(2 minute read)

During the middle of the 20th Century, certain elite athletes (runners) from Eastern Europe trained by voluntarily restricting their breathing frequency – often referred to as hypoxic (low oxygen) training. The most famous athlete to experiment with this technique was Emil Zatopek, the Czech long-distance runner. Zatopek was a 4-time Olympic gold medallist (1948-1952) who broke 18 world records during his much-celebrated career.

During his training, Zatopek regularly held his breath for as long as possible, with the intent to improve his heart-lung performance, and to simulate conditions of competition.

One entry found in Zatopek’s training diary records the time he was trialling this practise in a pine forest – taking one deep breath before proceeding to run as far as he could, until exhaustion.

Upon waking up amongst the pine needles on the forest floor, Zatopek composed himself, and walked back to his starting point, noting in his journal; “Today, a personal best. 18 rows of trees before blacking out.”

While history records Zatopek as one of the greatest long-distance runners of that era (before the arrival of the great Kenyan, Kipchoge) it is unclear whether this practise was a key contributor.

Sometimes, as we strive to achieve excellence in certain disciplines or professions, it is possible to get caught up in some extreme or uncertain practises, of which the benefits are not well documented.

Modern coaches – both athletic and business focused – now look to the ‘sustainability’ of any routines or practises, to assess their worthiness in a training regimen.

While there may be some method to the apparent madness of certain training techniques, it’s a good idea to get an informed or educated opinion on the validity of the practise or routine before running too deep into the proverbial forest.

“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line!”

Oscar Levant

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