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This article is evidence-based, verified by Blake Conner, Certified Strength, and Conditioning Specialist.
Spearfishing is a really interesting sport. It really goes back like a traditional practice of finding and hunting your own food. It’s been done throughout generations and still hangs around today.
Spearfishing is now more a sport than a means of catching food. This is for good reason! It’s one thing to just go fishing, but it’s another to jump into a body of water and chase down a fish with a spear.
Now, spearfishing has been around for a long time. It has since evolved into more modern practice. Originally, spearfishing was done with wooden spears or tridents. This was a more primitive time, but it worked! Now, spearfishing involves equipment such as snorkels, fins, and spear guns. All of these have made the sport a little easier to navigate, but that doesn’t take away from it at all.
This sport actually takes a ton of physical ability to do. You don’t see many people who are out of shape chasing down this hobby. It takes strength and stamina to swim around in the water for starts. Not to mention, you have to be able to hold your breath for extended periods of time. You probably won’t be able to just go from the couch to spearfishing.
So, we’re going to talk about how you can physically train for spearfishing.
How Do You Train for Spearfishing?
There are specific ways in which you can train for spearfishing. Obviously, the first thing that people think of is how to hold your breath, but there is more to it than that. You have to have a general base of physical fitness to even be able to swim.
So, the first thing that needs to be focused on is swimming. You need to be training to increase your swimming ability. This can be done in a couple of ways. The first being, to actually swim. Get a gym membership to a club that has a swimming pool. You can start by doing laps or various intervals to build a base.
You don’t need to be Michael Phelps to be good at spearfishing, but you need to at least know how to get through the water. To be more specific, you need to be really good at swimming underwater. So, you could start there and focus on swimming under the water for now.
Once, you’ve built a base for swimming, you can focus on some more general training. You are going to want to utilize some resistance training. This is going to make you stronger for swimming. Sometimes as a spearfisher, you may have to fight some currents or even some waves. This is going to take some strength and resiliency. Using weights and machines will help to increase your overall strength for this. How do you start? Simple.
Strength can be built by working with lower rep ranges with complex movements. Complex movements include the back squat, bench press, press, and deadlift. All of these will help to strengthen the whole body. For example, you may have a strength day at the gym that includes back squats at a moderate weight for five sets of five reps. You get the right stimulus to build overall strength this way. To make it even more specific to your training, you could follow something like this with a swimming session as well.
Over time, doing some training such as this will lead you to be prepared for spearfishing. If you already spearfish, this will do nothing but increase your performance. So, if you are looking to be the best spearfisherman, you need to include this type of routine.
Most spearfishermen have routines that they follow to stay physically fit for fishing, and you should too.
How Do You Increase Your Breath for Spearfishing?
You are obviously going to be holding your breath as you spearfish. Yes, you could use scuba gear, however, that is illegal in most parts of the world. It is considered a little unfair when it comes to the sport. That’s not to say that all gear is banned. You can still use a snorkel and other rebreathing devices.
You can try to see how long you can hold your breath right now. You may get one to two minutes tops. Well, some of the top spearfishermen can hold their breath for close to FOUR minutes. This may seem a little excessive, but it is doable with some training.
To start, you just need to practice holding your breath. There is a method for doing so. You need to relax, so find a comfy place to sit and do this. From there start focusing on your breath, slow inhales and slow exhales. From here you will start to take deep and long inhales, followed by strong exhales.
Repeat this for about 5-6 reps, then breathe in as deep as you can. Hold that breath, but don’t hold it at the lips. You have to think of holding this breath in your belly. Sit as long as you can like this. Try to focus and stay calm. Obviously, you shouldn’t let yourself pass out, so when it feels funny feel free to release the breath. Take some time to recover after you do this. Try it again.
Over time you will be able to increase how long you can hold that breath.
Obviously, being in this controlled environment makes things easier. It will be more difficult when you start to swim. This is due to activity using up the oxygen you have.
Regardless, if you work to build this base, you will definitely increase your ability to swim longer while holding your breath.
Breathing Exercises for Diving
Breathing exercises are just workouts for your lungs. We already touched on one exercise in the above section, but let’s look into some others.
Why do we want to take more breaths anyway? The body starts to get flooded with carbon dioxide. This is the opposite of oxygen for us. We breathe in oxygen, filter it and then expel it as carbon dioxide. Since our body really hates this by-product, we have to teach it that it’s going to be okay. We can increase the tolerance that we have to CO2.
