learn-how-to-hold-your-breath

How to hold your breath for 5 minutes in 1 month – Freediving training

I decided to put this guide together as a post course reference/training guide for my students, but it could be used by anyone, as long as they approach the activity with the care and respect that it deserves. If you have not completed a freediving course at all I would not recommend doing any ‘home training’. Freediving is in many ways a very safe sport, but without formal training it can be dangerous.This guide will not contain all of the techniques that we employ in our teaching here at FreediveUK (for lots of reasons) so if you want to get it right and take your freediving to the next level then be sure to join us on one of our courses. We have a great success rate at improving peoples times, many doubling what they could do before.

First things first – Basic freediving safety!

Never dive alone, always dive with an apnea and rescue trained buddy.

Dry training is many times safer than wet training.

Do not hyperventilate (see why here)

Always dive within your limits. Take slow steps and make steady progress.

OK, lets begin

Lets get something straight. There is no easy route to a 4+ minute breath-hold, but in this guide i will take you through some of the basic techniques and a training plan which could take you there. I wish I had a secret breathing technique that could add 75% to your breath-hold, but i dont, and dont believe anyone if they say that they do! Freediving training is about adding small amounts on a regular basis until your body is conditioned to deal with the high c02 and low 02.

This is a six stage process and is finished off with a training table

STEP ONE

The first thing to do is see what your  dry breath-hold is right now. You need to see what you can achieve now to understand what you can get to with continued training.

  1. Sit on a comfy chair or lay on a bed.
  2. Breathe calmly and slowly for 2 minutes – No deeper or faster than you would normally.
  3. Take a deep breath in, then exhale everything, then take a really deep breath in… as deep as you can manage.
  4. As you hold your breath, relax and think of other things.
  5. When you cant manage anymore take some deep inhales to recover. Always focus on your inhales and not your exhales when recovering!

How did you do?

We are going to use this time as a prediction of what you will be able to get to in one months time.

1 minute or less = 3 minutes

1:30 minutes (approx) = 4 minutes

2+ minutes  = 5 minutes

You may do better, you may do worse. Some people respond to training better than others, there are no fixed rules that we can use to precisely gauge your potential but after years of instructing people how to hold their breath these numbers are a pretty good guide. But remember, it will involve training… and lots of it. Your overall fitness levels will also affect how quickly you improve. If you are quite unfit yo may find you peak early and will struggle to go beyond that point.

STEP TWO

The next thing to work on is your breath-holding technique itself. This can be broken down in to the principle parts… We go in to this in far more detail on courses and in my book.

1: The preparation

There are three main things to focus on during your preparation. Relaxation of the muscles, relaxation of the mind and relaxation of the breath. See the theme? Yep… RELAXATION!

All your muscles need to be inactive, any muscle that is tense will use oxygen.

Your mind must be calm, if you are stressed out, nervous or even scared… you will not do well. Find something that calms your mind.

Your breathing must be relaxed, not forced, not deep, not fast … normal… (by doing this we are also avoiding hyperventilation).

2: The Final breaths

Ill keep this simple. Take 3 breaths….

One 75% inhale

One 100% exhale

One maximum capacity 100% inhale (do not pack)

HOLD

3: The breath-hold itself

Stop the air escaping at the glottis or the back of the throat, not at the lips.

Never release any air until you intend to breathe again, be it underwater or on the surface. Your exhales will include oxygen, so don’t waste it.

Remember my rule of thirds. Not sure what this is? Read here…

By working within the rule of thirds you will get a gauge of how well you are doing.

Relax your mind and body. Do not think about anything…. OR…. run a mantra through your head.

STEP THREE

The next step in your training is to work on the frequency, location and quality of your breath-hold training.

