- Harry Chamas
Review of "The Oxygen Advantage" from a Freedivers Perspective
The book puts forward a method to increase health, well-being and performance through manipulation of the breath and therefore the blood gas ratios.
The Oxygen Advantage has been released for a while now, and I have heard talk of it in the past, but after listening to a Podcast on "the freedivers Cafe" by the author Patrick McKeown, I decided to pick it up and see what he had to say in greater depth.
The book puts forward a method to increase health, wellbeing and performance through manipulation of the breath and therefore the blood gas ratios.
The first chapters discuss the cause and effect of varying levels of O2, CO2, NO (Nitric Oxide), blood PH and blood make-up within the body. It is put forward in a very clear and accurate way, this information is absolutely vital to understand as a freediver, yet is not covered in appropriate detail in traditional education. For this information alone I would recommend all levels of freedivers read through the Oxygen Advantage.
The method is based around improving the BOLT (blood oxygen level test). The BOLT is how long it takes to notice the first sign of a urge to breathe after a passive exhale (while at rest), this tells us about the bodies sensitivity to CO2 (not O2 as the name would suggest). Improving the BOLT means increasing the amount of CO2 it takes before we feel any discomfort - sounds interesting right?
So how can we do that?
First of all comes proper breathing, nasal breathing from the belly, as any Yogi/Yogini will already know is the correct way to breathe, unfortunately a large percentage of the population have unhealthy breathing habits which effect their everyday lives negatively. Righting your every day (and nightly) breathing is the first and most important step.
Next we start to manipulate the breathe further, using varying methods of reducing your respiration according to your BOLT score, and building a tolerable urge to breathe we slowly start to decrease our sensitivity to CO2 and reap the benefits of having a higher level of CO2 within our system.
How will that help freedivers?
Traditional CO2 training is mentally exhausting and can quickly lead to over-training/lack of motivation. The way I see CO2 training, there are 3 ways to train :-
1. Learn to fully relax and enjoy the period before CO2 build up (without as sense of dread or impending doom) 2. Postpone the point the body begins to react to CO2 (this is where the O2 advantage is of great benefit) 3. Learning to endure the urge to breathe without physically/mentally reacting to it. (this is extremely taxing and quickly leads to over-training)
The methods described in the Oxygen Advantage offer a gentle, sustainable and proven way to increase our tolerance to CO2, the low level of intensity allows us to train more often and the simplicity of the exercises allow us to fit it into our lives easily.
The greatest value of this method is the lowered intensity in comparison to a typical CO2 training table. Suffering doesn't always equate to increase in performance, in fact with regards to breath hold, it generally leads to plateau and over training.
The added Bonus
A final potential benefit to freedivers is a method of improvised Altitude training intended to increase our Red Blood Cell count. This involves breathe manipulation on FRC while exercising, using a pulse oxymeter the idea is to maintain a state of hypoxia for a prolonged period of time, inducing EPO production and the chain of events that follow on from that (for more info check out this BLOG). Again, this method is a surprisingly comfortable way to train our O2 tolerance.
The O2 advantage, although not directly aimed at freedivers, contains information and training techniques which are of a huge value to anyone interested in the sport. I can highly recommend reading this book.