Freelance Writer and Videographer

Preparedness is bliss. Photo: Morgan Hoesterey

The Inertia

Winter is on its way, which for many of us means bigger waves. With big waves comes big fun, but also the potential for big hold-downs. So, to prepare for those times when the ocean doesn’t seem to want to let you go, it helps to train yourself to hold your breath and to remain calm.

One of the easiest ways to do breath hold training is to use training tables, and the best part is that you can use them to train for surfing without having to leave your house. Training tables are basically sequences of timed breath holds meant to put stress on the body and force it to adapt. There are 2 types of tables: CO2 tables that help your body deal with elevated levels of Carbon Dioxide; and O2 tables that teach your body to handle lower levels of Oxygen.

Carbon Dioxide Tables

It is actually the accumulation of Carbon Dioxide and not the lack of Oxygen that triggers your urge to breathe, so Carbon Dioxide tables are good for those people who typically feel really strong or a really early desire to breathe.

Having said this, you can teach your body to deal with increased CO2 levels by performing a series of breath holds where you have less and less time between rounds. Because there is less time in between breath holds to release CO2 from the body, the amount of Carbon Dioxide in your body gradually increases with each repetition, similar to what happens when time is spent underwater.

Here is an example of a CO2 table based on a personal static breath hold best of 3 minutes:

If you plan to create your own CO2 table, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Breath hold time should never exceed 50 percent of your best static breath hold time for CO2
2. Choose a resting time that is challenging, but achievable.
3. It is better to increase breath hold times than to decrease rest times
4. Do not do more than eight reps in a session
5. Do not do more than one table per day

Oxygen Tables

While CO2 tables help you stay underwater longer before experiencing the urge to breathe, O2 tables help you learn to be able to hold your breath for a longer period of time by increasing your body’s resistance to low levels of Oxygen.

The difference between CO2 and O2 tables is, that instead of decreasing the amount of rest in between efforts, in an Oxygen table, the rest period stays the same while the breath hold gradually increases.

Here is an example of an O2 table based on a 3 minute personal best static breath hold:

Here are a few guidelines for putting your own O2 table together:

1. Duration of your breath holds should never exceed 80 percent of your personal best static breath hold time.
2. Reduce the duration of the rest periods if you need to make it more challenging
3. Do not exceed eight cycles per table
4. Never do an O2 and a CO2 table on the same day

If putting your own tables together seems intimidating, the easiest way to generate your own tables is to use one of several apnea training apps that are available. Deciding which app is the best is a matter of opinion and comes down to personal preference. The one that I use is called Stamina.

For more details on several of the apps available, this article by does a good job of breaking them down.

When all you really want to do is go freediving, and the best you can do is settle for the pool. @real_life_is_underwater

A post shared by Morgan Hoesterey (@morganhoesterey) on

Putting it All Together

In my opinion, CO2 tables are a much more effective use of your time when learning to hold your breath to prepare for something like surfing. When you are getting tossed around during a wipeout, it isn’t always possible to get rest periods between breath holds, so it is good to have the confidence that comes with knowing that you have trained your body to deal with elevated levels of Carbon Dioxide.

The approach to training tables that I have found the most useful comes from Professional Freediver Adam Stern

In his variation, you do eight consecutive breath holds, on a four-minute interval. Instead of forcing yourself to hold your breath for a fixed period of time, you decide the length of the breath hold, and the time remaining before the four-minute mark becomes your recovery time. Once you are able to do most of the holds in the table with one minute of recovery and three minutes of breath holding, increase the interval by one minute to start each round every five minutes.

The best part about this is that you decide when to stop holding your breath. Stern suggests, “steering away from static tables where you have to hold your breath for a fixed period of time…especially when you are struggling and all you want to do is take a breath, but you feel like you can’t come up. Doing so is the best way to completely ruin the static breath hold experience for yourself and to limit your potential future growth as a diver.”

If you have some time, this video from Stern is helpful when learning to hold your breath longer:

The bottom line is, that getting held down can be really scary, even if the waves aren’t Mavericks size. Knowing that you have spent time learning to adapt to high Carbon Dioxide and low Oxygen levels can at least give you peace of mind that you have prepared for the situation and will hopefully be able to remain calm and relaxed while underwater.

Finally, if you are serious about learning to hold your breath, it is a good idea to find a freediving course in your area.


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