CO2 Tolerance and Breath Control Training: The Basics

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you probably know that breath control has become a big topic of interest.  Mainly because learning to control your breathing can benefit every aspect of your life.  You can learn to breathe to calm yourself down, you can breathe to become a better athlete, and you can even breathe to pump yourself up if you need an energy boost.

For most people, when they think about breathing, Carbon Dioxide is though of as just a “waste product.”  It’s true that CO2 is formed as a by-product of cellular respiration–the process by which the air you breathe interacts with the food you eat to create energy–however, calling it a “waste product” is a little bit misleading.

In all of our breath control courses, we say that CO2 is like a Sour Patch Kid, first it’s sour then it’s sweet.  The sour part comes from the fact that CO2 is what gives us the urge to breathe and makes us feel uncomfortable while holding our breath.  The sweet part is, that in order for our bodies to utilize the Oxygen we have in our system, we need CO2 present.

What is CO2 Tolerance?

Simply put, CO2 Tolerance is the amount of CO2 buildup in your system you can tolerate before you experience the urge to breathe.  When it comes to breath holding, the higher your CO2 Tolerance is, the longer you can comfortably hold your breath.  CO2 Tolerance isn’t just helpful for underwater breath holds, increasing your tolerance to Carbon Dioxide also helps your body adapt to a variety of situations.

Increased tolerance to CO2 helps:

Improve Muscle Efficiency, Endurance and Performance
To do work, our muscles need oxygen, and in order for our bodies to utilize the oxygen in our blood, we need CO2.  Our blood could be 100 percent saturated with oxygen, but in the absence of CO2, that oxygen isn’t as available for our bodies to use.  An elevated level of CO2 helps our body transport O2 more effectively into cells, and also helps us maintain a lower heartrate during effort.  This means that you can run/swim/paddle faster for a longer period of time.

Improve Overall Mental and Physical Health
CO2 tolerance and stress/anxiety are closely related.  Carbon Dioxide helps regulate breathing patterns, which in turn helps us manage stress and anxiety.  Studies have shown that a regular practice of slow breathing can reduce psychological and physiological stress responses. (HHP-Foundation, 2022) Physically, tolerance to CO2 has been shown to Improve HRV, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, brain health, and inflammation.

Are You Curious About Your CO2 Tolerance?  Test it!

Here are two different CO2 Tolerance tests you can try at home to see where yours stands.

  1.  Shift/Adapt Breath Assessment
    This simple breath assessment indicates how sensitive we are of carbon dioxide,  where our nervous system is, and ultimately how reactive we are to stress.
  2.  The BOLT test from Oxygen Advantage
    The BOLT score (Body Oxygen Level Test) is a subjective measure of breathlessness. It gives feedback on functional breathing and exercise tolerance.

The Best Part About CO2 Tolerance?  It’s Trainable!

Both of the resources above come with ways to improve your CO2 tolerance.  One of our favorite things about CO2 Tolerance training, is that you will see results very quickly.  Even a small amount of training will force an adaptation in our bodies, and breath control training is a quick and effective way to improve your mental and physical health.

Want to learn with us in person?

We have options available both online and in person.  Our Breath Control Training Courses teach basic freediving and breath control techniques to help increase comfort and confidence in the water.  We also cover basic breathing techniques that help manage stress, increase athletic performance and improve your life in general.

Learn Remotely–hop on a quick call with us to talk about your breath control journey and how we can help (in or out of the pool) and we will go from there!

Come Join a Pool Course–If you are in the Southern California area come join one of our breath control courses.  We offer separate courses for kids and adults and also have an option for families to learn together.  Click HERE for more info