Breathing technique while paddling

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a technical discussion here of breathing technique for paddling. You can find many technical articles on this subject in the sports of rowing, swimming, weight lifting, running and cycling.

The importance of breathing correctly in sport is not just a matter of efficient volumetric oxygen uptake, but also of the postural relationships of the diaphragm muscle and related skeletal structure during the particular body movements of the sport at issue.

For example, in rowing there appears to be at least two diametrically opposed breathing theories: full lung at the catch and empty lung at the catch. The full lung theory states that the rower should exhale during the stroke drive and inhale during the stroke recovery. The empty lung theory proposes that the rower should do the opposite: inhale during the drive and exhale during recovery.

Other rowing experts recommend different breathing techniques depending on high or low intensity rowing, and some even advocate two complete breaths per rowing stroke.

I note that full lung theory is more consistent with weight lifting technique (exhale during weight drive), but the empty lung rowers argue that their approach is better for torso musculature and skeletal reasons when the rowing body is crunched at the catch.

I’ve always favored full lung theory for kneel paddling a canoe with a straight paddle, but empty lung theory for sit 'n switch paddling with a bent shaft – though I’ve hardly been consistent in actual practice even when I was a higher stroke rate paddler.

Given the age distribution on this site, I realize most members are probably happy to be breathing at all. Nevertheless, do you have any inspirations on this topic?

Our rowing coach was ridiculously
techy about everthing. Not surprising at MIT. But he never said a thing about breathing.

No wonder I got winded at 1000 meters…

2 step process


reverse order when paddling backwards.

Personally, I’m in favor of the Nike methodology…just do it.

Yes when you hold your breath
you get quite wobbly. I know that at next weeks symposium when it comes to balance and heel excercises I will have to remind people to just breathe.

how specific to paddling?

– Last Updated: Jul-05-12 2:24 PM EST –

I wonder how specific to paddling this should be for folks not racing. Versus how breathing in other sports can be applied to paddling. I'm not sure weightlifting technique applies, i.e. how important it is to time your breath with strokes; as opposed to running where one doesn't necessarily do so (and probably in part because the loads aren't on the extreme end). I don't know the answer to this, I'm just wondering.

I like to try to breathe thru the nose only if possible. I learned this technique while I was running regularly and it seemed to benefit my capacity.

Exertion vs Ease

– Last Updated: Jul-05-12 2:28 PM EST –

Many sports teach inhale when easy,
exhale upon exertion.

As long as enough oxygen is available
one can stay in the aerobic zone,
anaerobic metabolism kicks in when
insufficient oxygen is available for oxidation.

My guess whatever "cycle" is comfortable
to achieve large amounts of oxygen intake is best.
Action that may restrict a full inward breath
will hinder reaching maximum muscle output.

Over exertion results in "sucking wind"
and eventual bonking from muscle burnout.

Intense anaerobic activity requires more oxygen
than can be pulled through the nose,
due to increased turbulence and resistance.
The human body attempts to avoid drying out
- but if you push it - open the mouth for oxygen

On my Concept II rower, when I think about breathing I try to exhale through the stroke and inhale on the recovery.

When I don’t think about it - whatever.

I never noticed that it makes much difference in “speed” or other performance.

However, for me my rowing cadence of 23 to 25 strokes per minute is a pretty good match for respiration rate.

Kayaking my cadence is much higher.

If I tried to couple breathing with stroke I think I’d wind up doing rapid shallow breathing. Not desirable.

is paddling the same as weightlifting?

– Last Updated: Jul-05-12 4:08 PM EST –

I think that's the question, if we're going to apply weightlifting breathing to paddling. IMO, paddling is an aerobic activity unless you're sprinting; most definitions of anaerobic activity include a limited time span, from 30 seconds to two minutes.
Regular paddling, including that of any race other than a sprint, would be more aerobic activity.

