Guide - How much weight to wear while freediving

Welcome, fellow freedivers and spearos,

My name is Ted Harty. I'm the Founder of Immersion Freediving and my newest project Freedive University. I'm a Performance Freediving Instructor Trainer. My deepest freedive is 279ft (85M) and longest breath-hold is 7 minutes.   To learn more about me, you can click -> HERE otherwise, let's get to work!

This guide is meant for people who need to figure out how much weight to wear and have not yet taken a freediving class. The best way to figure out how much weight to wear is take a freediving class. This guide is not a substitute for proper in-person instruction.

Understanding how much weight to wear is one of the first questions a freediver needs to answer when they start freediving or spearfishing.

It’s a question that many freedivers can't properly answer because there is so much misinformation on this topic, and to make matters more confusing, I am not a fan of the way it’s taught in most freediving classes.

This guide provides an in-depth explanation of the 4 different weighting tests and WHY these various weighting tests work and WHY I don't like two of them. You won’t find an in-depth explanation like this anywhere else. 

This guide comes from being a full-time freediving instructor since 2009, and using these tests with thousands of students. So, the content in this guide is not theory or something I read in an instructor manual; this is from being in the water with students since 2009.

If you don’t care about understanding everything and just want to know how much weight to wear, you can click-> HERE to go to that section, but you will be lacking a lot of understanding of what is actually going on.

Table of Contents 

What Does Being Overweighted Mean?

When I say someone is overweighted, I mean one very specific thing. I mean that if the freediver were to blackout, they would sink to the bottom of the ocean. This is bad, very bad, BTW.

Where would be a better place to end up if you were to blackout?  On the surface!

Freedivers blackout when they have held their breath too long. When coming up from a dive in the ocean, these blackouts can happen without warning.

You can see two actual blackouts here, but don't go down the YouTube rabbit hole; be sure to come back and keep reading

When a freediver blacks out, they typically exhale some of the air in their lungs. They don't exhale all of the air; they do what I call a "relaxed exhale".

When they exhale this air, this results in the freediver losing much of their buoyancy.

When they exhale this air, if they are overweighted (many are), they sink down to the bottom of the ocean.
If they are properly weighted, they would float on the surface even after blacking out and  doing a relaxed exhale.

Rescuing your buddy floating on the surface is infinitely easier than rescuing your buddy who's on the bottom of the ocean floor.

If you want to learn more about freediving safety and how to save your buddy's life if they black out, please visit

Why Are So Many Freedivers Overweighted?

Many freedivers fall into the trap of overweighting. I know I did when I started.

When I first started freediving in the Florida Keys, I was freediving in Sombrero Reef, which was only 25ft. I was a scuba instructor at the time but I knew nothing about freediving.

I'd put on two 8-pound weights wearing no wetsuit, and down I went.  Crazy overweighted, and I was diving by myself, I didn't know any better back then. 🤦

I figured all that weight would make it easier, thinking it would take less energy to get the bottom, therefore  I could stay down longer. Little did I know, wearing too much weight actually reduces your bottom time and it's a major safety hazard, but more on all this later.

I once had a student, a spearo from Miami, wearing 15 pounds of lead. After doing the weighting tests (which I'll share with you momentarily), he only needed 3 pounds!!

He didn't think he could dive with that small amount of weight, but he ended up easily hitting 115ft during the course.

The 4 Different Weighting Tests

Test #1 Neutral at 33ft (10m)

If you ask a freediving instructor how much weight to wear, they will very likely say enough weight to be neutrally buoyant at 33ft (10M). Neutrally buoyant at 33ft simply means at 33ft you don't float or sink, you hover at that depth.

This test is probably taught in every single freediving class out there, including mine. This test is one of many that will help you figure out how much weight to wear. This weighting test will work well freediving up to 130Ft (40M), if you are diving deeper than that you should use less weight.

Most freediving classes are taught from a rig or a float. My rig has a line coming off the float with a plate at the end of the line. Under the plate, there is a 25-pound weight. I can raise and lower the plate and put it at whatever depth I need.

Here is how I perform  test, which I do during every class. 

Step 1: I put the plate at 33ft.

