The Perks Of Apnea Training

LEAN Ambassador Sarah Donohue's blog


I’m going to introduce you to a type of training which I don’t know many people in the weight training world to have used. It's called Apnea training.

I have lived as an endurance athlete of sorts with my shows not being over an evening for bikini contests, but they have been up to 4 days of assault courses, fitness tests, stage routines and whatever else we were told to do. My body was simply a by-product of my training, so I needed every bit of knowledge I could get my hands on.


How I Started:

A few years ago my trainer Mark Jarvis said to me:

Mark: ‘what are you up to this weekend?’

Me: ‘I thought I’d do the marathon, but I’m not 100% yet as I’ve got so much I need to get done.’

Mark. ‘You haven’t trained, you hate running and you do realise it too late to train for it now?’

Following this spontaneous idea and brief conversation, I was registered for the marathon. I started from the celebrity pen (no I don’t deem myself a celeb) and I ran the whole 26.2 miles. I trotted around the course and did it in about 4 hours. I had already collected money for Combat Stress regardless of whether I ran which was the deal so all was good and I wasn’t there to break records. It wasn’t difficult, albeit it was incredibly boring because I hate running but I found myself a running partner and ran with him most of the way.

Now don’t think just anyone can do this, so ‘don’t try this at home' as they say. For long distance running you do need muscles which are endurance trained and good, strong joints and tendons - all of which I have got so bear this in mind. This level of cardio/endurance on no cardio training as such may beg the question 'how is it done?'. Well if you are like me and hate cardio, you will find anything you can to help you avoid it, but you still need it. Cardio for me isn’t for weight loss and to be honest, I drop weight rapidly, so running would be detrimental to what I do. Cardio for me is all about lung capacity so I therefore can approach it in a different way.


The Training:

It's all down to a method called Apnea training. This word is often related to snoring and sleeping. Aside from this, it is used for swimming. I am a very proficient swimmer. I represented the county and was a county level high diver and swimmer. I am also an ASA swim teacher. But what has swimming got to do with it I hear you ask? Well all swimmers spend time underwater for a length or two, it’s fun, it breaks up regular swimming and you always see if you can break your own personal record.

Endurance athletes train their lungs to increase capacity. Holding your breath under the water improves your lung function. Do you see where I am going with this? As I swimmer my breathing muscles are very powerful and they have been since I was a child. You can build up your lung capacity under water over just a few months making long runs or weight training easier so you don’t feel out of breath as much during extended training. This is an incredibly safe way of increasing lung capacity without the worries or pressures of repetitive high impact work which can have an effect on joints over time.

There is indeed a whole science to this and what I write here is in laymans terms. For personal trainers reading this you may want to read into this further, but you only need to look at free-divers to understand the concept behind this type of training. I have done free diving since my early 20's but we all had to do Apnea training to be able to decrease our desire to want to breath for prolonged periods. Breathing properly in weight training is essential.


The Concept Behind It:

Hyperventilation is the same subject. As we sit here and read this, if you start to breath deep, heavy and quickly this is basically hyperventilating. So do you hyperventilate when you run because surely it’s the same technique? The answer is NO. Your body needs to do this, so this is not deemed as hyperventilating as such because it’s a necessity. So what I am about to say will sound contradictory. Hyperventilating decreases the gas in the bloodstream (Co2) which makes us want to breath. If you remove this gas then the body almost feels like it doesn’t need to breath, thus allowing you extended periods underwater should you be free-diving, and all the time the lung capacity is increasing. By hyperventilating (in an important situation) we are lessening the amount of o2 available. The only issue with this is that we lose the safety mechanism because the reality is that we do actually need to breath and as times move on, so do the methods. Hyperventilating is no longer done in free-diving nowadays - although I swore by it. In free-diving we need the safety mechanism because otherwise your body doesn’t understand it needs to breathe. But now we have moved to the gym or to the outdoors.


How it Can Help:

I am suggesting is that you hit the pool. Swimming is not only one of the safest methods of training for obvious reasons, but swimming is tough when done with effort. Use this time in the pool wisely and set your self a table. But set yourself tasks dependent on the pool length on how far you can swim under water. Always try and better yourself and don’t swim on top of the water with your head down, go under the surface.

If you are new at this don’t go all out on your first go. Lets say one length of a 25m pool. Take a rest. A good rest. Swim leisurely and then retry adding on 5-10m. How many times a week or how far you go is up to you but don’t put yourself through trauma trying. Eventually the increase in lung capacity will be hugely noticeable and it’s a competition you have against yourself with no one else present and when you take this to the gym floor, eventually if you have a training partner, they will be astonished at the difference over a few months as you will. This will increase your ability to train harder for longer periods of time and have better recovery.

You can research all of this further in detail but sitting on the couch holding your breath doesn’t have the same effect. If it did we would all be doing it. I’m no scientist but I do know this method works because I know for a fact that I can get up any morning of the week and run a marathon and I’m not even a runner. I wont do it in record time that’s for sure. But what I do have is well trained muscle endurance to start with plus strong tendons and joints. What I will say at this point is that if you are a steroid user, even if it just to keep your weight down to make it easier for you to stand on stage and many bikini athletes are users in this day and age as well as male and female fitness models. Use this to excel at training by all means, albeit most use it for aesthetics alone, but don’t attempt endurance sports to push the body to its limit because your muscles, tendons and joints aren’t prepared for endurance in the first place. Embrace this method and get more out of training!


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