STAY DRY – Freedive Training Without Getting Wet

Freedive practice takes dedication and perseverance. 

While most sports require a combination of skill and fitness, freediving also incorporates physical and mental control and the conditioning of the body to accept circumstances that it would normally object to.

Before taking to the ocean and plunging hundreds of feet below the surface for minutes on end, it is vital that you undertake controlled, supervised pool work that allows you to push your training in a safe environment.

However, even before you dip your pinkies into the water, there are numerous training techniques that allow you to develop your mental control and increase your physical conditioning, building your abilities on dry land before diving in.

Before I delve into three of these freedive training exercises, let me stress that no breathwork or apnea training should be undertaken – even on dry land – without supervision. You should not attempt any wet training without an expert present. If you have a heart condition, high blood pressure or other underlying issues that may be affected by breath-holding, it is vital that you first consult a physician before undertaking any freedive exercises. Always practice in a safe environment, away from hard objects, roads or areas that may prove dangerous in the highly unlikely event of passing out.

So, with those essential words said, let’s dive into three simple techniques you can undertake to increase your apnea abilities:

1. O2 Training

Hypoxic or Oxygen (O2) freedive training is probably the most obvious form of freedive apnea exercise. At its most basic, apnea is simply holding your breath, and this is what O2 training is focussed on: extending your ability to go without breathing.

O2 training involves taking the same period of time to breathe and then incrementally extending your breath-holds. This has two primary benefits: firstly, it creates a sort of muscle memory and you become both physically and mentally familiar with the sensations associated with apnea; secondly, it improves lung health and capacity, strengthening and expanding the alveoli – the tiny pockets of the lungs that transfer oxygen into the bloodstream. This, in turn, increases your oxygen retention and the efficiency of your breathing.

O2 freedive training: How To

  1. Find a comfortable position, ideally seated on the floor, though you can lie down if necessary
  2. Make sure there are no hard objects, such as furniture, nearby and even surround yourself with cushions if necessary. It is highly unlikely that you will pass out, but if you do, you want somewhere soft to fall.
  3. Relax your body, and breathe consciously for two minutes, feeling your lungs and chest filling and emptying. You’re not deep-breathing as such, just breathing slowly and fully.
  4. With ten seconds remaining, practice a three-stage in-breath – filling first the stomach, then the lungs and rib cage and finally up into the upper chest and shoulders.
  5. Hold your breath for 15 seconds, exhaling smoothly, gently and in control.
  6. Repeat your two minutes of breathing.
  7. Again, take a three-stage inhale, but this time, hold your breath for 30 seconds.
  8. Exhale and breathe for two minutes.
  9. Keep repeating this sequence a further six times, each time increasing your hold by 15 seconds.

If you find this sequence too easy, simply increase your first hold, then again increase each subsequent hold by 15 seconds, making sure not to exceed eight reps, regardless of your initial start time.

If you feel lightheaded at any point, cease training immediately.

 

2. CO2 Training

There are two primary things that affect our breathing. As we saw above, lack of oxygen is the most obvious. However, our bodies don’t instinctively inhale because they are low on oxygen – they do so due to a build-up of carbon dioxide, or CO2. For the average person, that feeling of “I need to breathe” comes when we still have well over half of our oxygen remaining, but the increase in CO2 levels triggers our natural urge to breathe. Our lungs strain, our rib cage expands, our throat contracts and our body very noticeably and physically tries to breathe, even when we consciously don’t let it.

The principle of hypercapnic or CO2 training is to build our tolerance to carbon dioxide. We are aiming to educate our bodies and minds that we are in control, that the sensations associated with CO2 increase are acceptible and that there is no need for panic – a freediver’s worst enemy and a reaction that burns excessive oxygen.

With CO2 freedive training, the tables are reversed: we maintain the same length of breath-hold while decreasing the breathing period.

