For health reasons hypoxic training, holding the breath to increase endurance, has been banned at the Cherokee County Aquatic Center.

Swimmers can no longer test the limits of their underwater breath holding ability at the Cherokee Aquatics Center, following a rules change by the Cherokee County Recreation and Parks Agency Advisory Board.

Whether as a competitive training aid, or as a kids’ game, people holding their breath underwater too long can black out or drown, said CRPA Aquatics Division Director Kim Whatley. Both have happened in other areas, but thankfully not so far at the aquatics center.

The advisory board approved the rule change at its June 12 meeting.

Hypoxic training — purposely testing how long a swimmer can hold a breath underwater — has been used in the past by competitive swimmers and swim teams to help swimmers build lung capacity and increase endurance.

“We have been enforcing this with our teams since we opened, but do not have it published on our pool rules. We want to make this a formal rule so that we can make all teams, coaches and swimmers aware of the dangers as well as to have support when we enforce this,” CRPA officials wrote in encouraging the board to adopt the rule change. “Many coaches trained using these drills in the past when they were competitive swimmers. Therefore, they do not always understand the hazards that it poses even to well-trained swimmers. Most of the swimmers at the Cherokee County Aquatic Center are not elite national swimmers and do not have the physical ability to participate in these drills.”

Although the rule’s main focus is on competitive swimmers engaging in endurance exercises, Whatley said the aquatic center’s lifeguards are also on the lookout for and discourage recreational swimmers from going underwater to see who can hold their breath the longest.

Now that the rule is in place, Whatley said the next step is to make sure coaches at every swim team level understand the rule and get them to encourage their swimmers to comply.

“We’ll be holding individual meetings with all of the coaches before the season begins, and we will go over it then,” Whatley said.

Should any coaches continue to push hypoxic training with their swimmers, Whatley said the center would evaluate its options and look at stronger actions to keep swimmers safe.

“We want to work with people, educate them and get them on board that way,” Whatley said.

The agency’s advisory board is not the only organization to have prohibited hypoxic training in public pools. The YMCA has put a national ban in place at all of its facilities, while Whatley said some cities, including New York and Santa Barbara, California, have instituted similar policies. USA Swimming, Inc., the national organization governing competitive swimming, has been issuing recommendations regarding hypoxic training since 2016.

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