Workout of the week: Hypoxic

Hypoxic swimming, where you limit the number of breaths you take, is a great way to strengthen the lungs and test your mental strength. I find my triathlon swimming improves greatly when I have worked hard on my breathing. I swim easier on longer sets and it also helps my oxygen management, particularly when running.

Don’t give in to the immediate urge to take a breath. Focus on keeping relaxed – not letting your body tense up will help. Keep your stroke (relatively) long. The temptation will be to shorten your stroke and increase your stroke rate in order to get a breath sooner! Keep it long and smooth, just as you would during your triathlon or ironman.

Be careful not to push it so hard that you pass out. Swim in your aerobic zone for the longer swims and pick up the pace for the 50’s.

Going forward you can add elements to your workouts, to add an extra bit of mental involvement, or an added layer of difficulty. I like to limit breaths on longer swim workouts as it keeps me engaged.

Warm up: your own warm up. This is a good exercise to help you experiment with your race day warm up. What works for you? What gets you ready to race and feeling confident in your stroke, strength and fitness in the water?

Main set:

800: breathe every 3 strokes throughout. No falling into habits and breathing every two strokes to your preferred side 😉
<30 seconds rest>

2x 400: as #1) breathe every 2, 3, 4, 5 strokes on alternate lengths;  20 seconds rest
#2) as breathe every 3, 4, 5, 6 strokes on alternate lengths
<30 seconds rest>

4x 200: 20 seconds rest between each
#1) breathe as you wish;
#2) no breaths for 3 strokes in and out of  the turn, i.e. 3 strokes into the wall and 3 strokes after pushing off the wall;
#3) breathe as you wish;
#4) breathe every 4, 5, 6, 7 strokes on alternate lengths
<30 seconds rest>

4 x 50: minimum number of breaths – push yourself to reduce
4 x 50: 25 underwater + 25 swim
Max 10-15 seconds rest after each 50. Power through the last part of the set! Almost there…

breath holding for swimming hypoxic swim workouts for triathlon ironman

Swim down: easy swimming, focus on backstroke so you can fill your lungs with air!

Don’t rest too long between each set and each swim – the goal is to get your lungs and muscles used to operating with lower oxygen levels.



  1. IowaTriBob

    Great post. I just did a very similar workout today with breathing on 5’s and 7’s and found it really challenging, just as you described. LOL on the cheats as I found myself wanting to shorten my strokes with faster cadence to get to my next breath.

    • Coach Eamon

      Thanks Bob. Hypoxic is tough, I’d say tougher mentally than physical. I know all the cheats because I have to resist the urge to do them myself! My swimmers can’t get away with anything.

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