Step 2: The student gets down to the plate, they turn up, head up, feet down, they hold the plate at chest level and stay motionless for about 5 seconds to make sure their momentum has stabilized. This way, when they let go, their momentum doesn't push them up or down.

Step 3: Then they let go of the plate, and I signal "STILL AS A STATUE, DON'T MOVE A MUSCLE"

Step 4: They hold that position for 10 seconds.

Then I give them the thumbs up and we head up.

Below is an image a student performing this test.

If they are floating up, they are underweighted, and we repeat the test with one more pound.
If they are sinking, they are overweighted, and we repeat the test with one less pound.

We continue this test until they neither float up nor down when they let go of the plate.

This test is very useful in a freediving class when you have a line, plate, and instructor to make sure it's done correclty.

I find this test to be much less useful outside of a class environment without a line, plate, and instructor.

​I will explain why below, but if you don't care about my reasons and just want to go to the test I like, click here.

Why I Really Don't Like The Neutral at 33ft (10M) Test

Okay, bear wifth me, freediving instructor rant coming on.

I don't like thie neutral at 33ft (10m)  test because it's very, very difficult to successfully do outside of a class environment.
Inside a class environment it's a great test.

How do I know this? I've had so many students coming into my class that have heard of this neutral at 33ft test, and they say they have done the test and are properly weighted. I've never had a student that said that, actually be weighted correctly. They always are overweighted. So they did the test wrong.

Here is what is needed to do the test correctly:

1. They must get to precisely 33ft.
2. Then diver must remove all momentum up or down while at 33ft.
3. Then be motionless for 10 seconds.
4. Then recognize if they are floating up or down.

Most of my students are spearos, so they will never dive on a line after class. So they don't have a line or a plate.

You might be thinking, "but Ted, if you have a depth gauge, you can still do the test, just look at your depth gauge."

Yes, but it's even harder to do without a plate because now you have nothing to hold onto before you let go to rid yourself of your momentum, and you lose the visual reference.

Many freedivers, especially beginners, don't have a depth gauge.

That means a large percentage of freedivers will NEVER EVER be able to do this test again after their freediving class. That's a bad test.

Even more proof of how hard this is.

I believe many freediving instructors do this test incorrectly because I've seen many do this.

I've seen the instructor tell the student to get to 33ft and let go of the plate and then the student floats motionless for 2-3 seconds, and the instructor says they are neutral and tells them to head up.

Anyone will seem to be neutrally buoyant if you only let go of the plate for 2-3 seconds.

It takes 10 seconds in my opnion to truly see if you are overweighted or underweighted.

Another common mistake I see is when the students let go of the plate at 33ft, they are in the process of turning around, so when they let go, they are pushing off the plate, which introduces momentum that can skew the test.

Sinking down to the bottom of the ocean after a blackout and taking a terminal gasp is the cause of every fatality in freediving.

Freedivers and spearos need an EASY to perform test to ensure they don't sink after a blackout.

This is why I'm not a fan of this test outside of a class environment.  We should also provide toosl that can be used outside of a class enivorment.

Test #2  The Surface Safety Test - My Favorite

My students do the surface weighting test every single time they jump off the boat and before any diving.

Steps to the Surface Safety Test:

Step #1 Be at the surface wearing what you normally wear.  

Step #2 Take a breath in, and then do a relaxed exhalation like a sigh. This is NOT exhaling every bit of air in your lungs.  I made a video below showing a "relaxed exhale". Do the exhale all at once like I do in the video, not a slow exhale that lats 20 seconds.

Step #3 Now see if you float on the surface or continuously sink underwater. DON'T KICK YOUR FEET OR MOVE YOUR HANDS, that's cheating the test!

Below is the video on how to do a relaxed exhale this is CRITICAL do doing the test. Don't try this test without watching this video.  Do the exhale all at once like I do in the video, not a slow exhale that lats 20 seconds.

If the video doesn't show below you can use this link

If you are continuously sinking, you have failed the surface safety test.
If you are floating on the surface, you have passed the surface safety test - we can be freediving buddies now :)

If you fail the test, remove one pound and repeat until you are floating at the surface on a passive exhale.

One limitation of this test: 

This test makes sure you are not overweighted, but does not mean you are weighted correctly.

