A Guide to Dry Training for Spearfishing
How can I increase my breath-hold for spearfishing?
Dry training for spearfishing can help you to increase your breath-hold when you consistently practice. When done correctly, dry training exercises can help you to train your body to get used to increased carbon dioxide (CO2) and even reduce your oxygen (O2) consumption. While it’s not a magic bullet, it is a crucial part of improving or at least maintaining freediving fitness, especially when you cant get into the water for awhile. Getting wet everyday is not a reality for most of us that work, have families and deal with classic weather stitch-ups. So this article is an actionable guide to help you start or improve your dry training regimen.
What is in this dry training guide?
Below I will share 7+ exercises for dry training for spearfishing + tools and resources to help you maintain and even improve your freediving performance. The good news is that being landlocked doesn’t mean you can’t train. Some of these techniques are borrowed from legends who have shared their stories on the Noob Spearo Podcast, others come from friends and personal experience. But first….
“Breathing is an easily understood topic. I think I’ll skip a freediving course and just watch YouTube videos….”
– Bill ‘I might die on my next dive because of my lack of knowledge’ Smith
I’d like to tell you that breathing for freedive spearfishing is simple and training is just a matter of getting in the water and having a go, but its not. It’s really not. There are some huge simple things you can do right now to avoid some of the biggest dangers in breath-hold spearfishing but I thoroughly recommend doing a freediving course and learning about the whole breath hold and freediving process.
Holding your breath aka freediving for spearfishing basics
- Don’t over breathe
- Spend at least twice your breath-hold time on the surface breathing between dives
- Always have a dive partner (buddy) in the water (training and spearfishing)
Over-breathing flushes CO2 from your body
Without CO2 your body’s signals to breathe disappear and without this message your body doesn’t get the information it needs to warn you to breathe. Over breathing also reduces your breath-hold time capability. So you have two HUGE reasons not to over breath.
- You won’t be able to hold your breath as long and
- Your body won’t send you the correct signals to breathe.
Watch this simple 15 minute explanation from Adam Stern to learn more about breathing for freediving (watch till the end!). Over-breathing is commonly called hyperventilation.
Double your surface interval (minimum)
Between dives your body needs to relax and replace the oxygen in your blood. Relaxation should be your primary focus on the surface. One of the most effective ways to do this is using a rate yourself relaxation technique developed by Luke Potts. The technique helps you to understand exactly how relaxed you are before diving. Basically the technique ensures that you don’t dive until you are completely relaxed. Learn more about this technique in the how to spearfish video series here.
Another very effective tool for monitoring your time on the surface is a dive watch. A dive watch will not only tell you the depth of your dive and the length of your dive but it will also tell you exactly how long you’ve spent on the surface which is even more important.
Not all dive partners are created equal
Some of your buddies will shoot more fish than you, others will dive far deeper than you and others you will only see back on the boat.
What type of dive buddy are you?
Here are seven reasons to be (and have) a good dive buddy;
- Your mate could save your life in the event of blackout
- You could save your mates life in the event of blackout
- You land more fish (more fish in the cooler/esky/chilli bin). Second shots save the day.
- You can relax more with the knowledge someone’s got your back
- Increased visibility – boats and other ocean users can see you easier
- You enjoy success together
- You observe your buddies good habits and learn
“Your buddy is your only piece of safety equipment” – Simon Trippe
If you want to be a better spearfishing buddy then check out this guide.
7 Dry Training Exercises To Improve Your Spearfishing
Now that you have some understanding of breathing and the safety basics for freedive spearfishing, I can share some dry training techniques with you. Each technique offers different benefits and some may not suit you or your needs so choose one (or a few) that suit you.
#All breath hold training involves risk. This guide relies on you to apply common sense. Be conservative. If you can’t do that then don’t read any further.
The Turtle Walk
Walking point to point while holding your breath – aka Apnea Walk. Have you ever seen someone staring at a point in the distance, shoulders back and walking with bum cheeks engaged? That person probably needed the toilet and this is exactly how it feels when someone catches you using this technique.
The Turtle Walk has been mentioned a few times on the Noob Spearo Podcast. Rick Trippe practices this breath-hold whenever he has to climb stairs but I’m not recommending it to you for safety reasons. However, the apnea walk technique is effective and safe on flat ground provided you remain conservative. Your body will respond to this exercise and your apnea performance will improve from consistent practice. One of the reasons for this is that a slow and steady walk mimics the energy output of finning. For this reason many spearo’s believe that this training is more effective than static breath hold training (static breath hold involves remaining completely still).
Variant 1 (distance)
When walking along streets, use a visual marker like a power pole to keep track of your distance. If you use this technique regularly，you can steadily increase the distance as you improve. Running apps like Runkeeper or MapMyRun on your phone can also help you to track distance down to the meter. Use a steady breathing cadence. The means 10 seconds out, 5 seconds in, this will help you to relax. Begin with a full breath hold at your marker. When you start using this technique be conservative and slowly increase your distance over time.
