How to prepare for long hold downs: Surfing

The moment you get wiped out by a big wave and dragged around underwater can be very scary. Your natural instinct may cause your movement to become more rapid, but this reaction will use up your air even faster. The trick to avoiding panic situations is to be prepared. While it is counterintuitive to your body’s natural reaction relaxing during a long hold down may help you use less air. However, increasing your lung capacity is the most practical solution. It is possible to train for long hold downs with a hypoxic training program, and breathing exercises designed to improve your lung capacity.

Although it is not scientifically the most practical solution learning how to relax under water can save a few seconds and will also aid with that panic feeling so we will not underestimate the benefits of relaxation. The panic reflex during a long hold down comes from the human fear of drowning. Keep in mind that the human body is naturally buoyant and that a wipe out is usually followed by a gentle flow back to the surface after only a few seconds. Knowing that the tossing and turning are temporary and your body should surface will put the mind at ease. As you get pulled under by the wave try to relax the body and limit your movements (as this will exert more energy and use up more oxygen). Remember that the long hold down is temporary and unless your leash has snapped you are literally attached to another floating vessel. Both you and your board are buoyant!

  • Hypoxic Training is a great way to train for long hold downs. It was developed to help swimmers maintain a smooth stroke while under the pressure of racing. The literal definition of hypoxic training is to swim with fewer breaths per length and limit the supply of oxygen to your body. Preparing the body for a limited supply of oxygen is an ideal training method for long hold downs. To build your hypoxic breathing set you can begin for you first 25 meters breathing on every 3rd stroke, on the next 25 meters, every 5th, next lap every 7th and finally every 9th. Repeat the set starting with a breath every 3rd stroke and building up to every 9th stroke. You can use this method as a 10-15 minute warm up for your regular swim training or work up; or even as a cool down. This training method builds lung strength and prepares you for open water situations where you may not be able to breathe at pre-determined intervals.


  • Another training method that can be used in addition to hypoxic training; or as a stand-alone if lap swimming is not an option are breathing exercises designed to increase lung capacity. Using a breathing resistance trainer like Expand-A-Lung is one of the most efficient ways to train the respiratory muscles so that you are able to inhale a greater volume of oxygen and improve your breath holding capabilities to prepare for long hold downs. The Expand-A-Lung Works by providing inspiratory and expiratory resistance which strengthens your diaphragm and your intercostal muscles. The added resistance makes it a more efficient and effective training method. Alternatively, diaphragmatic breathing can also help increase lung capacity. To begin diaphragmatic breathing relax the shoulders and sit with a straight spine or lie down on your back. Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest. Inhale through your nose slowly so that you feel the air move thru your abdomen and your belly press out.  Exhale through pursed lips while engaging the abdomen. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.


When practicing a sport like surfing it’s always wise to take the steps necessary to ensure you’re in good physical condition and prepared for Mother Nature. These training tips will not only prepare you for long hold downs but may also help you paddle out more efficiently as you will improve your cardiovascular fitness.

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