Let's say I’m perfectly weighted with 6 pounds on my belt. If I put 2 pounds on my belt and perform the surface safety test, it says I pass.

Am I weighted correctly?

No! I’m way underweighted. I don’t want so little weight on my belt that it’s too much work to get off the surface. It only tells you if you are overweighted. Does this make sense?

So my recommendation is you want to wear the maximum amount of weight that you can wear AND still pass the surface safety test. It always gives me the willies to even say that. I always want people to take weight off their belt, not put more on :)

Let's go through this. Let's say you have no idea how much weight to wear and you start with 2 pounds.

You wear 2 pounds & pass the surface safety test.
Next, you try 4 pounds and pass the surface safety test.
Next, you try 6 pounds and you fail the surface safety test - TOO MUCH LEAD.
Next, you try 5 pounds and fail the surface safety test. TOO MUCH LEAD.
Next, you try 4 pounds and pass the surface safety test.

Now you know 4 pounds is the most weight you can wear AND still float after a surface blackout.

My experience with students wearing 3 mil suits is this test will give similar results to the neutral buoyancy at 33ft (10M) test.

I always trust the surface safety test results over the 33ft (10M) test because the surface test confirms you won't sink after a surface blackout, and that trumps everything else.

What is the Surface Safety Test actually testing?

As I said earlier, when you blackout, you will let out air from your lungs. But not just some random amount, it will be what I call a relaxed exhale.

Many people mistakenly think you will exhale all the air out of your lungs.

Understand, exhaling all your air is an active process. If you are unconscious from a blackout, you won’t be actively doing anything, other than sinking to the bottom of the ocean if you are overweighted.

What you will do is a passive exhale, or as I like to say, a relaxed exhale. So by doing a relaxed exhale at the surface, you are simulating what happens if you blackout out the surface.  

Do you see how easy this test is to do?

You don’t need a line, a plate, or a depth gauge.

You don’t need to be motionless at 33ft for 10 seconds.

You just need to be wearing your gear and be on the surface. It only takes 10 seconds.

I teach my students to do this test every single time they jump off the boat. Why?

Because you might have gained weight, you might have lost weight, you might be wearing a different wetsuit, your wetsuit might have compressed, you might be in saltwater vs fresh water, you might be in only your wetsuit top, or maybe your lung volume has increased from going through my training program Freediving Training Secrets.  All of these things would change how much weight you need to wear.

Things change, check your weighting every time; it only takes 10 seconds. Sinking to the bottom of the ocean on a blackout is very, very bad.

Below are two more tests.
Feel like you are back in school? Me too, writing this guide felt like writing a thesis on weighting.

 Test #3 Positively Buoyant After Relaxed Exhale at 15ft (5m) 

The name of this one just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?  Here is yet another weighting test I do in my classes. You will see why I refer to it as the gold standard in a moment.

First, I must explain the rule of 9s:

90% of the blackouts happen at the surface after 2-3 breaths.
9% of the blackouts happen between the surface and 15ft (5m).
0.9% of the blackout happens between 82ft (25M) and the surface.

99% of the blackouts happen 15ft to the surface, or as I like to say, swimming pool depths.

These are VERY easy to handle, assuming you have proper safety supervision in place. You can learn more about how to be a bulletproof buddy and save your buddies' life if they blackout at, yes, even how to make it work if you dive in bad visibility.

The 0.9% of the blackouts that happen as deep as 82ft (25m) are almost exclusively something that happens on very deep  world record competitive freediving, where something has definitely gone very wrong. During competitions, there are freediving safeties at these depths to instantly grab the divers, close their airway, and bring them to the surface.  

Alright let's get back on track. The surface safety test I discussed earlier tests if you float if you blackout at the surface.

Now I have a question for you, what would happen if you blacked out at 15ft (5M)?

Who knows?

Not you if all you did was the surface safety test; it only tests what happens if you blackout at the surface. Do you see the difference? The surface safety test doesn't tell if you would end up at the surface  or on the bottom if you blacked out at 15ft.

Here is how I conduct what I call the gold standard test, in my freediving classes.

Step #1: I set the plate to 15ft.

Step #2: I have the students come down to the plate, turn around, head up, feet down, grab the plate, motionless for 5 seconds, so there is no momentum going up or down.