Frequency of breath hold training – 

Work on  doing c02 tables every other day for the first 2 weeks. Dont know what c02 tables are? Read about them here…

Then for the last two weeks work on 02 tables every day. Dont now what 02 tables are? Read about them here…

The basic idea here is that we are working on reducing the urge to breathe first of all with the c02 tables (as its an increase in c02 that makes us want to breathe). With our c02 tolerances increased we can then start working on the overall time with 02 tables.

Put aside an hour a day if possible for these tables. See the schedule at the foot of the page for more details.

Location

Dry training is 10-20% harder than wet training. It is also a lot safer (you should still do it with a buddy as dry breath-holds can still be dangerous). This increase in difficulty is because the mammalian dive reflex is triggered with facial immersion in water, therefore, when dry we suffer a drop in performance. You can use this to your advantage as if you can do well on dry land, you will do way better in the water. I would try to do at least one wet session a week though as it trains you on technique and trains your body to work in that environment. If in the water ensure you have a  trained buddy with you. Please only do wet sessions if you have done a course, there are countless points on safety and technique which you will learn! If you absolutely cant attend a course then I go over this in detail in my book.

Quality of breath hold training –

Just like any athletic training, the quality should be more important than the quantity. Doing apnea training everyday but hating every minute of it will get you nowhere fast!

Focus on committing properly to the session, get yourself in the right mindset to do it, dont have any distractions.

STEP FOUR

Aerobic and anaerobic training are both critical to your overall success. Your apnea sessions as detailed above are anaerobic training but they are of a type, they are relaxed and focused on time and not exertion. We want to now incorporate more physical training!

Anaerobic training – 

Anaerobic literally means ‘without air’, so you can see why it may help with your training. When you push your body really hard your breathing rate cant keep up and your muscles are starved of oxygen so they start to burn phosphates and glycogen instead. This kind of workout doesn’t have to be long and protracted. Its about high energy, short intensive bursts and working until your lungs want to burst! I do a standard work out of interval runs and then apnea walks. When training I will do this 3 times a week.

 

Aerobic training – 

This is a little less important than your anaerobic training when it comes to apnea but its still vital. This is when the body is using oxygen as a fuel source more so than glycogen. It ‘has air’.  So by training aerobically you are training your body to be more efficient with oxygen, typically this benefits the early part of a breath-hold. Think about long cycle rides or steady long runs to work on this. Ill do this twice a week.

STEP FIVE

Eat well (healthily), dont drink caffeine, dont take any artificial stimulants, dont drink alcohol, drink plenty of water. Don’t eat or drink lots just before an apnea session, your stomach lining uses lots of energy and blood to digest food.

STEP SIX – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Ok, now we need to put all this together. We know we need to do the following to do well….

  1. Proper breath up technique
  2. Proper breath-hold technique
  3. Training tables – c02 and 02 – dry and wet
  4. Aerobic training
  5. Anaerobic training

With that being understood here is  training table with goals for one month, assuming we can do a 2 minute breath-hold already. I have included it as a jpg so you can easily print it out. If you are not so focused on pushing times in such a short time-frame you can use parts of the training plan, cherry pick what you can and cant achieve.  Crucially this table has been tested and i know it works. Despite it being pretty hardcore, it is safe, as long as you are guided by what your body is telling you and are happy to pull back if you feel like you are overstretching yourself. If you have done a freediving course with us then you should understand where that point is and how to identify it.

 

If you want to learn more about freediving then why not go on one of our freediving courses or continue reading this blog… or even buy my book ‘Underwater foraging – Freediving for food’.

About the author – Ian Donald is an AIDA master freediving instructor and author. He has been freediving since 2001 and has been instructing since 2009. He can often be seen on TV programs about freediving and is often called on to talk as a guest lecturer on the subject. 

Comments 105

  1. Thanks you very much for the the information you have provided in this page. I am very much interested in free diving for Spear fishing and i have never read any article before about free dive and i can hold my breath up to 50 seconds. I will start my self training with the help of the instruction provided by you in this article and i hope that i would be able to improve a lot.

