Coach Mike Lewellyn on Breath Holding & Shallow Water Blackout

 In Coaching Tips

Today’s blog on breath holding comes from the Swim Coaches Idea Exchange Group
on Facebook via Coach Mike Lewellyn of the Boise Y Swim Team.
Thank you Coach for sharing.


My coaching friends. On the subject of breath holding and shallow water black out. In 1968 Coach Dr James Counsilman wrote a book called “The Science of Swimming”. It became the bible for swim coaches. Very few books since then have been as educational or essential to those who are going to coach swimmers.

In 1977 Dr Councilman wrote the next level book, “The Competitive Swimmers Manual” it was to be the cutting edge of swimming knowledge. I was at the ASCA Convention in 1977 when the book was introduced and Doc spoke on the merits of Hypoxic Training. The talk was in a small room and only a very few coaches were present. Not many had quite gotten into the idea of swimming science yet.

When Doc was done with his presentation he asked for questions and a man behind me spoke up and said that he thought Doc theory on hypoxic training was wrong. Doc figured that if a swimmer worked hard and forced themselves to not breathe that the human body would become more efficient using the available oxygen in the blood.

The man behind me was Dr Dave Costill, head of the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University. The two giants debated the data and how it was read and interpreted. After about 20 minutes of vigorous debate, Doc agreed that something in the data was wrong. The next morning he asked the book sellers at the convention to stop selling the book and to give refunds to anyone who asked for one. he also stood up before all the members at the convention and recanted the hypoxic training aspect of his book.

For some reason coaches went home and began to do hypoxic training. Many began doing repeat 50’s with zero breaths. Some went as far as to do 100’s. In the next few years I began to see stories of competitive swimmers dying in practices. More and more over the years have drowned.

To all of the coaches here in this forum, please stop doing this practice. With the advent of the 15 meter rule there is no reason for any swimmer at any age to hold their breath for more that 5-6 seconds EVER! I train my age groupers from 8 & Unders up to hold their breath for 5 seconds. When parents tell me that their children should try to go 15 meters in practice I politely tell them to shut up and tell them how dangerous it is.

A young child might take 20 seconds to travel 15 meters underwater, before they come up dead last. The fastest underwater swimmers in the world are under for 5-6 seconds. So I have my kids go for 5-6 seconds and then I work on increasing the distance over the years.

There is never a reason for kids to hold their breath in training. In a race it is a different matter. In the 50 free if a swimmer is at or under 20 seconds a no breather is possible and does no harm. But in practice it is dangerous and doing so could be called negligent. Protect yourself, protect your swimmers.

Coach Mike Lewellyn
Head Age Group Coach
Boise Y Swim Team

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