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
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.
- Sit on a comfy chair or lay on a bed.
- Breathe calmly and slowly for 2 minutes – No deeper or faster than you would normally.
- Take a deep breath in, then exhale everything, then take a really deep breath in… as deep as you can manage.
- As you hold your breath, relax and think of other things.
- 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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
- Proper breath up technique
- Proper breath-hold technique
- Training tables – c02 and 02 – dry and wet
- Aerobic training
- 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.
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.