It wouldn’t be a surprise if I say that it is not that many available Freediving books around. The last one which I read was “Oxygen” by William Trubridge. And I am also in the middle of “Manual of Freediving” by Umberto Pelizzari.
So, it was a pleasant surprise when the book “Longer and Deeper” by Jaap Verbaas was published a couple of months ago.
I don’t know the author personally, but I read a couple of his articles on the website Freedive Wire and also saw a couple of thoughtful comments here and there on different social media.
So, I was pretty excited to get his book. Is it worth to get it?
My opinion – 300% yes. First of all, it is not a “beginner level” manual, where an author explaining MDR or hyperventilation and you are skipping it because there is nothing new there. It is also not complicated medical research where you should Google every second word to understand what the article is about. It is somewhere in the middle.
But what is it exactly about? The book is mostly about how and why to train “dry”. There are exercises with explanations on how to do them and what exactly you will get from it.
I am not telling that these exercises are unique and you couldn’t find them somewhere else. But I was hooked by simple explanations about how exactly they work as a cross training for a Freediver. I haven’t met such detailed explanations before.
For whom this book will be useful? If you are a highly experienced Freediver with an academic background in the human physiology – then probably you will not find anything new. For anyone else – give it a try. Especially if you are not simply trying to increase your PB’s, but also want to understand deeply processes in the body during apnea training.
For example for me, none of the exercises was new (ok, I never tried apnea squads), but an explanation of how it works boosts my interest to understand more about certain parts of human physiology. So, because of it, I spent the last month trying deeply understanding different processes in a human body during apnea.
Overall this book is definitely in the TOP list of Freediving books for me at the moment and I definitely recommend reading it. And also I hope the author is not going to stop and will continue his researches and we can expect the second edition in the near future!
When you start freediving it seems, that only equipment you need is a pair of fins and mask with a snorkel.
But after a while, you discover that there is so much stuff can be additionally used. You can easily live without it, but freediving training is going to be much more effective and fun with it
Today we are going to talk about one of these freediver’s toys – a nose clip.
As soon as you get the nose clip, probably static breath hold in a pool with it will be your first choice. At least this is what we are doing on a PADI Advanced Freediver course
What is the difference between using a mask and a nose clip – with the nose clip you have your whole face contacting with the water, which will help to trigger mammalian diving reflex (MDR). And it is strongly important for freediving as MDR influences blood shift, decrease heart rate and force your spleen to contract.
Some freedivers prefer to combine nose clip with another useful toy – swimming goggles. It is a kind of compromise between a mask and a “naked” face. It depends on your personal preference to wear goggles for static apnea or not. But keep in mind how sensitive your eyes are to pool water and chemicals in it. If you feel comfortable to stay in water without goggles – you are more than welcomed to do it. Just try and you will see the difference.
Another case where you can use your new nose clip in a pool is dynamic apnea. You will see how completely different your feeling going to be. And you will realize it, not when you replace mask with nose clip and goggles, but let’s say when you wear the mask again. This is quite similar to feel the difference in diving in a wetsuit and in a swimsuit.
And the last step for you in getting closer with a nose clip will be diving in the open water, where hands-free equalization provides you with a lot of opportunities to evolve as a freediver. Free Immersion and No fins are probably two main disciplines were you can improve technique efficiency without a need to pinch your nose every meter.
Monofin and bi fins dive also will become more streamlined and hydrodynamic if you don’t need to bring your hand to the nose for equalization. It will allow you to glide in water more smooth and effortless.
The same as in a pool, in open water it is completely up to you to use goggles or not. Of course, for depth trainings, you cannot use swimming goggles, which you use in a pool. In this concern, we are coming to another not compulsory but such a lovely accessory for freediving as goggles for deep diving. Nowadays such goggles can be two types – membrane lenses goggles (equalize automatically) and fluid lenses goggles (do not require equalization). But as I have mentioned above – there is no strong need in this. And probably one of the best proof that nose clip only diving works effective – it is extremely popular among high-level athletes at the competition.
