When it comes to eccentric craftsmen who think outside the box, cycling legend, Graeme Obree, falls well outside any orthodox framework. His whole career has been defined by questioning conventional wisdom and finding out for himself the best way to go about things. For Obree, this doesn’t end with handcrafting his own bike; it goes right down to the way he breathes.

The Obree way

Obree has distilled all that he has learnt and discovered throughout his career into a training manual like no other. The Obree Way, a comprehensive and holistic guide to cycling is a guide for both novices and pros alike.

There’s an overload about how to train, how to eat, what training to do, so I thought, what I want to do is have a manual that nails it

Humans Invent filmed Obree talking about his rather singular breathing technique, a subject which he explores at great length in The Obree Way.

Obree constantly questions methods and modern practice.

First, he explains what led him to write the guide. He says, “I wrote the training manual fundamentally because there’s so much information, almost an overload about how to train, how to eat, what training to do, so I thought, what I want to do is have a manual that nails it, that says exactly what I would do and what I would recommend  to somebody else, whether a long term sportsman or new to the sport, to tell them exactly what you need to do and don’t need to do.”

Breathing Out

When it comes to breathing, Obree has developed a technique which he believes is far more efficient than the standard rhythmic breathing employed by most sportsmen.

He says, “I have developed my own, three-phase technique to try and increase the oxygen uptake for the least amount of effort. That entails shifting the emphasis from breathing in to breathing out.”

Obree continues, “If you were drowning your natural reaction would be to breathe in but the most important thing about breathing is actually breathing out, the reason being that, as an athlete, if you are breathing heavily in and out rhythmically, even a trained athlete, the oxygen content of the air will be about 14-16%, whereas the atmospheric content is 21%.”

If you don’t exhale properly you aren’t expelling all the air, which remains in your lungs with an increased percentage of carbon dioxide.

Deep breathing

Obree continues, “Bear in mind, even a trained athlete breathing rhythmically as best he can, he is only breathing 1/3 of his lung capacity out, to breath in 1/3 third which mixes with the bad air again. So the emphasis on my breathing technique is to try and breath 2/3 of that air out which is realistically possible. It’s basically breathing out a lot more than you normally would and breathing a lot deeper than you would.”

The reason why Obree calls it a three-phase technique is because he realised it would not be possible to exhale fully after every intake of breath.

He says, “You can’t do that for every breath so you do a wee half breath out and then back in and another a wee half breath out and back in, then a big breath out and back in.”

The most important thing about breathing is actually breathing out

As soon as Obree had formulated this technique he went out and tested it, including a few variations.

He says, “I tested a two phase technique and a four phase technique but the three phase technique was the one that turned out to be the best one; the one I thought was the best in terms of performance.”

The Obree Way is being reissued by Bloomsbury Books with an additional two chapters – the plan is to publish this coming autumn.

Do you have an idea that could benefit society? Then #GetItDownOnPaper and you could win a paid internship at Sharp Laboratories of Europe.

Humans Invent will keep you posted on Obree’s progress with The International Human Powered Vehicle Association (IHPVA) record attempt in 2013.

Images shot exclusively for Humans Invent by Camille McMillan.

For related Graeme Obree articles please read: –

Graeme Obree tests the Beastie for the first time

Return of the Flying Scotsman: Graeme Obree

Graeme Obree: Hand-building the world’s fastest bicycle

Obree set for land speed record attempt in Britain

Graeme Obree calls for the return of airships

The End
  • Duane Gran

    I have immense respect for Obree but I’m a little skeptical that breath (and by extension, Oxygen to lungs) is a limiting factor. Human lungs are, for whatever reason, massively over built relative to our ability to transport oxygen. The weak link is transport via blood cells. You could reduce your lung capacity by half and still the blood cells would be saturated.

    Potentially there is some advantage to achieving a more rhythmic breathing pattern to keep focus at threshold efforts. I can see how labored and raspy breathing can mentally discourage an athlete. As an amateur with interest in getting better I’m willing to try his technique, but I don’t see how it could improve oxygen transport.

    • Steve

      If your lungs are so over built, you would never be short of breath!

      Poor breathing increases your oxygen consumption, raises your heart rate and leads to poor performance.

      Ignore your breathing and you will remain an amateur.

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