People ask me, “How do you train for freediving?” Sometimes the question is asked because the person is interested in developing skills at the sport. Sometimes it’s asked because they want to know the dedication it takes to achieve a world record. Mostly the question is asked because my husband, Ren, and I train and live aboard a sailboat where we do not have access to gyms, lap pools or other amenities that world class athletes in other sports are sponsored to use. We have a few cheap and accessible tricks up our sleeve for the everyday hero who wants to maintain freediving fitness. Here are the top four things you can do on the cheap to get into freediving shape. It is recommended to consult a physician before attempting any new workout regimen.
Flexibility is paramount to freediving fitness. In order to dive deeper or stay underwater longer and more comfortably the respiratory muscles must be stretched regularly. Conveniently enough for our every day hero, the recommended stretches can be done at home in about fifteen minutes.
By stretching the diaphragm regularly, the big respiratory muscle separating the thoracic and abdominal cavities, depth dives are achieved with greater comfort as the response to breathe prematurely due to pressure contractions (affectionately dubbed the “lying bastard”) becomes less noticeable. The pressure contractions are your body’s response to increasing depth. As you dive, the air in your lungs compresses which in turn stretches out the diaphragm. A stretched diaphragm simulates the condition of the lungs during an exhale. The stretch receptors in your body say, “Hey, why the empty lungs,” and voila! Small contractions ensue, giving you the urge to breath. This urge to breathe can be delayed by stretching the diaphragm so it becomes acquainted to the stretch that it feels as a result of depth. To stretch the diaphragm, sit on your knees and exhale completely, bending all the way over to touch your head to the ground making sure you get all the air out. Hold your remaining breath. Pull your diaphragm in and up. You should start to see your ribs protrude. Think, Stig Sverinssen on the cover of his book “Breathology”. Hold this for three seconds and release the diaphragm. Repeat the pull-and-hold three times before inhaling. Once you catch your breath, repeat the exercise again doing it three times total.
The intercostal muscles, or the muscles surrounding the ribs must also be stretched They are the the cage that the “balloon”, or your lungs, are trapped inside. The more flexible these muscles are the larger your peak inhalation. The larger your peak inhalation, the deeper and longer your dives will be. Not to mention, stretching the intercostal muscles regularly makes holding the peak inhalation much more comfortable. To stretch the diaphragm, take a peak inhalation and hold your breath. Extend both of your arms in front of you, interlacing your fingers. Hold this pose for ten seconds. Extend both of your arms behind your back, interlacing your fingers, pushing out your chest. Hold this for ten seconds. Now, both arms overhead, stretch to your left side, holding for ten then your right side, holding for ten. Exhale. Once you catch your breath, repeat this routine three times total. Remember that stretching these sensitive respiratory muscles must be done slowly and methodically. Flexibility must be earned rather than forced or you could risk serious injury. These stretches are designed for use every day for maximum benefit.
Another hugely beneficial, convenient and cost effective training aid are the oxygen and carbon dioxide tolerance tables. The tables, designed to be done on dry land, NOT in the water where a buddy would definitely be required, are extremely taxing on the body. The tables are considered their own workout and are to be completed on days where you are not concentrating heavily on another workout. Of course, access to these tables is usually earned through taking a freediving course but here’s what you need to know about them. The oxygen tolerance tables are comprised of eight total breatholds. The amount of time that you “vent” or breathe up remains static throughout the eight holds while the amount of time you actually hold your breath increase throughout each of the eight sets. This method trains the body to tolerate low levels of oxygen. Conversely, the carbon dioxide tolerance tables have a static breathold throughout the eight sets but the amount of “vent” time decreases. These tables train the body to tolerate high levels of carbon dioxide. The tables are to be done alternately. For example, complete an oxygen table on Tuesday and a carbon dioxide table on Thursday. Just make sure that you alternate between the two tables. You should do only one table per day and limit to only three per week since they are so taxing on the body. Smart phone applications can be downloaded and utilized once the parameters for the breathold are established.
Stairs are free! So why not use them to your advantage when training for freediving. When I attempted my first world record the dive was impacted mostly by lactic build up in the muscles. Knowing that to get any deeper I would have to build up my lactic tolerance so it didn’t feel like my arms were going to fall off on ascent. There are two ways I achieved this endurance. One being apnea stairs. The stairs, pick a set with at least 30 steps, are ran on an interval. An interval is picked, for example 1:30. Vent at the bottom of the stairs for 1:30 then peak inhalation, start your timer, and hold your breath while running up the stairs, touching the top, and running back down. At the bottom, recovery breaths and check your timer. If the interval is 1:30 and it took 1:00 to complete the stairs, this leaves :30 to vent before the next set. Repeat six to eight times three times a week and you’ll be racing the world in the opposite direction, down to the deepest depths.
Please be advised that holding your breath while walking up and down stairs can be extremely dangerous. Know your limits and stay within them to avoid injury.
Again, lactic buildup is a huge problem, probably the second most limiting factor in freediving next to equalization issues. The second way I made lactic burn a long lost friend was through interval running. Armed with just your sneakers and the open road, the interval run takes 22:00, which makes this workout even more appealing. Imagine your running speeds on a scale measured 1 through 10. 1 being a walk with your Grandmother, 10 being, “Oh crap...a bear,” (which, by the way, you should never run from a bear). Start the workout with a 5:00 jog at a level 5. Sprint for 1:00 at a level 8. Jog for 2:00 at a level 5. Alternate between the sprint/job rotation 4 times. Finish the run with another 5:00 cool down at a level 5. 22:00 and done. Can’t beat that with a stick.
So here are the lucky 4 training aids I recommend to everyone who want to stay in freediving shape on the cheap. To get a better understanding of the stretches, CO2 and O2 tables and all other elements of training it is best to take an organized freediving course. Taking a course will ensure that you are doing things safely and effectively. Plus, why not learn from those who do it all the time? Good luck on your future freediving endeavors and contact me any time with questions, especially regarding safety. In a sport like this, your safety is my primary concern!