First of all, lung overexpansion (LO) injury is very rarely in Freediving. So, don’t be scared. But since it can be a serious trauma better to have a solid understanding of what it is and how to avoid it.
First, let’s have a talk about the structure of the lungs.
Our lungs are sponge-like air-filled organs that transfer air molecules to and from blood cells. The trachea (windpipe) conducts inhaled air into the lungs through bronchi, which then dived into smaller branches (bronchioles), finally becoming microscopic.
The bronchioles eventually end in clusters of very small air sacs called alveoli. In the alveoli, O2 from the air is absorbed into the blood and CO2 (a waste product of metabolism) moves from the blood to the alveoli (and eventually exhaled). This process in the alveoli calls gas exchange.
Lungs are major airspace in our body. We have actually two lungs – a right and left lungs. They are situated within the thoracic cavity of the chest. The right lung is bigger than the left, which shares space in the chest with the heart.
Lungs are delicate tissues, and can easily be ruptured. If the air flow inside our lungs becomes restricted as you ascend, the expanding air can rapture the delicate alveoli inside the lungs. This can happen without any warning sensations (since the lungs do not sense pain). Chest congestion, scar tissue, lung disease, and damage from smoking can also create air flow restriction and contribute to LO.
When you do a scuba course, your instructor going to repeat many times that the main rule of Scuba Diving – never to hold your breath. Why?
When you do scuba diving you breathe compressed air from scuba tanks and your lungs have the same volume at any given depth. This is why if you are even 10 meters deep and make a rapid ascent with breath hold (due to a panic let’s say) your lungs will expand twice from the normal size! Lung tissue can stretch out a little bit, but not twice from its normal size. Which is easy can bring a scuba diver to the risk of lungs barotrauma.
Lungs barotrauma (LB) can be in a few basic forms
Arterial gas embolism – gas from the lungs escapes into the bloodstream (which can form bubbles and block blood circulation)
Pneumothorax – air enters the space between the lungs, expands and cause lungs to collapse
Mediastinal emphysema – air enters the space between the chest and the lungs, expands and put the pressure on the lung, heart, or blood vessels.
Subcutaneous emphysema – air escapes from the lungs and travels underneath of the skin (most often around the neck), which can result in voice changing, difficulties swallowing
Common symptoms of LB are
Paralyze, especially on one side of the body
Dizziness and confusion
Coughing up blood
Loss of vision
Change in voice
Heavy chest pain and difficulties in breathing
Is lung overexpansion can be a problem for Freedivers? Normally it is not. When you freedive, lungs compressed on your way down and re-expand on your way up to the original volume. So, there is no overexpansion.
But let’s have a look at two situations which can have a potential risk of lungs overexpansion injury
BREATHING FROM SCUBA TANK UNDERWATER. Imagine, a Freediver makes a dive to 10 meters. His lungs compressed at this depth almost twice. When he ascends, lungs come back to their normal shape. But what happened if Freediver takes a breath from scuba tank underwater and then ascent? After inhale from scuba tank lungs will expand to its normal size (sea level), but then, on the way up the lungs will expand twice. What about exhaling on the way up? It will defiantly reduce the risk, but not illuminate it (you also have to keep the ascend speed as slow as you can). But to remove the risk – DON’T TAKE AIR FROM SCUBA DIVER UNDERWATER!
By doing packing Freediver will over expand the lungs on the surface (lungs volume is going to be higher than Total Lungs Capacity). Then Freediver dive to the planned depth. During the dive he is going to have MDR (blood shift in particular) which moves a certain amount of blood into the lungs (causing blood vessels around alveoli to expand in size), preventing from crushing. On the way up air starts to expand, and blood vessels still bigger in size. This theoretically can increase the risk of lung overexpansion. The risk is not huge, but do exist. To minimize it, Freedivers who are packing exhale before they reach the surface (which also decrease the risk of BO). So, before you start practicing packing, please ask your self – DO YOU REALLY NEED TO DO IT? Please, keep in mind that packing is a highly advanced technique and should be practiced only by experienced athletes. Are you high experienced Freediver?
Treating lung overexpansion injury.