    Ahmed Shamoon
    Contact no: ——————-

  2. Thanks, this is a really useful actionable training routine. One question – on the tables that are done ‘wet’, are these basically static breath holds?

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      Thanks Pete, Yes they refer to static apnea.
      The key with this routine is that you can adjust or extend it over a longer period. Its pretty intense, i designed it for someone training for a freediving competition.

      1. Thanks Ian. That’s what I thought. I’ve been experimenting with my own intensive 4 week training schedules, not for competition purposes, but I normally need to intensively train a month or two before a holiday I know that I’m going to want to freedive on and I normally leave it too late for training over a longer period of time! Similar to yours, my routines involve daily tables and fitness exercises, the main difference being that I don’t have any wet statics. Finding a buddy for this (and a pool that will allow it) has been a challenge. Instead I tend to do my interval training in the pool as opposed to sprint training. Hopefully this has a similar effect of getting the body used to holding your breath in water that you get from the wet statics.

  3. Hi! I appreciate your blog and it helps me on my training for a first time spearfishing trip. I have a question regarding the 02 part of the training table. I cant find what is the break time between the repetitions? Is it two minutes like it was mentioned in your other blog or is it different? Thanks a lot

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      It very much depends on how you develop your own 02 tables. 2 minutes breathe up with a 1 minute recovery is a good start, but its a personal thing, it can be longer if you want…

      1. I would like to give thumbs up for your table! I completed a one month training in November and I was able to hold my breath for 4.30 min. The training was hard but it did pay off. Thank you Ian for your knowledge!!

      2. I would like to give a big thumbs up for this program. I completed my training in November and I was able to hold my breath for 4.30 min! The training was hard but I would strongly recommend. Ian, many thanks for your shared knowledge!!

  4. Awesome tutorial thanks so much. Does the start in the apnea goal mean your breath up and that’s how long you have to prepare or is it how long to hold your breath for?

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  5. Hi Ian,
    Wanna say thanks for all these very useful info.
    My question is have counted the timing of your apnea walk? i mean how many seconds you walk without breathing. Just wanna motivate myself.
    Thanks.

  6. Firstly thanks for a very useful (and approachable) introduction. You might be interested in reading a book called Body By Science (http://www.bodybyscience.net) with regard to aerobic/anaerobic training. It has tons of research backed information about optimum methods for improving both metabolic pathways.

  7. I read your other blog of co2 and o2 tables, but I still don’t understand them. Is there a deeper (dumbed down) way of putting it ?

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  9. Thx for all information provided. They are very useful.
    However, I’ve seen a lot people say that before the final breath we need to do deep breathing for about 1 or 2 minutes. But not fast. Calm deep breathing. I think this is not hyperventilation. Or is it?
    They say that hyperventilation is fast deep breathing. But calm deep breathing for one min is not.
    What’s your point of view?
    Thank you in advance.

  10. Thank you for the information.
    Is calm deep breathing considered as hyperventilation too? I thought only fast and deep breathing was.
    Thank you!

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      Thanks for your comments. Basically any breathing that gives you more air than you need, is hyperventilation. So deep calm breathing is most likely hyperventilation. You would have to breathe very very slowly for it to not be. There is no real point in breathing deeply for 2 minutes, it wont effect your blood oxygen levels all that much. If you tested yourself right now, reading this, you are probably at about 98% o2 saturation, so there isnt much you can do to increase that significantly. Thats why we focus on relaxation instead….
      If you aim for about 6 breaths per minute, you are doing it about right. This is by exhaling for about 6 seconds and inhaling for about 3. Although you can extend this to 8 and 4. The safest way of prep breathing is simply normal breathing, and in fact its often the most relaxing.

  11. Thanks for the write up. Funny I could hold my breath for over two minutes as a teenager (w/o training), now barely 50 seconds!

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  12. I don`t realy understand the table notation .

