4 breath hold exercises to boost your underwater time – AF Special Warfare
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4 breath hold exercises to boost your underwater time

Hitting the gym is a cornerstone to improving your muscular capacity, and the same can be applied to underwater competency.  Training your body to endure the rigors of oxygen (o2) deprivation and carbon dioxide (Co2) tolerance is just as important as other forms of training while prepping for selection.  And just like utilizing different exercises to train the same muscle groups, there is more than one way to train for underwater exercises.  

There are two physiological factors at play when attempting to increase your breath hold capability: O2 deprivation and Co2 tolerance.  Your urgency to pop during underwater activities is largely attributed to the buildup of Co2 in your body- not the lack of oxygen (lack of O2 is still a factor- just not the primary one).  That’s why I suggest you apply more focus to the Co2 tolerance tables below rather than the O2.

-Static Tables are breathing exercises meant to be done while sitting still; in a rest position.  What’s great about these is you can do them almost anywhere.  (DO NOT ATTEMPT THESE TABLES WHILE DRIVING!)
-Dynamic Tables are while you are in motion.  This could be while doing underwaters, walking, sprinting or performing any other motion that depletes your breath hold capacity quicker than while at rest.

Professional freedivers use these same o2 and Co2 tables to increase their breath hold capacity while not in the pool. The tables below can be modified!  Adjust the times up or down to meet your performance level.  You can also mix it up by attempting 100m breath hold sprints on a track, etc.  The purpose is to have fun with these while increasing your breath hold capacity when a pool is inaccessible. These should be challenging, so push yourself and you will get better overnight.  Do not expect overnight results.  This, along with any other exercise program, takes time to see results.

Static Co2 Tolerance Table (3-4x per week):
Above water, not moving breath holds (ie: sitting in a chair or lying down)

Breathe           Hold
2:30                  1:00
2:15                  1:00
2:00                  1:00
1:45                  1:00
1:30                  1:00
1:15                  1:00
1:00                  1:00
1:00                  1:00
1:00                  1:00

Static O2 Deprivation Table (1-2x per week):
Above water, not moving breath holds (ie: sitting in a chair or lying down)

Breathe           Hold
2:00                  :40
2:00                  :50
2:00                  1:00
2:00                  1:10
2:00                  1:20
2:00                  1:30
2:00                  1:40
2:00                  1:50
2:00                  2:00

Dynamic Co2 Deprivation Table:

-Perform 25m underwater with no fins and rest on the opposite side (do not freestyle back to the starting point) -OR- walk 30 seconds instead of the underwater.

25m underwater      1:30 rest
25m underwater      1:20 rest
25m underwater      1:10 rest
25m underwater      1:00 rest
25m underwater        :50 rest
25m underwater        :40 rest
25m underwater        :30 rest
25m underwater

Static Single Breath Hold Repetitions:
This Co2 tolerance exercise is a substitute for the co2 table above if you are short on time.

-Take one exhalation/inhalation every :45 seconds for 6:00.
(Example: Inhale and breath hold, start the clock.  At :45 exhale your breath, take one inhale and continue to hold.  Repeat at 1:30, 2:15, 3:00, etc)

3 thoughts on “4 breath hold exercises to boost your underwater time”

  1. Rebekah Phillips

    You should mention that wet tables (done in the water) should not be done alone, EVER. It is one of the main reasons people die in pools (unsupervised breath-hold). Military personnel or potentials are at a higher risk for this type of death because they have a higher mental capacity to push their body. Ideally your partner should be able to rescue you should you hold your breath too long and pass out.

    Please for the sake of the rest of us using the pool for hypoxia training and trying to build the foundation of safe education, leave that disclaimer. If you would like more information on why, please feel free to reach out.

  2. I live in Nova Scotia, Canada. I go to the Dartmouth Sportsplex, where there is a 4.5 metre deep pool. I have deep- water dived before, but it was decades ago. This is the place to go to learn underwater techniques, and practice being calm…they have the nicest, largest pool in which I have ever swam, in the whole world.
    Merchant Marie Reid

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