmer doesn’t breathe flags to the wall on the finish, that about 2-3 seconds.

        so where is the logic in 75 yards of underwater?

        if a coach tells the swimmer to make the attempt, the swimmer will more than likely try. sometimes kids want to impress rather than do what is “right” for fear of being judged weak.

        and to mr berkoff, accomplishments aside, the rules have changed since you swam. with the exception of breaststroke, the swimmer must breakout at 15 meters. so there is no real need for this training at your levels.

        there are smarter ways to teach longer streamlining WITHOUT endangering swimmers. wanna know… email [email protected].

        but in the end, ANY coach teaching 18/under age-group swimmers (yes, all KIDS in club teams 18/Under ARE still age-groupers as per usa-s guidelines) this ridiculous “hypoxic” training should be banned for endangering their athletes. PERIOD.

        • love2swim says:

          Exactly! Coaches of CHILDREN 18&Under have NO business teaching these skills. Are “no breathers” still common? We did them free and fly 25′s repeats in my day. I haven’t seen this with my kids team. But I have seen underwater widths in a 10-13 group and kids choking on inhaled water and required to continue. One kid was begging not to continue, and hurling large amounts of water from his lungs into the gutter and deck.

          There’s also a dry drowning risk if water sits in the lungs, not expelled.

      • CindyE says:

        As you know, the term “hypoxic training” can cover alot of territory, ranging from underwater swimming contests (some > 50 meters) to breathing patterns of 5, 7, 9, etc. to goals for coming off every wall of a set….. Most of these are not dangerous, but underwater swimming contests or sets where swimmers are encouraged to swim 50m or more by coaches can be! And even if you and your coaches know how to best design sets that actually do stimulate the desired training effect and are safe, unfortunately there are still many coaches who just don’t… There just needs to be more discussion and education so ALL coaches understand… thats all.

      • CindyE says:

        Btw, JG, that comment is just dumb…

    • CindyE says:

      Btw, I may be a little sensitive to this whole topic since I have a nephew who passed out during a set of 50m underwaters (Div I college program – distance group). It was near the wall, and luckily another kid saw him go limp and pulled him up. Then an asst. coach, yelled not to “baby” him, so the kid let go of him and he fell face first into the edge of the pool knocking his front teeth out and leaving him with a head injury… an idiotic situation all around…

  12. Chubs9508 says:

    Lets get this straight. I was there when it happened. This kid swam on top of the water without breathing. Practice was over and he did it voluntarily. Both coaches told him not to do it but he did it anyway. So before you blame the coach you should know the whole story.

    • Swim Mom says:

      Thank you CHUBS9508 for clarifying the scenario. These coaches would have NEVER put their team members in jeopardy like this. I personally know them and find it reprehensible that some kids prank would tarnish their reputation. There were a lot of lessons to go around here. I hope they were learned. Congrats to Charlie for his quick thinking, the real story is about his courage!

    • newswim says:

      I don’t see how the incident that sparked this story has anything to do with hypoxic training. The kid was trying to break an “underwater record” not engage in any training. Hypoxic training is legitimate training tool for older age group swimmers.
      Going for underwater swim records, especially after hyperventilating to help disable the natural reaction to CO2 build-up is stupid and dangerous and has nothing to do with hypoxic training.
      Sounds like the kind of stunt you’d see in some high school practices or at community pools….I’ve never seen a USA swim club with an “underwater” swim record.

  13. Bossanova says:

    More people will die from guns than shallow water blackout in a given year. Should we ban those too? I will die before I allow the gov. to take my guns protected by the second amendment of the US Constitution. Semper Fi!

  14. David Berkoff says:

    I love the debate here. For the posters that addressed my comment, I was not bragging but rather giving examples I what I think are the extreme end and the context that the group doing the sets were elite Olympic trial level swimmers. I agree that safety should be the number one concern. In 20 years of swimming and another 20 coaching I have never seen a kid pass out from hypoxi work. If you don’t think hypoxic work is important fine, just watch my backstrokes roar by your swimmers at the end of a 200! Lol. Also to the poster that commented that a coach was yelling at a swimmer who had a near drowning event, find a new team. That’s abusive behavior and most coaches would never act that way. And markon99, I totally disagree with your claim that most coaches blow kids off. I don’t know where you are but that’s not an accurate depiction of the coaches I associate with. Again, if that’s your experience you should find a new team. End game, safety first.