    O2 – 1.30 start – increase in 15 sec increments up to 2:15 means – hold 1.30 and rest ?? them hold 1.45 – and rest ? and the hold will increase in the same way until 2:15???
    CO2 – 1:45 Hold reduce prep from 2 min by 15 sec increments to 30 sec . ( at this i even can`t suppose the table format ) can you exemplify me ?

    i understand , coz in the CO2 the hold is stable and the breath is decreasing .. but i cant figure how ….

    Thanks very much

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  13. if you stop training after the month of training will your breath hold decrease if so do you have to continue this routing to maintain your breath hold.

    Cheers

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  14. Hi Ian,

    how long is prep in the O2 tables (light blue and orange sections) of your training table – it’s 2 min, between each hold, right?

    Thanks & all the best
    Werner

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  15. i would like to learn how to hold my breath for more then 4 min. also i would like to train to swim with a mono fin

    thank you,

    kind regards

    ciprian

  16. Hi Ian,
    Big fan here.
    Im following this training but im not sure about if the aerobic and anaerobic exercises im doing are apropriate. For aerobic short im doing 5km, mid 8km and long 10km. For anaerobic im doing running intervals of 30 secs fast/1m45 slow 9 reps (mid) and 45 secs fast/1m45 slow 14 reps (long)
    Would you adjust any of these exercises?
    Also, any plans to come to azores? We have amazing spots here 🙂
    Thanks

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      Hi Rodolfo, sounds like you are on the right path! Id say those exercises are about right, as long as they are working for you. Always remember what you are working towards and make sure that you are training aerobic or anaerobic response where needed and not the other way around. I often see people training too hard and working anaerobically when they are trying to train aerobically!
      We have talked about the Azores for the last 4 years… so yes. one day for sure!
      Ian

  17. Hi Ian

    This is fantastic I can do nearly 4 minutes now. What would you recommend me to do to stay in (breathing) shape? Should I continue to do these exercises, how frequent and what combination? I love doing them because it help on my stressful life as well.

    You should really consider to upload a guide on sustaining the good shape.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Peter

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  18. I would really like to start this training I’m going to start it in 16 days I can now averagely hold my breath for 1:30 to around 2 minutes my goal is 4:30 to 5:00 minutes I will wright back after the training

  19. THIS WORKED!
    I found this article a little to late and had to adapt the 1 month schedule down to 3 weeks while working every single day (literally no days off). I found this just when I was looking for some training to prepare for my AIDA 3 and 4 star courses. I modified the training with the goal of only getting comfortably passed 4 minutes. My prior PB was 3:36 and that was 3 years ago with no training since. In my AIDA 3 I pulled off a magical 4:30 hold. Feeling quite accomplished I moved onto AIDA 4 and on the day of static holds, I just wasn’t feeling it. I made up my mind to tough it out and do my best to ignore my body trying to tell me to breathe again. So it was a completely unbelievable miracle that I performed a 5:31 static!
    So I just want to tell everyone reading this to go for it. I had to adapt it to my schedule and needs and you can too.
    To the writer, you’re a freakin’ legend man!

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  20. Hey I’m a 12 year old can do 1 minute breath holds dry relaxed I’ve also got proper equipment how long will it take me to learn or can I even do it

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      Please be very very careful. Obviously i cant stop you, but Id suggest finding someone you can train with. Do you have an instructor that you can call and speak to?

  21. Been working the CO2 tables for almost two weeks almost every day and I went from 2:15 to 4:33 last night! Getting more comfortable holding through the contractions. After a few days of practice I was able to hold through some decent size contractions to 3:30. Kept practicing CO2 and last night tried for another PB. Held through contractions starting around 2:30 pretty light, by the time I got to the mid/late 3s they were quite strong. Certainly hope I can push the contractions back farther or get them less strong to make things more pleasant. Hopefully I’m not pushing too hard on the PBs, but my progress on the C02 schedule follows pretty closely with the 4 week plan.

