How Do You Train Your Lungs for Freediving?

How Do You Train Your Lungs for Freediving?

Freedivers spend time on land to train their lungs for an ultimate freediving experience. Training includes five exercises:

  • Segmented Breathing
  • Inhalation or Packing Stretches
  • Exhalation Stretches
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Oxygen (O2) Tables
  • Apnea Walks

When freedivers talk about lung capacity underwater, most people think of the sheer volume of air in their chest.

While they are not entirely wrong, it is also essential to understand how effectively and efficiently their lungs can work by training them.

In this article, we will cover how you can increase your lung capacity and efficiency in the following points:

  • Is Freediving Good For Your Lungs?
  • How To Increase Your Lung Capacity For Freediving?
  • Segmented Breathing
  • Inhalation or Packing Stretches
  • Exhalation Stretches
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Oxygen (O2) Tables
  • Apnea Walks

Before we dive into the different ways you can train your lungs for freediving, many newbie freedivers often question if freediving is beneficial for your lungs. 

Is Freediving Good For Your Lungs?

Freediving involves training the diver’s lungs to fully exhale in a pre-dive breath and then take a full breath and hold it during the dive. Training the lungs like this improves the diver’s lung function.

One of the first steps in freediving is taking a full breath and holding it.

Holding a full breath can often feel uncomfortable at first as you are not used to using the maximum capacity of your lungs. But, with freedive training, breathing becomes more comfortable.

The more you train your lungs for freediving, the more you can expand your vital capacity and increase your lung volume. 

Freediving lets you explore the ocean without bulky scuba equipment and teaches you how to use your diaphragm more effectively to breathe. 

When you train your lungs for freediving, you will come across the two terms diaphragmatic or belly breathing. These freediving breathing techniques mean breathing efficiently, where you effectively oxygenate the body and reduce body stress. 

You will also learn how to fully exhale before the dive to help you reduce the residual volume in your lungs, allowing you to access more air. Therefore, freediving improves your lung function.

I know what you’re thinking… Is there any evidence to support this?

Well, there is!

Emma Farrell, a lead freediving instructor at Go Freediving, UK, uses freediving breathing exercises with elite Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Since they have trained their lungs, their lung function has increased by 10%. Farrell also saw improvements in athletes that had asthma

Freediver on the surface, in black and white

How To Increase Your Lung Capacity For Freediving?

There are five ways freedivers can train their lungs and increase their lung capacity for freediving: segmented breathing, inhalation/packing stretches, exhalation stretches, carbon dioxide/oxygen tables, and apnea walks. 

Your lungs play a huge role in how your freedive will go. The more time you spend training your lungs to cope under apnea conditions, the more effective and efficient your dive will be. 

There are five main ways you can train your lungs for freediving.

Let’s check them out!

Segmented Breathing

Segmented breathing involves a freediver using different muscle groups for breathing to train their lungs to maximize their potential breath hold. 

Segmented breathing involves you training your lungs in three ways: 

  • Diaphragm and Intercostal Muscle Breathing
  • Expanding Your Chest Wall
  • Shoulder Breathing

Diaphragm and Intercostal Muscle Breathing

Breathing with your diaphragm and intercostal muscles can maximise the amount of air you take into your lungs!

Imagine filling your lungs like pouring a glass of water. Focus on filling the bottom of your lungs with air until the top while pursing your lips. 

This exercise will help you isolate your muscle groups, allowing you to maximise your air intake into your lungs using your diaphragm instead of your chest. If your chest starts to fill up with air, you have gone beyond filling your diaphragm. 

The segmented breathing exercise is completed four times, pausing breath holds for a second, followed by slowly exhaling the air with your tongue pressed on the roof of your mouth to allow your chest and diaphragm to remain fully relaxed. 

The next part is to work your intercostal muscles. For those that skipped biology class, they are the muscles that surround your ribs.

You use these muscles every day when you breathe, and while your body may be accustomed to working them, they are not as efficient as breathing with your diaphragm. 


Because your muscles consume more oxygen, and as you use your intercostal muscles, you naturally flex your ribs which require effort and more energy. 

But wait, there’s more…

A lady breathing with her hands together in front of her chest

Expanding Your Chest Wall

The other part of segmented breathing is training your chest wall to expand as far as possible. As a freediver, you will train your lungs by completing four inhalations using your diaphragm following these five steps:

  1. Inhale as much as you can, using only your diaphragm. 
  2. Hold your breath and relax.
  3. Using your intercostal muscles add more air into your lungs.
  4. Hold your breath again, and relax.
  5. Exhale very slowly, placing your tongue against the roof of your mouth.

