How to Train for Freediving

P3070074How to increase your breath hold and dive times? How to develop your skills and become a better diver? There’s no trick to it. No breathing technique or magic diet that’s going to instantly improve your diving. Like everything else you’ve got to train.

This article will give a step by step account of how to begin training in the pool. What exercises freedivers do and what works. My aim is to give a fairly broad and general understanding of pool training because we are all diving for our own reasons, with different aims and what works for spearfishing won’t work for someone whoP3070054 wants to get into pool freediving.

This article is also written assuming that you already have a little bit of knowledge about freediving, especially regarding safety and rescue techniques. If you’re a little hazy on these topics you may want to check out my blog posts on How to Rescue a Blackout and Recovery Breathing. Butย before I go any further I have to say that you must not do any breath hold training on your own. Every training session is done with a buddy.

The first step to freedive training is ‘static breath hold.’ It’s a fancy term for floating face down in the water holding your breath. Now the biggest misconception here is that developing a better static breath hold will improve your diving. Training static breath hold will make you better at static breath hold and that’s about it. The important aspect of static breath hold is actually developing greater levels of relaxation. It’s also the best place for you to experience ‘contractions’ and an increasing urge to breathe.

When you do static breath holds you want to be as loose and relaxed as possible- kind of like a corpse floating in the water. You’ll need your wetsuit because once you get cold it becomes very hard to hold your breath. One of the best ways to check if you’re holding any tension in your body is to take a breath and fall face first into the water as if you were doing a breath hold and then have your buddy manipulate your joints, your neck, shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles. Once someone is moving your limbs back and forward you’ll know straight away if you’re holding tension that you may not have noticed was even there.

P3070109Next try doing three Static breath holds in a row while your buddy keeps time as well as keeping an eye on you. One of the worst things you can do is to push yourself by trying to smash out a big static time. Keep in mind that how long you can hold your breath doesn’t matter, however how long you can hold your breath while remaining completely relaxed does. Treat the first breath hold like a warm up, just come up and start breathing whenever you like. Then on the second hold continue until you have a few contractions and then on the third hold see how long you can comfortably continue with the contractions and the rising urge to breathe.

Over the weeks and months you will find your static breath hold time increases dramatically so don’t rush it.

‘Dynamic apnea’ is another fancy term freedivers use for swimming back and forth in a pool underwater. Dynamic training is the best way to improve your diving, besides diving itself. When doing dynamic swims you will need more weight that you would typically use when you’re diving because you’re aiming to stay neutrally buoyant one metre under the water. Once you have weighted yourself start by doing an easy dynamic warm up swim. Just swim as far as you feel comfortably and don’t push yourself.

PC070864While you’re swimming your buddy swims alongside you on the surface keeping an eye on you. Now just like with the static breath holds start with a warm up and then over the next two dynamic swims slowly build up your distance. Once again don’t push yourself. Many people start training too hard in the pool and that’s an easy way to start hating your pool training. Just take your time and build your distances slowly over time. The point of these longer swims is to develop relaxation while swimming underwater.

Now for the fun part! ‘Carbon dioxide tables.’ These are the backbone of freediving training. It is the build up of carbon dioxide that triggers the urge/desire to breathe. Carbon dioxide tables (C02 tables) are a series of relatively short breath holds with a decreasing or small recovery period in between. The primary goal of the exercise is to increase your bodies tolerance to C02 so you can safely dive longer without experiencing the urge to breathe.

