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Sustained easy Co2 tolerance training for freediving

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As we all know c02 tolerance is a MASSIVE part of freediving training. If you are unaware of this, then ill explain… for those that do know about it, skip to the paragraph after!

C02 or Carbon Dioxide gives us our primary trigger to breathe, we dont have much of a physical response to low oxygen so when we are swimming down in to the blissful embrace of the blue and we start to get that nagging feeling of ‘needing to breathe’ you are not experiencing particularly low oxygen, but are in fact experiencing elevated levels of co2. Hence training to tolerate these elevated levels, will make your dives longer, safer and more comfortable.

Welcome back to those who skipped that paragraph! Now I am more than aware that we all have tricky timetables, only a handful of people that I know actually have the time to sit down and give themselves an hour or so of quiet, dedicated dry apnea training (or any apnea training for that matter). When you add jobs, partners and kids in to the picture things can become a little bit less than zen. What im going to cover in this post is a little technique which you can squeeze in to your normal day without looking like a freak (diaphragm stretches and reverse packing tends to get funny looks on the bus), or having to sit on a yoga mat with scented candles burning and whale song playing.

Basically its an extended breathing exercise that very very slowly elevates your c02 but without any extended breath holds. By incorporating this in to you day to day routine you can train your body to operate with high c02 for extended periods of time. Theoretically you could do this all day, although it may not be very nice…

Its really simple and goes something like this.

  1. No prep is needed.
  2. Breathe in through the nose or mouth slowly and steadily. A normal breath is all that is required… Tidal breathing only.
  3. Focus on breathing from the diaphragm. Not essential… but its good training.
  4. At the end of the inhale pause the breath for a second and then exhale.
  5. Exhale normally until you reach a comfortable neutral point, do not breathe beyond your tidal volume.
  6. Pause the breath for about 10 seconds (variable depending on your tolerance/training).
  7. …. and repeat…..and repeat… and repeat… and repeat… for as long as you can!

So what are we doing here exactly? Well think of it as an extended, easy co2/02 table. By retaining the breath, on EVERY breath for an extended period of time you are very very slowly increasing the amount of co2 and decreasing the 02 in your bloodstream. It wont be too uncomfortable, and you will only notice the elevated levels after quite some time. The point is that we are training our body to deal with elevated c02 and lowered 02 over a long period, giving it the tools required to operate normally under those levels. I will go over ‘proper’ co2 and o2 tables in my next post.

Some of you may know, that despite all of the terrible things that smoking does for you, one weird little side effect is that smokers have a generally higher c02 /low o2 tolerance than the rest of us,as they breathe nasty chemicals and co2 laden air with such frequency. So this is a healthy version of the conditioning that they are unconsciously giving themselves. Dont smoke… its not good.

You may find that after doing this for some time that you will actually start to really feel the ‘burn’ creeping in… and thats fine. You can continue to carry on at that rate or if you want you can take it down a notch and shorten the breath retention phase. You could increase the time you retain the breath too, but the focus of this exercise isn’t about pushing your limits, its about gentle conditioning over an extended period of time. Think of it like jogging rather than running…

So the next time you are walking to work, or watching TV try this technique for as long as you can… or at least until you have to answer the phone … 10 second pauses are a bit odd during normal conversation!



4 Responses

  1. Hi, just wondering how come by building a tolerance to CO2 during this exercise we also practice tolerance to O2 levels. I thought that the latter only kicks in with long breath holds.

    1. The importance of c02 conditioning is to allow yourself to get to the point were low 02 thresholds are able to be hit. Otherwise you will always tap out too early. In this program the initial focus is getting better at dealing with c02, then going for the 02…

  2. How much and how often should this be trained? As in is 30 minutes too much? Should I do it every day or once a week?

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