A sprint (anaerobic activity) dictates different breathing than a longer-distance paddle (aerobic activity). OTOH using an anaerobic breathing technique while long-distance paddling won't benefit anything.

Try "Upsidedown Breathing"
Or “BreathPlay” as advocated by Ian Jackson during marathon paddling sessions?

My experience

– Last Updated: Jul-05-12 4:31 PM EST –

comes from distance running where breaths are useful for timing your foot and leg movement (sprinters over short distance hold their breath). So if you want to do 7 minutes miles there is a breathing rate you learn to maintain that pace. If you want to go faster you increase your breathing rate. Often I would exhale quickly (to get rid of all stale air) on one stride and breath in over three strides. I tried that with paddling and found it didn't work as well. The problem is that the exhale produces more energy output than the inhale and your boat tends to turn. However I always exhale when I roll. It helps me time peak energy expenditure (particularly if I want to delay it) and if I miss the roll I automatically inhale without thinking and can try again.

You might find this interesting:

When I paddle
I’m usually out with friends and we are usually just paddling along and talking. I don’t think I ever paid any attention to my breathing while I was out on my kayak.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been thinking
about this same application lately. I’m not much of a runner, but when I used to run, I did breathe similarly as you describe.

Yesterday I was paddling and was thinking that I could be doing one full cycle inhale-exhale over 4 strokes with even 2 stroke inhale and 2 stroke exhale. That’s with a double-bladed wing paddle at a fairly brisk pace on a surf ski…

Did not spend enough time practicing to see if that helps, but there should definitely be some discipline to that when paddling at a fast pace… Would be curious to learn if someone knows…

Not anymore
Breathing technique changes as you increase your pace. I’ve found from experience that if I exhale and inhale in a staccoto fashion, my inhalations seemed to be mirrored by a similar staccoto of flatulence. Harnessing this additional power source eludes me!

Andy, try a match? NM

on that note
if you can train yourself to simply breathe in…then exhaust the air supply AS flatulence, you not only have the makings of a primitive rocket engine, but can also cease worrying about leaky air bags.

Einstein discovered E = MC squared

frequency of Expulsion = acceleration in Motion (of your) Canoe and if your squared to the thwarts, that motion will be in a positive direction.

On the air bag hypothesis

FatElmo took this one step farther with the phrase…

Beanie Weinie

keeps your canoe

from being

a submariny.

It takes my breath away
to see you boys giving this topic the depth of consideration and commentary that it richly deserves.

Now it needs but a short rhyme from CWDH and maybe it can breathe its last before it reaches 200.

Excuse me

I’ve attended various workshops and training sessions and I paddle with some pretty advanced instructors. Every one single one gives the same advice:

“Breathing is good.”

dammit Andy
ya’ just went backwards.

On thinking about it, when rowing or
sculling, I believe I reached and took the catch with my lungs fairly empty, and filled them as I pulled the oars/sculls back. This might be more efficient and effective because at the catch, the knees and hips are flexed, and the back somewhat flexed forward, so that the abdomen tends to be shoved up into the chest. Hard to fully fill the lungs in that position. Competition rowing rates are in the 30 to 45 strokes per minute range, and breathing can be synchronized with that.

When canoeing, my breathing is not closely synchronized, but I think I tend to inhale as I reach forward and take the catch. I’ll have to check on it. Those of us who paddle kneeling must not bend and hunch the torso forward as we reach for the catch. The torso should stay fairly upright. However, at the catch, the torso is twisted a bit one way, and at the start of paddle recovery, just a bit the other way. Twisting the torso tends to push air out, though that isn’t necessarily going to occur.

So at a normal paddling rate, if one is working hard enough to justify it, breathing could be synchronized with the paddle stroke. For short bursts of hard paddling, as in racing to reach an eddy or some other must-make move, my stroke rate might climb close to 60 per minute. If my breathing rate is accelerated by effort, probably it is not going to synchronize with my stroke rate, and I sure am not going to try to force my breathing rhythm.