Static apnea is one way we can do this. This method will involve someone to help you out. You are going to get in the water and float horizontally on your back. From there you are going to take in a massive breath. Hold it! You will rotate onto your stomach in the water. Your partner will be checking with you every so often to make sure that you are okay.
Once you can no longer fight the urge to breathe, you are going to come back to the surface. Yet, you are going to avoid taking in long, deep breaths. Yes, your lips may turn a slight blue color, but this is normal. Over time, you will notice that you can hold your breath longer and longer.
All we are doing is exposing the body to CO2 for extended periods of time. Please make sure that you do have someone assisting you with this method for safety (1).
You also need to work on how deep you can breathe. Often times we aren’t even breathing into the right places. We have a ton of room for air. However, we tend to take these deep breaths into our chest, and not the diaphragm. Hold your hands on your belly. From here I want you to imagine breathing into your hands, not the chest. The breath should be entering and expanding horizontally into the belly.
If you don’t feel this increase in your hands, then you need to think about it a little harder. Use the nose versus the mouth to get these breaths in. Once you get this down, you can work on the deep one. Breathe your air out as hard as you can until your belly button starts coming towards your back. From here, breath in slow, but get it into the belly.
Each time, you will notice that you can get deeper and deeper. This will allow you to get a deeper breath to hold. More oxygen = longer hold.
A ton of this is also going to be due to your mental fortitude. If you’ve ever tried holding your breath, you almost panic. This is a response that the body gives to avoid passing out. However, it’s okay. You have a lot more oxygen in the blood than you realize. You have to practice ignoring this signal to get better at staying under the water. One way to do this is to practice diving.
During most freediving courses, you are going to use a long rope to traverse as deep as you can. The rope is to assist you in coming back to the top, but you are supposed to go as deep as you can.
The idea is to get more comfortable with this feeling so that you can learn to push through it and continue fishing. It can be a scary experience for some, but over time you learn that you are going to be okay. Spearfishing can be a very mental sport.
Apnea Tables for Freediving
You may be wondering what apnea tables are (2). They are a simple setup for teaching your body to handle more carbon dioxide, but also operate on lower levels of oxygen. There is basically an inverse relationship when setting these up for your training. When you are training for CO2 tolerance, you are preparing yourself to hold the breath, less and less. However, you are holding that breath for the same amount of time across the table.
When you are teaching the body to operate using little oxygen, you are prepping for the breath the same, but holding the breath longer and longer. So, you may start at a 1-minute hold, and work your way up to a 3-and-a-half-minute hold.
Dry Training for Spearfishing
While spearfishing is done in the water, you can train for it on dry land. This again will involve some breath practices that will be laid out here.
One technique that can be used is the turtle walk (3). This is basically the static apnea technique except that you aren’t going to be “static”. You are going to walk while holding this breath. The idea is that this will mimic swimming in the water while holding the breath. The same rule applies, take the breath in, and then walk as far as you can on that breath.
The first one isn’t going to feel great. It may make you a little uncomfortable, but it gets better from there. Over time you will be more conditioned for the CO2 response. You can gauge your progress in two ways. You can track it by distance, either in steps or using a running tracker.
Keep up with these distances and then use them to track progress. The second way is to measure time. For example, you may get a 1 minute walk the first time but a 2 minute the next time.
Practicing your inhalation is also doable on dry land. The main focus of this is using that belly breath that we talked about before. You want to fill the bottom of the belly with air first.
From there, you are going to expand into the chest and get as full as you can. The exhale is equally important as well. You need to make sure that it is slow and calm coming out. We need to practice control with our breath.
These practices can be done in everyday life, whether watching TV or walking the dog. Take little opportunities to practice and it’ll pay off in the end.
Training for spearfishing isn’t super elaborate, but it has to be intentional. You are going to need a general base of strength to even be proficient at doing it. Swimming is important and should be coupled with some strength training practices. Once you have your base established, you can begin to work on your breathing techniques.
You can focus on your breath in the water or on land. Either way, it takes deliberate practice to get better. We need to be able to hold the breath, but also be able to control what we are even doing with it.
From there, you have to teach the body to be tolerant to the presence of CO2 and the lack of oxygen. Spearfishing is also a very mental sport, so spend some time working on being comfortable when things get uncomfortable.
Blake Conner is a nutritionist who graduated from Mississippi State University. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA, as well as a certified nutrition coach through Precision Nutrition. Blake runs his own remote nutrition coaching business to help people become the best versions of themselves.