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  22. Hi Ian,
    Is it okay for kids (10-13 yr olds) to do this? I’m in a squad for swimming and freediving seems really fun. My goal is 3 mins at the moment but I’m not really sure if I should start this training yet cuz I heard C02 can be poisonous…
    Thanks!

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  23. I’ve followed the routine for 3 weeks now, but I feel like I physically can’t hold my breath, because my throat feels tired and sometimes lets little bits of air out. Am I doing something wrong or do I just need to rest?

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      1. I have the same problem. I haven’t even started the training yet, but while I’m trying to see what’s my current dry breath-hold, my throat starts hurting by the end of the first minute (if I take a deep breath). Is there any specific train for the glottis? because this really holds me back

  24. Hi Ian, thank you for this program, it’s very useful for me. My result about four minutes! And I would like, how train dinamic apnea?

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      7:30….. about 2 years of regular training. My static breath hold is probably back down to about 5:30 these days, i dont spend much time ‘training’ anymore, just enjoying diving and teaching.

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  26. Do the apnea walks help increase your breath hold right now my goal is 2:00 minutes so that I can start this training

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  27. Thanks for the information shared in above article. Question should we need to do exercise such as runing etc…

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  28. Wonderful article and training regime. My question is after one does the month of 2 weeks CO2 tables and 2 weeks of O2 tables with weekly apnea walks etc. Then after that month, what is a weekly or monthly training to maintain and increase that. Do you continue to alternate 2 weeks of each table or do you start doing the both tables on each training day. What is a lifetime practice like to continue to progress?

    Also, regarding the anaerobic training, do you do that at a different time of day than the tables training? Like morning tables and afternoon/evening anaerobic? If you do in one session, which do you do first and how much of a rest between the two?

    I guess the answers I would like would be for someone who is looking for serious gains and doing full time practice. And in that regard, can or would you do more than just the 8 breaths per table? If so, how much?

    Thanks!

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      Do you continue to alternate 2 weeks of each table or do you start doing the both tables on each training day. What is a lifetime practice like to continue to progress?

      No, i would suggest down scaling the c02 tables and increasing the 02 tables frequency.

      Also, regarding the anaerobic training, do you do that at a different time of day than the tables training? Like morning tables and afternoon/evening anaerobic?

      Tables in the morning and exercise in the afternoon/evening, but thats just me.

      And in that regard, can or would you do more than just the 8 breaths per table? If so, how much?

      You can do more, but you wont get any huge gains in my opinion, it will just take a long time to complete.

      Hope that helps

  29. Thanks so much for this information. Reading this and practicing developed my breath hold and I went from holding my breath for 30 seconds to 1.45 seconds in a week. Thank you!!

  30. Ian,
    Just started your training. Dry breathing start was 1:44 so my goal is 5:00.
    Could you please explain Glottis control and stomach contractions. I find my stomach contracting much earlier under water and I’m trying to follow the thirds but I get a little nervous after 3 contractions.

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      Just take it slowly. Make sure someone is with you who knows what the warning signs are so you can more confidently enter the contraction phase.
      If you are contracting early in the water its going to be anxiety based, so you will need to slowly add time and relax to get past it.
      Glottis control is a slow byproduct of experiencing variations in pressure in the chest.

  31. Hi
    Im 15 years old and can dry hold for three minutes,so i hope i will be able to make at least 5:00 .i just wanted to ask: does low water temperature affect time of holding?

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      Hi, Good effort, just make sure you stay with your limits and have a buddy watching over you especially for anything in the water.
      Water temp will effect your breath-hold, normally negatively, as your body diverts energy to keeping you warm.

  32. Hi Ian I now can hold my breath for 1:30 but can’t get 2:00 to start the training I trained hard for one and a half weeks and was able to get 1:50 but still can’t get 2:00 how should I train to get 2:00?

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  33. Hi,

    Regarding practicing CO2 table, just before “hold” period, should we take a deep breath or just stop breathing and start “hold” period.

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  34. Thanks a lot for this amazing article, that’s very helpful!