  15. Joel Lin says:

    The cost benefit of placing a video cam on the roof of each indoor pool seems sensible in the direction of doing it. We do it for beaches and ski mountains, why not pools? There is also affordable motion detect software that seemingly would help if it could flash alerts to still objects in the pool for over 20 seconds.

    Just an idea.

  16. Dan says:

    Not one person here has given a physiological justification for hypoxic training. Please, tell me what it really does for the body to help it swim faster when there is less oxygen. Does the body adapt somehow to actually use or require less oxygen? Or is it 99% a mental toughness thing?

    • Ben says:

      It is a matter of chemosensitivity. The truth of it is, your body will rarely dip below 94% saturation of oxygen…mean theoretically there will never be a “Lack of oxygen”. When exercising, your body creates a large amount of CO2, by not exhaling it immediately, you are blunting the chemoreceptors which drive the need to breath. We don’t breath to get O2, we breath to let off CO2.

      When messing around in our lab, we’ve seen guys exercising and holding their breath getting down to a saturation of ~40% after about 5 minutes. It was a gruesome thing to see, that’s for sure. But again, that’s after about 5 minutes. After 75 yards (~1:15 to be gracious), you won’t see a dip to nearly that magnitude.

      So yes, there is some physiological basis to this but it has nothing to do with oxygen.

      • Chest Rockwell says:

        How does it make someone a better swimmer?

      • love2swim says:

        Below 90% puts you in the ICU on maximum oxygen.

        • Ben says:

          Love: At rest, sure, I’d believe that. During exercise I would have to disagree strongly.

          Chest: by blunting the chemosensitivity your body won’t signal the need to breathe as early or often. How does this make one a better swimmer? They can train and perform at a higher level is their ventilation is what limits them. They will also not have to break stroke mechanics to breath.

          • coach88 says:

            what!!!??? (do you have any exercise physiology credentials?)

          • Ben says:

            I’d like to think so, but am open to hearing where you disagree.

          • love2swim says:

            I only know about at rest because iif O2 saturation is below 90% and not coming up once given supplemental O2, you’ll likely be staying at the hospital. Have tests been done on swimmers during workouts?

          • Ben says:

            I don’t know any off the top of my head and I only have Internet on my phone at home so I don’t feel like doing a PubMed search, but I know there are studies out about chemosensitivity, saturation and exercise. Maybe not swimming specific but the information could sill be applied.

      • CraigH says:

        So, why do people like this guy pass out after only a 75? Is he just physiologically defective?

        • Ben says:

          Not defective, but there may have been more to this than just a simple desaturation. However, if he hyperventilated before, it could cause his blood on become alkaline which leads to a vasoconstriction in the brain. With less blood flow to the brain he could pass out. I would guess this is what happened.

        • Robin says:

          So the punishment for a child “being physically defective” should be death? What a repellent attitude.

  17. David Berkoff says:

    Dan, take a look at this study. http://jap.physiology.org/content/94/2/733.full. While the study was inconclusive as to improvement in aerobic performance, the study does refer to other papers discussing improvement in anaerobic performance through hypoxic training.

    I believe that there is enough case study and trend data to conclude that hypoxic work improves anaerobic performance and perhaps psychological performance. I seriously disagree that hypoxic training is just a mental toughness issue.

    I can tell you from experience that hypoxic training got me from 56.5 to 54.5 in a one year period. There was lot of adaptation physically and mentally. I believe that hypoxic training does two things: (1) forces the body to physically adapt higher lactate levels as a result of less oxygen per 25 yds while maintaining the same velocity, and (2) causes the mind to ignore the hypercapnia response. The hypercapnia response is a natural reaction to not breathing. The mind sends emergency messages to the body to start breathing again–pretty primitive survival stuff. I also believe (and I have no evidence of this) that hypoxic training leading to brief hypercapnia responses releases adrenaline and other hormones that allow the body to respond physically with more power for short periods of time–kind of like a fight or flight response. By training the body to use this hormone release through hypoxic training, the athlete becomes used to the feeling and learns how to utilize this energy source in a race. I can tell you from personal experience that I had these kinds of adrenaline surges in my races–especially on the last 25 where pushing ten-twlve kicks off a wall was agonizing. I think this would be a great graduate student thesis!

