How should we train? Is strength training for freediving a good idea? Are bigger muscles better or worse? Should we hit up the gym in the off season?
I have alluded to some of these questions in previous posts and newsletters. In my mind, there is no doubt that a well trained muscle performs better during freediving activities. Unless you are purely interested in statics, strength training will benefit you.
Muscles store both energy and oxygen, and a trained muscle can store more of both. But (there is always a but), it is difficult to load a muscle with oxygen, or rather, the oxygen carrying protein myoglobin. So instead I’ll show you how you can load it with energy, or rather, the phoshate molecule creatine phosphate.
If you enjoy freediving and want to dive deeper and longer, you probably have heard of breathing tables and hypercapnia (also known as hypercapnea and hypercarbia). A breathing table is a set of breath holds and ventilations with specific length, that are either meant to increase your tolerance for low O2 or to increase your tolerance for high CO2. In this short post I’ll go over hypercapnia tolerance, the standard CO2 table, an alternative table, and my personal favorite which is meant to emulate a dive.
Hypercapnia and the ‘standard’ CO2 table
If you dive down into the depth, or lie on a yoga mat and hold your breath, you will first feel the effect of high CO2 in the body. You are now feeling hypercapnia: excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. Although training your CO2 tolerance will not necessarily give you longer breath holds, they may become far more relaxed. You can practice a standard CO2 table by doing a series of breath holds with decreasing breathe up times. Your breath holds should be about half of your maximum breath hold. For example, I can hold my breath for 5:20, so my breath hold in a CO2 table will be 2:40. For my initial breathe up I take 2 minutes and I decrease that time by 15 seconds after each hold, until I have done 2 breath holds with only 15 seconds in between.
Alternative hypercapnia training: The Wonka tables
An alternative and much faster way of increasing CO2 tolerance is to take the following approach. Omit the ventilations in between holds and instead, just exhale and inhale once. You won’t lose any CO2 in the bloodstream because you are not ventilating in between breath holds. At your first contraction, signal your buddy and stay for another 45 seconds of contractions, or for a specific amount of contractions (this way you can do it without a stopwatch). On your last repetition, stay for 60 seconds of contractions. For the rationale of this method, see this post:
This is not so much a table, as a personal experiment to make my ‘statics’ at home be more like my actual dives in the ocean. I expend much energy in the first 15 – 20 seconds of my dive, and hardly any after that until I decide to come up. If I can spare the time I take about 3 minutes to breathe up at the surface. How to translate this into a training at home? I take about a 2 minute breathe up and then start a breath hold, do 5 slow squats (lasting a total of 15 – 20 seconds) and sit still. This creates enough CO2 to be noticeable within a minute compared to a normal static. After I think I should ‘get back to the surface’, I do another 5 squats and then exhale and start another breathe up. In theory this trains three things:
1) Hypercapnia tolerance
2) Relaxation after expending energy during a dive (bottom time)
3) Developing a feeling for when to go back up to the surface knowing you still have to expend some energy to do so
I suggest you give it a try. It is as close as a static training can be to an actual recreational dive to about 20 meters for me (in both the mental aspects of a breath hold and the time on the clock). You may have to change the method a bit to suit your needs.