Breathing is often part of the stroke that is overlooked. I think this is because rowers tend to be natural “workers.” We focus on getting the blade in the water and going to work pounding the legs down. We’ve grown up thinking more legs, legs, legs. This is at least true in the United States where most of us learned how to row in the eight. There never seems to be enough time to let the boat run out, because we’re pushing and pulling like crazy.
After spending a tremendous amount of time in smaller boats (single and pairs), I now finally understand the importance of breathing. Taking time to breathe at the finish typically relaxes the shoulders, allowing for maximum boat run and for that old saying “one stroke at a time” to happen. Of course this is not a big gulping breath, especially at race pace. Rather it is a short, sharp exhale as you finish each stroke.
Secondly, in regards to breathing and racing, it is critical to breathe during the warm-up when nerves are high. Take the time to focus on it. Whenever you feel a burst of anxiety, focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This is not a long drawn out exhale; use a determined exhale. During the race, it is critical to start breathing right away. Focus on it while you still have your stamina in the first 500 meters of the race, because trust me, once you get to the second thousand, breathing will be the last thing that comes to mind thanks to the lactic acid that will soon consume every muscle. Be sure to incorporate these breathing exercises into your practice sessions, so you are fully prepared on race day.