Shoulder Breathing

The last muscle group you will be working on is your shoulders. I know what you are thinking, shoulders… But, yes, your shoulders can help you draw even more air into your lungs for freediving. 

As you raise and drop your shoulders, the movement forces more oxygen into your lungs!

Inhalation or Packing Stretches

Inhalation (or packing) stretches are an efficient way to increase your lung volume for freediving. To train your lungs, follow the steps below!

  • Get yourself nice and comfortable. It is recommend you kneel or sit, as you want to be low to the ground. 
  • Take a few minutes to relax and breathe normally. 
  • While performing diaphragmatic inhalation, lift your right arm above your head.
  • Lean to the left, so your right arm is over your left side. 
  • Maintain this position for 10 seconds, switch your arms, and repeat. 
  • Next, place both arms above your head and lean forward for 10 seconds. 
  • Lastly, place your arms behind you and press your chest forward for 10 seconds. 

If you ever feel lightheaded, slowly exhale, take a quick breath, and try again without inhaling as much.

It may take some time to get the hang of it, but do not worry, as the more you practice this skill the easier you will find it, and the more flexible you will become. 

Exhalation Stretches

Exhalation Stretches can improve your lung flexibility, allowing you to use your residual capacity while freediving.

You may be thinking about how exhaling will train your lungs for freediving. But, did you know that lung capacity and larger lung volume are not always the same…

When you exhale and push as much air out of your lungs, believe it or not, you still have some air left in your lungs! This is called your residual capacity.

The more flexible you train your lungs for freediving, the more you can use your residual capacity as you equalize during your descent. 

Training using exhalation stretches involves the following steps:

  1. Firstly, you want to get comfortable. This can be in a kneeling or seated position close to the ground. 
  2. Take a breath and exhale until you need to push the air out of your lungs using your stomach, just like if you were to do a big sigh.
  3. Lean forward and take a deep breath. Leaning forward closes your epiglottis (the flappy part under your tongue at the back of your throat) and draws your abdomen in, stretching your diaphragm.
  4. Maintain this position for 3-6 seconds, relax for 1-2 seconds, and repeat 3-4 times.

If this is your first time doing an exhalation stretch, you may feel the urge to breathe. Try to relax, as this is part of training your lungs for freediving – it teaches your body that compression is fine. 

Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen Tables

Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Hypoxia/Oxygen (O2) training tables help you train your lungs to adjust to high levels of CO2 and low levels of O2 during the dive; they are used to establish your maximum breath-hold time.

When you hold your breath, CO2 naturally builds up because you are not exhaling. The urge to breathe is because your body wants to remove the CO2 build-up. 

To train your lungs for CO2 build-up, freedivers like yourself can use a table system. You want to perform 6-8 static breath holds, progressively decreasing the intervals between each breath hold, working up the levels on the table. 

When using carbon dioxide and oxygen tables, never perform them in water without a freediving instructor or highly-trained dive buddy.

Oxygen tables are the opposite, so if you haven’t worked it out, O2 tables gradually increase your static breath hold. Oxygen tables adapt your body to hypoxic conditions and allow you to move up the table system.

Apnea Walks 

Apnea walking involves moving while holding your breath. Apnea walking is designed to:

  • Increase your lung capacity and develop your lungs to hold a larger volume.
  • Give your lungs more flexibility, which allows you to equalize even deeper.
  • Make your body more efficient at dealing with hypoxia and elevated CO2 levels.

If your fitness level allows, you can try this running, but remember to have a dive buddy or instructor nearby in the event of a blackout.

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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Final Thoughts

There are five training techniques to train your lungs for freediving – segmented breathing, inhalation and exhalation stretches, CO2 and O2 tables, and Apnea Walking.

By training your lungs you will increase your oxygen capacity for a more efficient dive and benefit your overall health!

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Darby Bonner

Darby is a marine biologist and PADI scuba diving instructor from the UK. With over ten years of diving experience, she has visited some of the best dive destinations in the world. Currently, Darby is living in Bali, Indonesia and regularly dives at some of the most beautiful dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Her passion for the ocean led her to study seals, publish a paper, and become a marine mammal medic. In the future, she hopes to complete her master’s in marine science, and of course, continue her love for teaching and diving!

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