Step #3: They do a relaxed exhale FIRST, and THEN let go of the plate.

I want to see them floating up. It doesn't matter how slow, just some sort of movement towards the surface. If they sink they need to take a pound off and repeat.

If they float,  now I know that if they blackout at 15ft, they will end up at the surface.

This means where 99% of the blackouts would happen, they would end up at the surface. That’s pretty awesome, much better than ending up on the bottom of the ocean, wouldn't you say?

This is why I call this test the gold standard. The result of this test is amazing.

The downside is this test is even more difficult to replicate outside of a class environment than the neutral at 33ft test.

Just like the neutral at 33ft test, you need to be at the precise depth, you need to have all momentum up or down stop before you do the test.

The new problem is the freediver has to exhale just the right amount of air for the test to be accurate.  I find students struggle more exhaling the correct amount because they are underwater. As an instructor, I can tell if they exhaled too much or too little, but if you're trying to do this test on your own, my experience tells me most will not exhale the correct amount.

This test is not likely to be performed correctly outside of a freediving class, with a line, a plate, and an instructor watching.

Again, you have to understand in the USA, 90% of my students are spearfishers. They will never, ever, ever dive on a line again, so the tools I give them on how to be safe shouldn't revolve around lines and should be easy to do.

Here is how you can make the surface safety test approximate the results of the gold standard test, aka Positively buoyant after a relaxed exhale at 15ft (5m) test.

Test #4 Surface Safety Test Minus One Pound

How to do the Super Duper Surface Safety Test

Perform the Surface Safety Test until you pass it.

Now you know if you blackout at the surface, you will float.

If you blackout at 15ft, you might float to the surface, or you might not; we don't know, as we haven't tested it.

So now, remove one extra pound.

It's now more likely that you would float to the surface if you had a blackout at 15ft, than before  While we didn't test that specifically, we are hoping that by removing one extra pound, we get there.

We do know with certainty from a safety standpoint we are better off than the Standard Surface Safety Test as it's one less pound.

What do we call this? Surface Safety Test Minus One Pound? The Gold Standard Surface Safety Test? Ted’s never-ending list of weighting tests?

Let's call it the 'Surface Safety Test Minus One Pound.' Just pass the surface safety test and then take off a pound.

Please understand this is not a guarantee that you would float on a blackout at 15ft (5m) the only way to know that for sure it to use the previous test, but as I've said this test is hard to do accurately.  

My experience with this test was with students wearing a 3mil suit in the ocean.  If you are wearing different thickness suits this test may give different results. Again this test approximates the results of the gold standard test.

Let's Handle All The Objections You Have

After teaching freediving for over a decade, I can see the eye rolls from here. I can hear the spearos saying, "But Ted, I need that weight to get down there."

Here's the deal.

Overweighting is a crutch for bad technique. It takes no skill to get to depth if you are overweighted; it just takes the ability to clear your ears.

In the decade plus I've been teaching freediving, I've heard hundreds of my students say, "But Ted, if you take all that weight off my belt, it will take too much energy to get off the surface."

That's why I teach them an efficient entry technique. Once you learn an efficient entry, now it takes the same "effort" to get your dive started as it did when you were overweighted. Now you are using good technique to get down as opposed to extra lead. Now instead of fighting all the weight to get back to the surface, you have an elevator ride to the surface. This is a win-win!

The main 4 steps of an efficient entry are as follows:

Step #1 Bend
Step #2 Lift
Step #3 Pull
Step #4 Kick

​I've included two videos, one freediving and one with a speargun, so you can see how it works. Spearfishermen always tell me my entry won't work for spearfishing, but this video shows Jeromy Gamble of Spearing Magazine using the same entry I teach with a speargun.  It looks like it works to me.

When you are overweighted, it's easy to get to the bottom and hard to get to the surface.
When you are weighted properly, it's hard to get to the bottom, but you have an elevator ride to the surface.

I would argue the amount of work done is basically the same; it's just a matter of where you put the work: on the ascent or the descent.

From a safety standpoint, it's obviously better to have an elevator ride to the surface when you are going through the blackout zone, as opposed to having to do the majority of the work as you go through the blackout zone.

