Hyperoxic Recovery in Elite Swimmers

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Hyperoxic Recovery in Elite Swimmers

Oxygen is essential for recovery and breathing more frequently is believed to improve endurance capacity. In swimming, repeated exercise bouts are typically performed in meets and practice requiring a lot of oxygen for recovery.

Hyperoxia (respiration of air containing a higher partial pressure of oxygen than regular air) enhances the level of arterial hemoglobin saturation as well as the amount of oxygen dissolved in the plasma. Hyperoxic breathing is also known to augment delivery of oxygen to working skeletal muscle cells, as well as the diffusion of oxygen into the mitochondria.

Previous studies suggest that breathing of supplemental oxygen in exercise consisting of short-term high-intensity intervals neither improves recovery nor delays hydrogen ion or lactate accumulation.

Hyperoxia may also influence power output during repeated high-intensity exercise, potentially due to neuromuscular fatigue.

Sperlich et al. looked to see if supplemental oxygen improves peak and mean power outputs and reduce fatigue as aerobic metabolism plays a significant role in repeated sprints.

What was done

Twelve elite male swimmers performed the following procedures three times with at least 72 hours between trials. The first visit was to familiarize them with the equipment, then the two subsequent visits the swimmers inhaled either hyperoxic or normoxic air a 6 minute recovery period between five repetitions of high-intensity swim bench, involved 40 maximal arm strokes (approximately 50 seconds).


Production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) hydrogen peroxide was higher in hyperoxic recovery in the third, fourth, and fifth intervals. Hyperoxide also produced higher electromyography during the third, fourth, and fifth intervals. No difference between trials was seen in blood lactate, pH, or base excess and ROS production.


These results suggest peak and mean power of elite swimmers performing high-intensity intervals can be improved by exposure to oxygen-enriched air during recovery.

Practical Implication

The present findings suggest hyperoxide recovery from high-intensity exercises enhances peak and mean power output. This suggests elite swimmers would benefit from hyperoxide recovery during practice or meets with repeated sprint efforts. However, the application of the swim bench to real swimming is unproven and should be investigated further.


  1. Sperlich B, Zinner C, Krueger M, Wegrzyk J, Mester J, Holmberg HC. Ergogenic effect of hyperoxic recovery in elite swimmers performing high-intensity intervals. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 Dec;21(6):e421-9

Written By:

Dr. GJohn Mullen


Dr. GJohn Mullen, DPT, CSCS is a World renowned expert and speaker in sports training and rehabilitation. He received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy at USC, as well as the Josette Antonelli Division Service Scholarship, Order of the Golden Cane, and the Order of Areté. At USC, he also performed research on swimming biomechanics and lung adaptations in swimming training. Dr. GJohn has worked with multiple professional and Olympic athletes, helping them earn Olympic medals.

His dedication to research and individualization spurred him to open COR in 2011. Since 2011, Dr. GJohn has been featured in Gizmodo, Motherboard, Stack Magazine, Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, USA Swimming, USA Triathlon, Swimming Science, and much more.

He has worked with the numerous colleges and teams regarding rehab and performance. Before his Doctoral program, Dr. GJohn swam on an athletic scholarship at Purdue University.

At Purdue, Dr. GJohn was an Academic Honorable Mention All-American and was awarded the Red Mackey Award and R. O. Papenguh Award. He also won the Purdue Undergraduate business plan and elevator pitch competition, as well as 1st prize with the Indiana Soy Bean Alliance.

Dr. GJohn was born in Centerville, Ohio and was a 24-time high school All-American Swimmer. Dr. GJohn is still a swimmer and holds a Masters Swimming World and Pacific Swimming Record.

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