    I’d suggest trying a little experiment with your swimmers. Insist that during an endurance set that they do at least five fly kicks off off their walls (obviously dumb it down if the swimmer is a novice). They will complain that it is hard, but it is safe. After a few weeks they will adapt to the reduction of breaths per 25 and will begin to come back to the same velocity. We do this with our better backstrokers and flyers have seen huge improvements.

    We also do a 400 backstroke set where walls 1 and 2 per 100 are 5 kicks and wall 3 is 10 kicks. This creates a lactate surge on wall 3 and I believe a small hypercapnia-adrenaline reaction. I think this kind of hypoxic work teaches the swimmer to use walls as a weapon at the end of a race.


    • CindyE says:

      There are 46 papers referenced… On a quick scan, it looks like most, including the original paper are about altitude training conditions, which are different from “no air” conditions. #26 looks possibly interesting, but I can’t access it. (have you had a chance to look at it?) Which ones did you mean when you said, “the study does refer to other papers discussing improvement in anaerobic performance through hypoxic training.” ??? I wasn’t sure when I scanned the list.

      And it looks like we ALL need to define what we mean by “hypoxic training” whenever we use the term. It can cover a lot of different types of sets/training, and just in this discussion it seems like everybody is referring to something different! Clearly, anaerobic training AND breath control work AND reasonable “no air” sets, AND working off the walls are ALL of great value – all coaches would agree! But there are many ways to design sets to improve “anaerobic performance” as it relates to faster times in different swimming events (strokes and distances), both by increasing swim speed and underwater kicking potential by breathing less… Unless we define our terms and get specific when talking about hypoxic sets we can’t even communicate….

    • Brian says:

      Agreed, David. There’s nothing wrong with hypoxic training. It’s all about also being smart and not foolhardy, having your coach supervise closely, and listening to him about when and when not to do it.

      Work up to it.

  18. David Berkoff says:


    I agree that the term is somewhat ambiguous. Hypoxic training is a serious training technique. Trying to go 75 no air on a bet or a challenge is not a proper training technique but is rather just plain stupid and dangerous especially if coaches aren’t paying attention.


    • coach88 says:

      How can I learn more about how to design the best sets for this type of hypoxic training (the kind that is the serious training technique)? Can you recommend any current articles or book? … Does anybody else out there know?

  19. Dutchwomen says:

    I can’t believe we’re now debating whether or not being able to hold one’s breath longer while at peak lactate is “good” or “faster” than not being able to. Countless examples have already been referenced….

    Stabb going last 25 at NCAA’s no breath fly kicking out to 15…went 44.1
    Phelps and Lochte kicking out to 15 on the last lap of a 200 free/back LCM or a 400 IM LCM
    NCAA men (and some women) going 50′s no breath
    NCAA women going 50′s one breath
    Any elite male or female flyer/backstroker will be kicking out to 15 full throttle on the last 25…ever seen Cal women race a 100 backstroke?

    Look…..underwater records are stupid, sure. But if you want someone to break Natalie’s 49.97 100 yard backstroke record and they aren’t kicking to 15 underwater…I’m sorry, but it aint gonna happen baby. The kinds of physiological adaptations that need to occur to be able to kick out to 12,13,14 and 15 meters on the last lap of a 100 backstroke with speed takes a lot of training….training that requires holding of the breath.

    Simple logic and math….

    We’re allowed to kick out to 15. On a 100 backstroke that’s 60+% that we’re allowed to swim underwater. We know that underwater dolphin is faster than swimming. So tell me, if you’re training for a 100 backstroke and the fastest part, 60% of that part, is underwater, where should much of your training focus be?