Variant 2 (time)
Use a stopwatch to track time. Use this variation to train your body to walk in an economical way. Instead of measuring distance, your focus is total time. As you start walking, begin your relaxation breathing and then hold. While holding, focus on developing an economical cadence. Walk at a pace that covers distance but feels very relaxed and efficient.
When you train in a swimming pool (with buddies) you should also focus on building this steady, relaxed cadence with your finning. It’s about developing a balance between relaxation and covering distance.
Both of these variations can be used in combination with CO2 or O2 training techniques and tables as mentioned below however this not something I will recommend for safety reasons.
2. Making Ads useful – the Couch Potato
Breathhold training need not interfere with the next Cowboys football game. This technique involves holding your breath whenever a TV ad break appears. What would otherwise be an exercise in channel changing can now be an exercise to train your body to respond to apnea. To begin with you might only hold your breath for 1-2 ads but as you practice you can increase this steadily. It’s pretty safe training from the comfort of your couch and you will be making better use of your time.
The main idea of this technique is to use waiting time to improve your freediving fitness. Please don’t use this technique while driving or similar. It’s a good opportunity to use your time productively while not adding unnecessary risk.
3. Watching videos
Deep Spearfishing Encyclopedia’s Hold, Dive, Shoot series. In this series by Anvar Mufazalov’ you can breathe-up, hold your breath and go along with Anvar as he descends to spearfish in the Mediterranean. This is great for practicing your breath hold and you can vicariously experience shooting big elusive fish in deep water. I seem to fail at holding my breath successfully till the end of each video but I like the concept.
4. Full Breath Practice
In a freediving course you will spend time being taught how to fill your lungs properly. This involves a 2 or 3 stage inhale process.
- First you fill the the bottom of your lungs. Your stomach will expand without your chest moving during this stage.
- After the bottom parts of your lungs are filled you fill your main chest area.
- The third and final part involves pulling your shoulders back (a little) and filling the top part of your lungs and throat.
The exhale process is equally important. This needs to be slow, about half the speed of your inhale. Purse your lips together so that your diaphragm (the muscle that powers your lungs) works a little and make sure you breathe all the way out.
When you are practicing this technique do it nice and slowly to help your body slowly adapt to this technique. It becomes second nature after a while.
Just practicing these full breaths everyday is extremely useful. This practice will condition your body so that your lungs become used to being filled to capacity and this technique is extremely relaxing and scientifically proven to reduce stress.
5. Co2 Training Tables
The urge to breath comes from the buildup of carbon dioxide in your body and not from a lack of oxygen. CO2 training tables are a tool that help the diver to gradually increase their tolerance to higher levels of carbon dioxide and stay relaxed.
CO2 tables work by having a set time for your breath hold (2:00 below) each time. While your hold time stays the same your resting periods of breathing between steadily decrease. Check out this example below from freediveuk.com
In this example you breathe for 2:00 and then hold for two minutes. After that the second breathing period is only 1:45 but the hold time is still 2:00. This continues until you get all the way to a 15 second rest followed by the full 2:00 hold. Brutal!
CO2 Table Variations
Adam Stern has another good video below about training for freediving. He describes a variation of this table that he believes is more effective. Basically its a 4 minute set that continues to repeat. In each 4 minute set you hold and prepare for the next hold. For example; I hold for 2:15, that give me 1:45 to breathe before my next hold (the 4 minute mark). I hold again for 2:20, now I have 1:40 to breath up.
Adam tells us in the video that a table is a sequence of breath holds that slowly stress the body and force to either adapt to increased CO2 or decreased O2. We will explore O2 tables in the next method.
6. O2 Training Tables
Freedivers use O2 tables or oxygen tables to improve oxygen efficiency. This means that your body will learn (and adapt) to use less oxygen when you train using these tables.
You can begin to use O2 tables when you have improved your CO2 tolerance. After using CO2 tables for a while you will start to approach your oxygen limits so this is when oxygen efficiency becomes important.
These tables work similar to O2 tables however they work on a completely different physiological response. Instead of reducing recovery or breathing phases you steadily increase your breath hold times.
O2 tables train your body to operate with lower levels of oxygen and adapt. For more information on both types of tables listen into this interview with Pete Ryder – Freediving for Spearfishing
7. Vo2 Max training
If you search for the definition of VO2 Max this is what you’ll get.
“VO2 Max is the maximum or optimum rate at which the heart, lungs, and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise. VO2 Max is used as a way of measuring a person’s individual aerobic capacity”
The simple explanation
“VO2 is basically how efficient your muscles are at using oxygen” – Pete Ryder
VO2 max training is often vetted as the most important factor for endurance athletes but freedivers have another view. Many believe that high VO2 max is counterproductive to freediving as it can increase bloodflow and extend the aerobic phase of a dive which then increases O2 consumption and therefore CO2 build-up. However as spearo’s we engage in an aerobic style of apnea and so having a reasonable VO2 max level is a good thing for most spearo’s. As we require a level of fitness for continual finning and the fact that we do repeated dives throughout a day this type of fitness is important. So having said that, here are a number of ways to increase your VO2 max.
