Hypoxic Training for the Freediver in a Hurry

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Exercise Time: 10 minutes


In this article we’ll discuss:

Erythropoietin and red-blood cells


The hematocrit is the ratio of red-blood cells (RBC) to blood volume. The higher RBC concentration in your blood, the more “efficient” you body is at oxygenating tissues. Weddel Seals have massive amounts of blood with respect to total body weight. Their blood also contains twice as much hematocrit as ours. Along with other adaptations this allows them to dive for long periods on empty lungs. So how can we increase our RBC count, thus increasing our hematocrit?

It turns out that HCT concentration is influenced by erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone produced in response to hypoxia of the kidneys (De Bruijn et al., 2008).

This same study concluded that apnea induced hypoxia may increase the EPO circulation in the body. Increased EPO circulation, could lead to an increase in HCT and thus more RBC in the blood.


Benefits of hypoxic training


Hypoxic training has been adopted by many professional athletes. From Living High Training Low (LHTL) to altitude-simulation tents, many training techniques exist. Low oxygen training has always been one of the pillars of freedive training. Harry Chamas recently wrote a good article about hypoxic training, which is worth a read if you want more background information.


Aside from increased EPO circulation and subsequent HCT increase, another potential benefit of hypoxic training is increased myoglobin in the muscles. It’s been speculated that hypoxia, combined with the activity and lipids act together to increase myoglobin stores (DeMiranda et al, 2012).

Panneton, M.W. 2013 also stated; “myoglobin-bound oxygen will be used only if the muscle becomes very hypoxic; peripheral vasoconstriction makes muscles ischemic and the resulting hypoxia promotes the myoglobin-bound oxygen to be utilized first”.

However, hypoxic training is very easy to overdo. It can therefore easily lead to overtraining and exhaustion. Repetitive exposure to hypoxia is taxing on the body, and may require longer periods of rest. The intensity of hypoxic exercise required to induce adaptations (i.e. hematocrit or myoglobin increase) is likely impractical for long-term training.


That said, we’ve found a few easy, effective and on-the-go hypoxic exercises you might like to try. Here, we’re trying to induce repetitive hypoxia, with a set of simple exercises that can be done at any intensity.


Always remember


Hypoxic training can lead to blackouts and injuries. Always have buddy while performing breath-hold exercises. See a physician prior to beginning any training program. Always perform exercises in a safe, controlled setting.


Hypoxic exercises in a hurry


A few benefits of these three exercises:

  • Set your own intensity

  • The entire cycle takes less than 10 minutes

  • Your palms are on the ground, so you can wear a pulse oximeter to monitor SatO2%

  • You’re not standing up when inducing hypoxia (it’s “safer” than falling over from standing, but you can still fall on your face!)

  • They work the arms, core and legs: muscles groups used in many freediving disciplines

1. Hypoxic Push-Ups

  • Start in raised push-up position

  • Exhale all your air by doing a downward dog until reaching residual volume (RV)

  • Return to push-up position on RV

  • Do 10 “slow” push-ups (1 set)

  • Return to raised push-up position

  • Inhale one slow breath and exhale downward dog until RV

  • Repeat for two more sets

2. Hypoxic Plank Oscillations

  • Start with exhaling air in downward facing dog until you reach RV

  • Lower to plank position (straight as possible, activate core muscles)

  • “Oscillate” forward and backwards

  • Repeat oscillations 10 times on RV for one set

  • Inhale one breath, exhale with downward dog

  • Repeat another two more sets

3. Hypoxic Leg Curls

  • Start with exhaling air in downward facing dog until you reach RV

  • Lower to plank position (straight as possible, activate core muscles)

  • Curl knees up touching the elbows for a 10 repetitions (i.e. 5 each side)

  • Try to maintain core activated and go as slow as you can

  • Inhale one breath, exhale air with downward dog until RV

  • Repeat curls two more times

A few tips to consider

  • Try to breath slowly through your nose

  • Take only 1 minute rest between exercise 1, 2, and 3

  • Test how quickly you become hypoxic!

  • For some divers hypoxia will start at 4 repetitions depending on the exercise

  • Remember, if you are unsure, err on the side of caution

  • Increase repetitions by 2 it’s too easy

  • Decrease repetitions by 2 if it’s too difficult

  • Use a pulse oximeter

  • Maintain good posture and control during movements (if you can’t, decrease the repetitions)

  • Record the change in SatO2% over time (i.e. weekly)

Hypoxic squats


[Jaap:] Hypoxic squats are an exercise from Longer and Deeper. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of why this exercise works so here is the explanation in two sentences: Hypoxic squats are repetitions of isometric squats with short recovery intervals to bypass the ATP-CP system, and an optimal time of contraction to desature myoglobin while avoiding the production of significant lactate. The repetitive desaturation of myglobin induces its genesis and allows your muscles to store more oxygen. I came on these exericses after a long period of trial and error that included strapping near-infrared sensors to my leg and sprinting on breath hold.


Here’s how to do a hypoxic squat:

  • Sit on a chair or the edge of a couch or bed

  • Breathe up for 60 seconds

  • Exhale passively or forcefully (keep it consistent throughout the exercise) and hold for 15 seconds

  • Squat while holding your breath for 15 seconds, this is an isometric exercise so you get into squat position and do not move afterwards

  • Sit back down and inhaleRepeat step 2 – 5 for 8 – 12 times.

  • This exercise should also be done with an oximeter and you should target a specific SaO2. The real difficulty is in finding the right timing of your breathe up, your squat, and your recovery.

  • If done right, this exercise is an effective interval training for freediving.

This exercise should also be done with an oximeter and you should target a specific SaO2. The real difficulty is in finding the right timing of your breathe up, your squat, and your recovery. If done right, this exercise is an effective interval training for freediving.


Read it on The Freedive Wire


#freedivewire #freedivescience #freediving #freedivetraining #hypoxictraining #training #apnea #physiology #freedive #hypoxia #seatoskyfreediving


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