    One question though, how important is the order of the physical training? I’m a professional boxer, already in good shape (compared to average people), I can add the breath training but I can’t mess with my physical activity schedule, do you think that can have a big impact on security / results ?

    Many thanks

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      Not too much. I wouldn’t worry about it at least. I work a lot with the Royal Marines and they add apnea wherever they can and it works for them, mostly helping with recovery times.

  35. Hello, thanks for a great post.
    Please confirm, regarding ‘repetitions’ of apnea tables in your program.
    Where 2 repetitions are scheduled on a day; Im assuming you mean at different times of the day.
    Or do you mean repeating a table again immediately after one cycle OF 8 breath holds?

    Cheers

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      To be honest… either. Some people will say you shouldnt do more than one repetition per day, personally as per my experience, i think its fine and when aiming for rapid gains its needed.
      Whatever fits in to your day better really.

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  36. Thank you for this well written and thought of gem about how to achieve that magical 5 min mark. 🙂
    My PB is 4:30, after a few weeks of dry training. It wasn’t structured, just apnea walks, and going for max once per day. I presume that this is the reason why getting my PB was quite painful, and afterwards I kind of took a break.
    Most of the things in freediving is about taking a step back, so that’s where your guide now fits perfectly. 🙂
    Started doing CO2 tables this Monday (1:15 hold), and it was a pleasant experience. By not suffering through it, I could more observe the changes in my body. For exaple: that moment when diaphragm starts tingling, and how the tensions relax when you passively observe them..
    Anyways, I have a question regarding O2 tables:
    – if there are 8 holds per table, then the increments of 30s starting from 1:15, don’t end with 3:45 hold?
    Is it implied that you skip the increase 2 times (with this rate it’s 6 holds)?

    Thanks once more for this guide, enjoying it!

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  37. Hi Ian, I have a question about the tables (both CO2 and O2) in your monthly plan. Does the “2 repetitions” mean two sessions per day or repeat every breath hold during the session (e.g. in CO2 table 2 mins breath, then breath hold, then 2 mins breath again, then hold and after that decrease the breathing time)? You recommend doing one table per session. Many thanks for your answer.

  38. Hi,this article really helped me.

    I can hold hold my breath about 3 minutes.It was possible by doing the static table.
    But if I stop doing static table will it decrease my max breath holding capacity in time

  39. Hey! Very good article! My question is when you normally do a Co2 table, do you hold only 50% of the PB or you need to increase to 60%, 80% and so on like you explained in the picture you posted in order to improve apnea?

  40. Hello Ian,

    I downloaded your table and I am a little confused with respect to your table (1 month to 5 minutes) and the columns Apnea session , Apnea type. Apnea goal and Repetitions.

    The “Rest” rows do not align with the Fitness training and Time/Distance columns.

    Am I missing something?

  41. Many thanks Ian for this great article. You mention to stay away from caffeine. Can you please explain why. Also what other good food that can help store O2.

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      Caffeine increases heartrate, which is the opposite of what we are hoping to achieve. Some people swear by Alkali foodstuffs, personally i think you should just eat a healthy diet.

  42. Thanks for a safe and effective guide. I started with a baseline of 3:00, so I added :30 to the CO2 and O2 tables. After finishing the two weeks of CO2 and two days into the O2, I completely astounded myself with a 5:05 hold, which I truly thought would be impossible. Many thanks!!

  43. I have been working on the CO2/O2 tables alternating between the two every other day (Mon CO2, Tues O2, Wed CO2); is this too often? Even if apply rest days. It’s all dry training except a few breathe holds I dunk my face in a bowl of water. I also exercise daily and eat well and so forth. Any other comments are appreciated. Thanks for the write-up by the way, its been very informative for me as I do my studying on the topic.

  44. Hey there, great post. Just working my way though it just now and I have a question.. Should I re test my max hold and adjust my tables during the month, or do it on a monthly basis? Thanks!

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