- Underwater Hockey provides short, fast bursts of high intensity action that require athletes to hold their breath while strenuously exerting themselves. This is arguably one of the more effective ways for spearo’s to train. Lemaître et al “Physiological responses to repeated apneas in underwater hockey players and controls.” Undersea Hyperb Med. 2007 Nov-Dec;34(6):407-14.
- Altitude training
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Cycling, HIIT gym sessions, etc
- Hill sprints or track work
This VO2 max subject is open to debate among freedivers but you cant argue with better overall fitness and wellbeing. There are also more ways to train for VO2 max however this article has given you some ideas.
For further VO2 max reading
- Ben Greenfield one of the world’s most foremost fitness experts says you must train your heart. “Very intense intervals of 1-5 minutes in duration, with a 1:3 or 1:4 work:rest ratio will stimulate a larger heart stroke volume, as well as a host of other VO2 max enhancing adaptations, like increased mitochondrial density and better capillary delivery to muscle tissue”. (full article here)
- This article on Vo2 max is short and tells you what it is and how it’s measured
- DeeperBlue Forum thread with some good discussion here
Resources for Dry Training and Freediving for Spearfishing
Apps for dry training (that I like)
iOS Training Applications
- Low 2 breath-hold training app here
I like the Low 2 app because its currently free, it has both CO2 and O2 tables and you can easily track your progress over time. To learn more check out the iOS store reviews or take a look on Facebook here
Android Training Applications
- Apnoid app (free) here
While I love free stuff sometimes paying for something means that the people who make it have the time and energy to make something user friendly. Many reviewers say that this app is comprehensive but its glitchey. They also report that the design is not great and its not well set out.
iOS and Android Breath Training App
This one has O2 and CO2 tables and comes with a recommendation from well regarded spearfishing trainer Simon Trippe. It looks easy to use and has some interesting ‘Wonka’ Tables.
Dry Training Books
If you want a deeper technical knowledge of the physiological mechanisms and rationale for dry training then this book is definitely for you. Also look at Manual of Freediving.
This book will teach you all about the importance of breathing. In this book you will learn about how 90% of people walk around unaware of how badly they breathe and how conscious breathing practices can improve you health and well-being. This book motivates the reader to take action and comes highly recommended.
Dry Training Courses
This course is perfect for giving you enough information to get down to 10m or 30ft. It’s a starting point and gives you all the basic techniques to start your spearfishing journey. Equalizing, finning, the duck-dive and basic breathing are covered. Get started free on the taster course and if you decide to purchase use the code NOOBSPEARO to save 20%
This course is excellent for getting you in prime freediving shape (breathing anyway). If you have a big spearfishing charter trip coming up this is a great tool for preparing you! This course is a 30 day dry training system that incorporates CO2 tables, O2 table, relaxation techniques while giving you coaching and providing accountability. Most dry training takes serious discipline and so this course makes that part of it a lot easier. You have a specific goal to aim for, training to help you learn and the exercises and drills to help you get there. Turbo loves this one. Get started free on the taster course and if you decide to purchase use the code NOOBSPEARO to save 20%
How To Increase Your Breath-hold for Spearfishing Video Course
This course covers many of the fundamentals for developing your breath-hold for spearfishing. The video is 54 minutes long and will give you actionable techniques to improve your breath-hold for spearfishing. I like it because it’s a very practical video directed at also improving your hunting technique within the breath-hold limitations you currently have. He also gives a very good relaxation technique that will help you become better at maintaining good surface intervals. This is a huge winner for making longer dives. Read my full review of the How To Spearfishing Video Series here.
Check out this training video course here and save 10% by using the code: NOOBSPEARO
Dry Training For Spearfishing FAQ
Q. Can Dry-Training increase my spearfishing performance?
A. Good question! Short answer, yes it can dramatically increase your apnea performance. It will even make you a better hunter because you will be more relaxed and not completely focused on shooting something within your limited, neglected spearfishing breath hold. While spearfishing all the time will keep you fit, at some stage you will have at least a few weeks between dives. This is the time to use a few of these techniques to help maintain and even improve your breath-hold.
Q. Why Should I train for Spearfishing?
A. Two reasons are;
- Have longer and more enjoyable dives.
- Be safer – understand your body and your limits.
Q. Is dry training as effective as pool training or spearfishing?
A. Short answer, no. Training breath hold without being in the water or at depth is definitely second best, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from dry training. People who do yoga and altitude training use breathing specific training for a host of physiological benefits besides improved breath hold so there are tonnes of reasons to do dry breath hold training..
Q. Can we use O2 and CO2 tables together?
A. Pete Ryder from howtofreedive.com does not recommend using CO2 and O2 tables at the same time because they work on different mechanisms. He says focusing on one at a time is more beneficial. “Use the training in blocks, for example do the CO2 tables for two weeks then do the O2 tables for two weeks. I highly recommend not doing the training together even on different days, stick to blocks”
If you have tips for dry training or some questions, please comment below:)