Proper Breathing in Rowing

Breathing is something that we do every day and most of us don’t even think about when and how we breathe. Breathing


process moves air in and out of the lungs to allow diffusion of oxygen and carbon dioxide. We as human beings require oxygen at cellular level for our body to function. The respiratory center in our brains (Medulla) is responsible for control of ventilation as breathing is often called. Regulation of pH levels in our body is also done through breathing.

Movement of air in and out of the lungs is caused by changes in the thoracic volume. How can we use proper breathing to result in better rowing?

How does breathing happen?

Inspiration (inhalation) at rest begins with the contraction of your diaphragm and use of external intercostal muscles. Inhalation lowers the floor of the thorax while lifting the ribs up and out and this allows us to take in more air.  The opposite happens at the expiration (exhalation) where the diaphragm and intercostal muscles relax and recoil (bounce back to original position) while pushing the air out. In sports and the exercise world breathing is a must and there are several breathing patterns for different sports. Every repetition or exercise should have both an inhale and exhale part.

During exercise inhalation movements are assisted by accessory inspiratory muscles which include neck and trapezius muscles. The function of these muscles is to lift the ribs and clavicle (collar bones) allowing larger amount of air in our lungs during exercise.

Effective breathing for rowing

Rowing is named as one of the hardest endurance sports and proper breathing is very important to be able to sustain the amount of work. As a coach, I always teach my athletes proper breathing technique.

During the rowing stroke the inhalation should be at the catch and exhalation (releasing of the air) should be at the finish when the hands touch the body.

This is something that must be trained daily. For some athletes a correct breathing pattern is harder to learn than the rowing motion and it is the coach’s job to make sure the athlete is breathing properly. This is especially important during hard training loads and workouts.

The best pace to practice breathing is at lower stroke rates 14-18 SPM. This slower pace allows athletes to focus on each part of the breath.

How to train your rowing breathing

During exercise the rowing stroke exhalation should be loud and noticeable. At this point breathing (exhalation) becomes active and forced. This forced exhalation allows smaller intercostal and accessory muscles to stretch which greatly increases the maximal rate and amount of air flow. By forcing the exhalation, we can drastically increase the amount of air without necessarily increasing the breathing frequency. It is important to note that as the rowing speed increases, the breathing frequency should increase as well. You do not want to breathe like fish at stroke rate 32!

Next time when you sit on the rowing machine, pay attention to your breathing!

Your breathing pattern should become mechanical, followed by each inhale at the catch and the exhale at the finish.

Perfect practice makes a perfect result.

Coach Misha.

Originally from Serbia, Misha Jezdanov was a member of the Yugoslavian/Serbian national rowing team for 6 years as a coxswain. Competed at 3 worlds and was world champion in 1995. Misha has been in USA these past 16 years coaching rowing.

6 thoughts on “Proper Breathing in Rowing

  1. Keith Bradley says:

    I am a little confused about this. Surely you mean full inhalation at the catch and full exhalation at the finish. i.e. Start to inhale at finish during recovery and exhale during the drive phase.

  2. Ken Price says:

    I too am confused. breathing, as Keith Bradley indicates, is not an instantaneous event and I can’t understand how to put into practice what coach Mischa is saying. My breathing technique in rowing is terrible and I would definitely like to understand it better and develop it to get away from my “four stroke” breathing (two inhalations and two exhalations per stroke.) Do the Olympians manage to breath in only once on the recovery and exhale through the drive?

  3. graham cawood says:

    Most expert rowers use 2 breaths per stroke. Breath out coming into the catch, and the release. One complete breath each way. Breath through the mouth – relaxed and quiet.
    I also recommend you use a 1:1 in:out time ratio, at 25 + spm.
    Do all this ALWAYS!!!!!, and it will become automatic.
    I also like to finish arms and legs TOGETHER, and not hold the legs down. My arms are only fully straight at the instant of the catch. I feather while, not after, the spoon leaves the water. I lay back AT the catch, not halfway through the work.
    Have fun.

  4. jeff says:

    I coach sequence on the drive and recovery….with a good sequence on drive phaze how can the arms and legs finish together

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.