What is an apnea walk, and how will it help my breath hold?

So, you have just completed your freediving course, or you have been freediving or spearfishing for some time, and you are looking to gain more bottom time. Hopefully, you went over some training exercises in your class, but one which often gets underrated is the apnea walk.

What is an apnea walk? 

An apnea walk is a training exercise used to develop higher tolerances to carbon dioxide. It also increases comfort when working through contractions. You do this exercise on dry land. It is useful when you cannot get into the water.

By performing apnea walks, you improve your breath-hold because while moving, your body produces more CO2 and other waste products than it does when merely holding your breath. The more you expose your body to these factors, the higher your tolerance will build before making you uncomfortable. Your body will learn to deal with the elevated levels of CO2 more efficiently.

It’s also a very effective tool for your psychology. This is because you get to work through the discomfort of contractions to see what you can truly tolerate without having water over your head. This makes it a little easier to push yourself without worrying. Then once in the water, you’ll have a better understanding of what is going on within your body.

Safety first 

Apnea walks are not something you should do alone. The object of an apnea walk is to push yourself. Then you will push yourself even farther. The chance for a blackout is real. This means getting with a buddy and make a training session out of it. Especially if the water is too rough that day!

Also, make sure that if you were to have a blackout, the surface on which you would fall won’t hurt you.  In other words, a soft grassy field, sandy beach, etc. This is not something you want to do walking next to a freeway.

Now that you have your buddy and have found a nice field to practice, here are the steps to performing an apnea walk. 

  1. In a sitting position, start your breathe up. Two to three minutes is plenty, enough to get your heart rate down and oxygenate your blood.
  2. Once the timer hits zero, take a peak inhalation and hold your breath.
  3. Keep holding your breath until you get diaphragmatic contractions. 
  4. Some like to start on their first contraction; others prefer to wait. The key is to always start at the same point. Once you’ve hit your established contraction marker, stand up and walk at a normal pace.
  5. Continue to walk until you absolutely must breathe again.
  6. Perform your recovery breathing.
  7. Put something on the ground at the point you stopped walking to mark the distance.
  8. Return to the starting point and repeat. During the next walk, try going farther than you did the time before.
  9. Try to get six to eight repetitions before calling it a day.

What’s your buddy doing while you are going on your walk? 

Your buddy should be walking beside you, breathing and watching you. If you have a problem, your buddy can help break your fall. I don’t recommend trying to catch the person as you can injure your back. Better to just slow their descent to a softer landing.

Your buddy should also watch you as you breathe up. If you’re breathing too deeply, an outside set of eyes can often help uncover such issues. While freediving performances may be individual, freediving is a team sport. Have the first person do their six to eight walks, then switch roles.

There are modifications you can use in apnea walks.

  • Start walking immediately. This will build up even more CO2, but you’ll need more room.
  • Another option is to perform walks on a relaxed exhalation. Think a big sigh. We all have stretch receptors in our diaphragm and intercostal muscles which signal the brain when our lungs are full or empty. When you haven’t been breathing on an exhalation vs. an inhalation, the urge to breathe is a much stronger kick in the gut.

Now you have a better understanding of what apnea walks are and what they can do for your breath holding ability. Get a buddy and go work on it. Remember to always go freediving with at least one other trained freediver. If you have no formalized training start thinking about getting some. Training greatly reduces the risks for injury, improves technique, increases bottom time and teaches you how to properly rescue your buddy in a hypoxic situation. 

Train safe!

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