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Why CO2 Tolerance?

Increasing CO2 tolerance is one of the central themes to all of my coaching, on the surface this seems counter intuitive. But we have to ask ourselves what role CO2 plays in respiration and thus our lives. CO2 isn't just byproduct to be discarded as quickly as possible. CO2 plays a significant role in maintaining a proper blood pH balance as well as dictating the rate at which oxygen enters cells... What???

Yes you read that correctly. The amount of CO2 in your body is directly related to your tissues ability to take in and use oxygen. This is based on relatively simple science. The phenomenon is called the Bohr Effect, which in a nutshell says, the higher the concentration of CO2 in one area the greater the exchange rate of oxygen to that area. In other words if there is a pile of of CO2 in your quads and oxygenated red blood cells flow by, they will drop the O2 and pick up the CO2.

No brainer right? Not so fast, what if the CO2 levels are low? Well the Bohr Effect works the opposite direction as well. If CO2 levels are low LESS oxygen will make it's way into the tissues, it will stay bound to the red blood cells, without being utilized.

You might be thinking, "well that's interesting but I have no control over that and even if I did it wouldn't effect my performance."

That's where you would be wrong.

Every single time you exhale you are dumping CO2, which is what you're supposed to do. The problem arises when you dump more than you NEED to. Unnecessary mouth breathing is a good example of this. When you breath through your mouth at any time other than when you're working at near maximal exertion you're dumping more CO2 than you should be and thus decreasing the amount of oxygen making it's way into your tissues.

I can just hear all my CrossFitters out there saying, "but I only workout at high intensity." First of all if you are only working at high intensity stop, second of all the amount of time that you're actually working at maximal intensity during the 1-3 hours you spend in the gym is likely less than 15%.

So the task at hand becomes accurately matching your breathing to your intensity level.

That's where CO2 tolerance comes into play. When CO2 tolerance is low it becomes very difficult to match your breathing to your activities with any form of precision or efficiency. For example if you have very low CO2 tolerance you might not have any problem with low level activities because the oxygen demand is so low. However, as intensity increases and you're unable to tolerate sufficient CO2 to facilitate efficient oxygen absorption you eventually hit a point where you can longer "push through." The reason you can't push through it has nothing to do with grit or determination, rather it's due to your body's inability to tolerate higher (but safe) levels of CO2 and process oxygen.

Fortunately poor CO2 tolerance is simply an adaptation to poor habits, which means we can increase CO2 tolerance through training.

Without high CO2 tolerance you're leaving a crack in your foundation and performance on the table.

Want to eliminate that weakness and bulletproof your foundation? I can help.



©2018 by Lance Einerson.