Hypoxic Training?

So yesterday I worked a short day, then Leah and I did errands, including more last-phase moving from the old house. At the end of the day, Leah went to a blogger meetup thing in Calabasas, and while she was there I went to the great public pool near there.

I swam for longer than usual. Usually when I hit the pool it’s early in the morning and I’ll need to get back so I can start telecommuting. Or it’s at lunchtime and I need to get back to working. Or I’m on my way home after a long day and I’ve decided it’s going to be a solid 30, 35 or 40 minutes then I have to leave because the pool will be closing anyway.

But the hour and change was perfect. I did the same swimming regimen as usual.

Now, regimen is not accurate, really. I do laps with a mix of front crawls, breaststroke, backstroke, with more emphasis on my arms (my strength) and then my legs (my weakness), and occasionally I swim underwater exclusively, as though I were snorkeling, and probably once a session I try the butterfly, but I’m not very good at it. This is not a structured workout, really. It’s more like, “do whatever I want in the water. Perhaps I’m imagining what kind of swimming I would be doing if I had to swim to shore after a shipwreck: perhaps evade sharks (faster swimming); forage for food (underwater); hail a passing rescue helicopter (backstroke). No, I did not think about this, really; I’m retroactively trying to explain my creativity at swimming laps. Like exercise machines, I can’t look at lap swimming as drudgery. I have to turn the repetitions into unique experiences or I get caught up in how similar the experience is to a hamster on a wheel.

So one of the things I’ve been curious about is other pools, what other pool sizes are out there. I heard that the Ventura pool is quite large. The day before yesterday I was looking at website for it and I noted something interesting. It says in their rules: No excessive breath holding or hypoxic training.


So I wondered if I have maybe been doing this. If inadvertently. I hold my breath during some laps. It’s excellent practice for being out in the big waves. Sometimes a big wave will carry you down and hold you there for a little while, and like military training, I want to be prepared mentally and physically for this dangerous experience. Last year I noted that I like the implications of forceful, big waves:

It takes a great amount of force to move a man who weighs 24 stone. And I love that the waves can do that. Frankly, I enjoy it when the water is so strong I’m forced under for a time. I like being batted around. That means there’s real force happening. More force makes better rides. If I stop to think about the thousands of pounds of water that allow me to move at great speed I might get intimidated. Actually, I do think about it, and there’s a healthy respect that one might call fear. When I do too much I take a break.

So am I engaging in “hypoxic training” or “excessive breath holding?” I think I am, to some extent, but I’m dubious that it’s making me ready to, say, go to Everest. This critical article Taking the Hype Out of Hypoxic has some criticisms and a bit of praise for what it can and can’t do for you. I do it to challenge myself more than anything. And if my heart starts to feel like it’ll explode or I get tingling in my fingers, or I feel like I might pass out, I stop and breathe. This abstract from the Journal of Applied Physiology: “Effect of high-intensity hypoxic training on sea-level swimming performances:” indicates that truly low oxygen/hypoxic training (less than the normal percentage of oxygen in the air) — they used 15.3% O2 instead of 20.9% — well, it had no effect other than what the normal effects of 5 weeks of training would be.

Of course, I’m sure that the Ventura pool would turn away anyone who came in with exotic breathing apparati to swim, so they’re right out.

I’m going to go with common sense here and think that they simply don’t want people to hold their breath too much. But I am interested to hear what prompted the rule.

Over the past weeks I have seen my own ability to get across a pool without taking a breath improve, for a variety of reasons. I’m faster, my breath control is better, and my endurance is better. I’d be interested to see physiologically what’s happening with me as I engage in more swimming. It’s possible I’ve lost weight, but given that the scale is somewhere in a box I don’t really know. I’ve not kept track of my weight regardless. And in my mind, it’s not the point — I like to swim and I like the psychological, physical, and spiritual effects that come with that.

Or maybe I just dig chlorine.

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