O2 freedive training: How To

  1. Find a comfortable position, ideally seated on the floor, though you can lie down if necessary
  2. Make sure there are no hard objects, such as furniture, nearby and even surround yourself in cushions if necessary. It is highly unlikely that you will pass out, but if you do, you want somewhere soft to fall.
  3. Relax your body, and breathe consciously for two minutes, feeling your lungs and chest filling and emptying, not deep-breathing, just breathing slowly and fully.
  4. With ten seconds remaining, again practice a three-stage in-breath – filling first the stomach, then the lungs and rib cage and finally up into the upper chest and shoulders.
  5. Hold your breath for one and a half minutes, finally exhaling smoothly, gently and in control.
  6. Now reduce your breathing. Breathe steadily for one minute and 45 seconds.
  7. Take a three-stage inhale once more and hold your breath, again for one and a half minutes.
  8. Exhale and breathe now for one minute 30.
  9. Keep repeating this sequence a further six times, each time decreasing your breathing period by 15 seconds.
  10. You will finish with just 15 seconds of recovery time before your final 1:30 breath-hold.

You may feel convulsions as you near your limit. This is completely natural. Remain calm, simply allow them to flow through your body, repeat a calming mantra if necessary, and know that, on average, these spasms begin approximately at our halfway point, so theoretically you can hold your breath for the same amount of time as you already have been when the first spasm hits.

CO2 freedive training is as much about the psychological battle we have when faced with increased levels of carbon dioxide as it is the physical challenge of holding our breath. By teaching our bodies to accept a certain level of CO2 we are able to overcome our tendency to panic. Panicking increases brain function and accelerates our heart rate, both of which burn exponentially more oxygen than a relaxed state.

3. Exercise Training

Big-wave surfer, Laird Hamilton once said that, lying on a living room floor, he could easily hold his breath for two or two and a half minutes, but in the tumultuous vortex of a giant, crashing wave, even 15 seconds can feel like a lifetime.

When physically challenged, even at a very low level, our bodies yearn to breathe even more. Muscle function is basically impossible without oxygen, so as soon as we start to move, we not only want to breathe more, but we also more rapidly deplete our oxygen reserves.

Freedive exercise training combines the above apnea techniques with light aerobic exercise, both making the apnea training more challenging and improving your body’s oxygen usage. 

Excessive exercise isn’t necessary – you can simply walk or even just raise and lower your arms. The aim is to increase your oxygen usage through physical activity, not to work out.

Freedive exercise training: How To:

  1. Find a large safe place, preferably on a soft surface. A beach, garden or park is perfect. If you don’t have an area like this available, you can simply sit, raising and lowering your arms when the time comes.
  2. Exercise training is generally done in coordination with CO2 training, but you can use O2 training as well.
  3. Follow the steps outlined in the previous trainings, breathing and holding according to the training tables. At this stage, you still want to be restful, seated, relaxed and immobile.
  4. Listen to your body. The first one or two reps might run smoothly, but by rep three, you might notice the convulsions or spasms creeping in.
  5. This is the moment you’re listening for. When that first spasm kicks in, stand up slowly and take a walk. Count your paces as you go, remain calm, and walk as far, or for as long, as possible.
  6. Now reset. Go back to the start of the training table, breathing for the longest period, and repeat your first rep; when the spasms kick in, again slowly stand and go for a walk.
  7. Repeat two more times, with a maximum of four walks in any one session.

With this method, the length of breath-hold isn’t so important, it is the number of steps you take (or the number of arm raises you do, if practicing seated). So make sure you count your steps and take note of them. Each time you practice, you should aim for your personal best each time, increasing gradually as your capacity for apnea increases.

IMPORTANT NOTE: With exercise training, the likelihood of passing out is increased and, though still very unlikely, it is essential that you practice this method with someone who is aware of what you are doing. DO NOT practice on a hard surface, near a road or anywhere else that might be dangerous if you lose balance or consciousness.

So there you have it – three freedive exercises you can try to begin improving your breath retention without even getting your feet wet.

For a more complete freedive training experience, join the Atlantis Call – a 7-day retreat on the shores of the Red Sea reconnecting your body and mind while indulging in oceanic experiences.

For more information on the benefits of apnea training, and on the healing properties of water, download my FREE ebook today.

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