By the way, if you are a spearo and you don't stone your fish every single time, you might be having to bring a fish up to the surface that doesn't want to come up, in addition to fighting all your extra weight.

After teaching freediving for over a decade, unfortunately, I know that most freedivers and spearos don't care too much about safety; they care more about performance.

So let's talk in a language you can easily understand.  
Overweighting is not only unsafe and greatly increases the risk of dying if you blackout, but overweighting reduces your performance and bottom time.

Now let's look at what happens when you are breathing up and resting on the surface.

Depending on the extent that you are overweighted, you will have to spend extra energy on the surface just to keep your snorkel above the water. This extra work will increase your heart rate, which will reduce your bottom time.

If you are properly weighted, you are floating like a cork on the surface spending ZERO energy; you can focus on keeping your heart rate as low as possible. Even if you are spearfishing and covering ground on the surface, you spend less energy doing that if you are properly weighted versus overweighted.

So, overweighting makes you sink to the bottom if you blackout and reduces your bottom time by increasing your heart rate on the surface.

In my Intermediate class, my average student easily hits a 100ft dive and they are wearing so much less weight than they typically  wear. It's almost like this stuff works. 🤷‍♂️

This is my final argument on why being overweighted reduces your performance. If you have read all this, my hat's off to you!

Let's look at competitive freedivers. We are OBSESSED with diving as deep as humanly possible.

If I believed wearing a few extra pounds would make me dive deeper in a competition, guess what I and every other competitive freediver would do?

We would 100% wear the extra weight IF it increased our performance.

Competitive freedivers have extensive safety systems in place. We would just say, "I’m not worried about the risk because I have 3 safety freedivers to take care of me."

But we DON'T wear extra weight because we know it REDUCES our performance.

Overweighting is a crutch for poor technique. It reduces our bottom time and makes it so we sink to the bottom if we blackout.

That's why I recommend doing the surface safety test every single time you jump off the boat, and to be even safer, take one extra pound off.

Be aware that the deeper you dive, your wetsuit and lungs are even more compressed, meaning you are more negatively buoyant. This is why we wear less weight when we are diving deeper than 130ft (40M).

Review of the 4 Weighting Tests

Test #1: Neutral at 33ft (10M) Test.  Great test for a freediving class. It's taught in every freediving class, in my opinion, it much less useful outside of a class environment. It's very difficult to do with out line, plate and instructor..

Test #2: Surface Safety Test: Simple, fast, and something anyone can do, and should do every time you jump off the boat.

Test #3: Positively Buoyant at 15ft (5M) on a Relaxed Exhale Test (Gold Standard). This test rocks because you know you would end up at the surface in 99% of the blackouts. It's even harder to do than the neutral at 33ft test, so again, not really useful outside of a class environment without line, plate, and instructor.

​Test #4: Surface Safety Test Minus a Pound. Very easy to do and gives a safer result than the regular surface safety test. It tries to approximate the result of the Gold Standard Relaxed Exhale at 15ft Test.

I hope you found this article helpful!

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did, I have one huge favor to ask.

Can you share this article on your favorite social media network?
Here is the link

You can simply say, "If you ever wondered how much weight to wear while freediving & spearfishing, this article will tell you how to figure it out."

If you are a FB admin to a group, please feel free to share it and pin this link to your group.

If you are a freediving instructor, feel free to include this link in your pre-course emails.

If you have buddies that you know dive overweighted, please share this link with them.

My goal is to do more to stop the fatalities from shallow water blackout than any other person on the planet. Guides like this and my free safety course at are the tools I use to achieve this goal.

If you haven't yet, you can sign up for the Freedive University Newsletter (FUN), where you will discover even more freediving techniques via the newsletter.

Dive safe out there, and don't wear too much weight, you know better now!

Ted Harty - your trusted online freediving resource

Ted Harty

Ted Harty began his professional underwater career as a Scuba Instructor for PADI, NAUI, and SSI in 2005. In 2008 he took his first freediving class with Performance Freediving International.

After that course on his days off he didn’t want to go scuba diving he wanted to go freediving and realized his passion was freediving.

In 2009 Ted took PFI’s first official Instructor program and immediately started working for PFI helping Kirk Krack and Mandy Rae-Kruckshank teach courses all across the USA.

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