    • coach88 says:

      I think everyone here would agree that a swimmers ability to hold his breathe and stay under water longer while exploding off the walls on every turn of an event is makes for faster times! Everyone knows that the “fifth stroke” IS the fastest stroke. “Specificity of training” is the most important concept in exercise physiology! It’s just the physiological mechanisms of the adaptation and the parameters of the training to get there, that are in question (at least for me!). … How much of training should go to specifically hypoxic sets? All those people you mentioned don’t JUST do hypoxic training. They do many other things including well designed sets to improve lactate threshold, VO2max, efficiency, etc… How do those ALL come together to produce the fastest swims via the ability to control your breath enough to stay under water to get the job done, among other things…? There is so much going on in there biochemically, that you can’t just say A causes B because elite swimmers do it. … AND since this training is so critical, how can other coaches learn to safely do it – AND w/ maximum results??? (Hypothetical questions coming up…) Does just doing X-number of dolphin kicks off the wall EVERY time in a workout and getting good O2 in the middle get you there??? How important are longer swims of breathing patterns of every 7 or 9??? And if doing sets like 50m “no breathers” – how many??? If 50m is safe, but 75 is not, where’s the crossover? etc… … Does USA Swimming or any other coaches associations talk about this????? Just curious. (I am a former Div I swimmer, former USS swim coach, exercise physiologist and traithlon coach, just trying to learn more….)

      • Ben says:

        What is good O2? You may know something I don’t, but John B. West says that you won’t desat much lower than 94%, even at max exercise. If you are 94% saturated with O2, how much more oxygen do you really need? As a pulmonary physiologist myself, it confuses me why you would talk about oxygen when it is known that, especially at the elevation of Indiana, it is the production of CO2 that would be the problem not intake of O2.

  20. SwimZPK says:

    I’m a 19 year old swimmer and we did a six-weel long hypercapnia research / training which consisted of three practices per week where we’d ride a stationary bike or an orbitrek for 35-40 minutes. We’d hold our breath for 20-25 seconds, exhale, inhale and exhale and then hold again for 20-25 seconds, repeating the process for 35-40 minutes. It was tough stuff, sometimes we’d do it for more than 25 seconds and sometimes we’d go for max breath holding, but we’d turn off the stopwatches then and do it one at a time so we wouldn’t feel a need to compete amongst ourselves and go beyond our abilities.
    It was all done under supervision of Goran Colak, a free diver, World champion and a WR holder.
    After six weeks we were all so tired and couldn’t even breathe on every 3rd or 4th stroke during freestyle, but after a two-three months of rest (breath-holding concerned, not a two month taper :D ) we’ve all noticed that we can hold our breath a lot longer and do some no-breath drills and sprints without a lot of effort. And I can honestly say it helped me a lot, especially in the 50 and 100 free, because without breathing in the 50 I can focus on keeping my core tight, stroke and rotation, and in the 100 I don’t have the need to breathe often, which also makes my stroke smoother, body position better, and my turns better.

  21. Coach Dave says:

    I tend to agree with an above comment that hypoxic training is critical to developing mental toughness, especially in sprinters. We commonly will do 50 meter underwater challenges, but with that being said all of our coaching staff, lifeguards and swimmers have been briefed about the dangers of shallow water blackouts and everyone really watches out for each other during the sets. Often times the danger doesn’t come from a single long hypoxic swim, but from the gradual decrease in tissue oxygen saturation over a series of shorter interval swims. Athletes can suffer a shallow water blackout without any warning, without a strong urge the breathe. As long as all involved are aware of the dangers and the coaches watch the swimmers very carefully for warning signs, I don’t think hypoxic training should be taken off the table.

  22. coach88 says:

    Interesting article here. Here is a coach who appears to have been a high level, successful and respected coach (until recently), who has had multiple black-out and convulsion incidents in his practices, in as many years… without raising any concern from the organization. According to this discussion, you would have thought that someone at this level would know how to safely conduct hypoxic training… If even some experienced and successful Div 1 college coaches don’t know where that line is… I am guessing there are many others who do not know either… Maybe we need some parameters after all…


  23. Charlie Cain says:

    Hi, I’m Charlie Cain and my buddy told me that Alex and my story was on here. I just want to clear a few things up. First, Alex did that on his own. One of our coaches told him not to do it, but when he left early Alex did it (our main coach was still there). He made it through one 75 fine. About ten minutes later he tried the second one and passed our on the flip turn. Second, another team mate, Grant Streid, noticed he was missing; not me. I swam over and pulled him up from the 12ft end, but Grant had the presence of mind to actually point out that Alex might be in trouble. Third, I am a lifeguard. I work at Mt. Hawley Country Club. Also, Steve Frye isn’t my coach; never has been. He was my guard instructor and the pool manager at the pool I swim at over summer.

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The most common question asked about Braden Keith is “when does he sleep?” That’s because Braden has, in two years... Read More »