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“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

How Should You Breathe When Rowing?

how should you breathe when rowing

Hi friends, Petra here. Today, I want to talk about something that many beginners ask me about, and that is how to breathe when rowing.

It sounds fairly straightforward, right? You’re rowing so you are breathing (probably pretty hard, too!), but did you know that the correct breathing pattern can make the difference between winning a race (or just improving your rowing performance) and losing a race?

Remember your high school biology classes? The more air you provide your muscles with, the more oxygen those muscles have to use. More oxygen means muscles can work harder, so paying attention to your breathing technique matters!

In this article, I want to help you understand when you should inhale and exhale (and how!) so you can improve your overall rowing exercises.

This is a fairly easy subject, but I think you will find it interesting because it’s not what most beginners think is proper rowing breathing.

Is There a Proper Way to Breathe While Rowing?

Yes, there is, and beginners should start learning breathing techniques right away.

It’s easiest to learn proper breathing while going slowly, somewhere between 14-18 strokes per minute.

Breathing Pattern for Beginners

Beginners should practice the following breathing pattern:

  • Inhale at the Catch. Now, this might feel strange since your body is kind of scrunched up like a folded box, but you’ll become accustomed to inhaling as you recover and have your lungs filled by the time you reach the Catch stroke.
  • Exhale quickly but completely at the end of the drive. Don’t be embarrassed to be loud about “whooshing” out that air. Really feel the exhalation and get all that air out of your lungs!

Sometimes it seems as though this is the opposite of what you should do, but it really is the proper breathing rhythm for beginners.

Learn How to Use a Rowing Machine Properly from our Expert Rower Rachael Taylor:

Practice this breathing technique during your next row. Don’t focus on speed, just spend 20 minutes practicing your breathing as you row slowly.

I guarantee that you will get the hang of this quickly. Once you do, you can learn the breathing patterns for hard training loads or longer, faster rowing workouts.

How Do You Breathe During a 2K Row?

Once you have some experience using the rowing stroke and you’ve become accustomed to the breathing rhythm above, it’s time to move on to the two-breaths technique.

The Two Breaths Breathing Technique

This method starts off the same way as the single breath, but you are going to fit in two breaths per stroke.

  • Inhale on the recovery stroke.
  • Then exhale quickly just before you are in the Catch position.
  • Inhale again at the Catch and exhale just as you finish the Drive.

This also takes a bit of practice, but for higher intensity rowing, it is vital that rowers learn this two-breath exercise.

Try taking shallower breaths during the two-breath technique. You will still be getting the same amount of oxygen as you do with a deep breath, you will just be getting it in smaller quantities more often.

Think of a glass of water. You can fill the glass halfway and drink each half or you can fill it 1/4 of the way and after 4 refills, you will still have consumed a full glass of water.

Like with the single breath technique, this will take some practice. A coach’s job is to help their students get the most out of every stroke.

Breathing properly is an important part of rowing. Practice the two-breath technique and you will find that your endurance improves as your breathing does.

Does Rowing Help Lung Capacity?

Oh, it absolutely does!

Lung capacity doesn’t mean how “big” your lungs are, but the measure of a person’s efficiency at delivering oxygen to working muscles and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide.

instructor teaching what is the proper way to breathe when rowing

Rowing athletes have the largest lung capacity of any sport. Three-time Olympic gold champion Peter Reed is said to hold the largest ever recorded lung capacity with an astonishing 11.68 liters.

Just to give you some perspective, the average male’s lungs hold just 6 liters.

How does rowing improve your lung capacity? It’s because of the unique way that rowing uses 86 percent of the muscles in the body with every stroke.

While many people believe that rowing works mostly the upper body, the opposite is actually true. Rowing is 60 percent legs, and 40 percent upper body.

This full-body exercise that is involved with rowing places huge demands on both the aerobic and anaerobic systems. The more stress on the body, the more adaptation the body is forced to make.

Over time, your body will build more capillaries to carry oxygen-rich blood to the working muscles. The muscles around the heart will also strengthen and grow, and your lungs will become more efficient at extracting the oxygen you need from the air.

While other sports also improve your overall lung capacity, nothing can match rowing.  Side Note:  You might also like to read – Ideal  Crosstraining for rowers

Should I Breathe Through My Nose or My Mouth?

While you might be tempted to breathe through your mouth to get more oxygen, nose breathing is a better technique.

The main purpose of the nose is to allow air to enter the lungs. The fine hairs inside your nose filter out dirt, dust, bugs (well, most of the time anyway), while the mouth is mainly made to digest food.

lady demonstrating the correct way to breathe when rowing

When you breathe through your nose, you also enrich the incoming air with nitric oxide. The nose releases nitric oxide into the air that enters the body. Nitric oxide increases carbon dioxide in the blood, which is necessary for the release of oxygen.

In other words, when you breathe in through your nose, your body will receive more oxygen, even though you might think you are getting more air through your mouth.

It might seem impossible to row hard and breathe through the nose, but try it! Practice makes perfect.

The Bottom Line

Breathing through the nose will help you get more oxygen in the long run. Try to train your body to breathe through the nose as much as possible.

Beginners, remember to inhale fully at the Catch and exhale at the end of the Drive.

For a longer rowing pace, inhale at the beginning of the Recovery and then exhale quickly before you hit the Catch stroke. Inhale again at the Catch and then exhale as you perform the Drive.

Remember that practice is the best way to make breathing techniques a habit!

Stay happy and healthy friends, and keep rowing!

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