Here’s an example of a Dynamic C02 table:

Breathe- 1:30

Swim- 25 metres

Breathe- 1:20

Swim- 25 metres

Breathe- 1:10

Swim- 25 metres

Breathe- 1:00

Swim- 25 metres

Breathe- :50

Swim- 25 metres

Breathe- :40

Swim- 25 metres

Breathe- :30

Swim- 25 metres

Breathe- :30

Here’s an example of a Static C02 table:

Breathe- 1:30

Breath hold: 1:00

Breathe- 1:20

Breath hold: 1:00

Breathe- 1:10

Breath hold: 1:00

Breathe- 1:00

Breath hold: 1:00

Breathe- :50

Breath hold: 1:00

Breathe- :40

Breath hold: 1:00

Breathe- :30

Breath hold: 1:00

Breathe- :30

Breath hold: 1:00

PC070910During these tables of 8 static breath holds or dynamic swims your body will be produce more C02 than you will be able to exhale during your recovery period and so you’ll start each consecutive breath hold/swim with more and more C02 gas in your body. Your bodies response to this is to increase its tolerance to the gas.

Once you complete a C02 table with ease then feel free to increase the breath hold time or the distance you swim. It’s better to increase your breath holds than to decrease the recovery time.

Another great exercise is to do ‘under overs.’ where you swim 25 metres breathing on the surface with your fins and then swim the next 25 metres underwater holding your breath. Do ten of these in a row with as much recovery time in between as you need. 30 seconds recovery is a good starting point but it will depend on your own fitness.

P3070057Make sure you take your time with your training and progress slowly. Pool training is a great way to improve your diving as long as you don’t overdo it. Two sessions a week is more than enough to improve your ability.

A typical training session in the pool is basically what I have described here. Start with a little static breath hold training then do some longer dynamic swims and finish up with a dynamic C02 table. You can also do a Static C02 table but it’s best not to do any static training after any dynamic training.

A very important point to leave you with is that all of your C02 tables and longer breath holds must be done completely relaxed. If you can’t do it relaxed then don’t do it at all otherwise when you get back out into the ocean and you wont notice any improvement. This will be because you’ll be swimming out in the ocean like you have been in the pool. All tense! Relaxation is the most important tool we have in diving. Relaxation…and a good C02 tolerance ๐Ÿ˜‰

Safe diving!

12 Replies to “How to Train for Freediving”

    1. Yeah of course you could. Probably best to cut out static training from that session though because between you and your buddy all that could take a long time! haha

  1. Adam whats the longest you have held your breath and how old do you think i should be to start practicing, because i love snorkelling and the ocean.

    1. My longest breath hold was 6:30 minutes. It really depends what level of training you want to start. Serious training shouldn’t start until minimum 16 but if you’re younger its okay to start practicing some breath holds and dives as long as you have a competent buddy with you.

  2. Thanks Adam, I read this article with great interest. It’s a far cry from my pool trying which is, jump in and see how far you can swim. I have a question … I have a great debate going with another freediver about warm-up swims. I have found that my best swim is my second swim. The first swim is always difficult but something is triggered which makes my second swim easier and longer. But my fellow freediver insists that physiologically, the first swim should be the best as you have the most oxygen in your body. What are your thoughts? (besides the great advice you have already provided in this post). Thanks.

    1. Well unfortunately your fellow freediver is right…but on another level they aren’t. basically the point of a warm up is to engage the dive reflex. Once you’ve been training and diving for a long time you need less warm ups or no warm up to knock out a good performance because your dive reflex engages quickly once you start your first breath hold. But in your case your dive response isn’t conditioned to engage straight away so you’ll most likely get a better result after a warm up or two. Generally the less warming up the better but only if your dive reflex is ready to handle it.

      1. Ok, Cool thanks. So we were both right. For him (and I shall allow ‘him’ to remain nameless) he can achieve his best performance first up because he is quite experienced and has a ‘sensitive’ dive reflex. Whereas, I am a beginner so my dive reflex is not as responsive. I really appreciate that Adam and hope you are having a fab time in Bali.

  3. Hey Adam,
    This article has been amazing. I hope you do another one for the intermediate guys. Or is this the backbone for all level except for the experts… you ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Cheers

    1. haha no it gets more full on and complex for intermediate and advanced levels ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll write one for intermediate divers soon!

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