Symptoms of LO occur immediately and can include difficulty breathing, chest pain, crackling under the skin, unconsciousness or death. First aid must begin immediately while transportation to a medical facility is arranged. 100% O2 should be provided as soon as possible and CPR started if necessary. Ask yourself, do you have CPR skills?
The victim will need treatment in a hyperbaric (pressurized) chamber as soon as possible to shrink the air bubbles, and then slowly decompressed to allow the air to pass out of the body before it expands and interferes with respiration and circulation.
Suspected tension pneumothorax is treated with needle decompression followed by tube thoracostomy (at the hospital of course). If a smaller pneumothorax is present and there is no sign of hemodynamic or respiratory instability, the pneumothorax may resolve when high-flow 100% O2 is given for 24-48 hrs. If this treatment is ineffective or if a large pneumothorax is present, tube thoracostomy is done.
Computed tomography of the chest is recommending in any case of suspected pulmonary barotrauma in order predicting future fitness to dive
Probably the 1st thing your personal freediving equipment starts with is a mask and a snorkel.
This step is easy to explain: rental masks might not fit you well and can constantly leak. Besides, it’s always more pleasant to be the only one who wears the mask which touches your face. Also, you don’t depend on rental shops operation hours and with your own mask, you can go snorkeling or freediving wherever and whenever you want. And the last reason – it’s super easy to travel with a little mask in a bag. Way easier, than with a pair of freediving fins.
So how to pick up the decent mask? If you are already a certified Freediver, probably you know the answer. If not, let me explain
Remember one thing – the best mask for you is the mask, which fits you independently on cost and brand.
Let me give you a couple of advice on how to pick up the perfect mask.
It is always better to try the mask first. Ideally in the water, but at least in a shop.
And there are two main things you ’d better pay attention to mask shouldn’t hurt you and you should be able to equalize in it.
If you put the mask on your face and press on the top of the nose bridge and if you feel little pain, this mask is not for you. As little pain can become a terrible headache after 1-hour freediving or snorkeling session.
Another important thing – equalization. Be sure that you can pinch your nose to equalize. Some masks have extremely huge nose pocket, like Omer Zero, and it’s a real challenge to find the nose in such a mask.
Let’s talk about the features, which mask should have to be suitable for freediving.
So, in freediving unlike to scuba diving to equalize the mask we are using our air from the lungs, which is limited and which we actually need to dive deeper. That is why for freediving mask it is extremely important to be as low in volume as possible. And single lens mask has always more volume then double lens one. In this concern, you need to look for a double lens mask. Soft silicone skirt is important as it seals better around the face. And except that it is much easier to pinch the nose for equalization. In this concern, PVC skirt masks are not a smart choice at all.
Let’s take a look at one example of the mask.
You might have seen many freedivers diving in Sphera mask by Aqualung. It’s a gorgeous not expensive and unique mask due to its bent lenses, which allows the mask to follow the shape of the face. This provides super low volume and high side vision. But to make the lenses curve manufacturer had to use plastic instead of glass. And plastic is much less resistant to the scratches. That is not a problem at all if you care your equipment well. In case, you have a habit to drop your mask anywhere but not in the box, probably you have to check for another option.
And the last thing which I would like to cover is the difference between brand and noname masks. Brands usually provide good warranty conditions and in case your mask is broken due to manufacturing failure, you can apply for warranty repair or replacement. But be sure you have saved the receipt to confirm your purchase. The best way is to take photos of all your receipts and keep the digital copies in case you lose a paper bill.
I hope all these tips will be useful for you when you come to the shop for your 1st Freediving mask.
And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in comments below.
Freediving, as a recreational water-based activity (as well as a sport), getting more and more popular. But still, it is far away from other water activities, like for example scuba diving.
There are a lot of myths around Freediving, which stopping people to try it. Or at least confusing.
Let’s try to find out which one is true and which one is not. So, let’s start!
Freedivers can come much closer to the marine life. NOT TRUE. Well, actually it depends. If you compare an experienced Freediver and a beginner level Scuba Diver, then it is true 100%. But if we compare both an experience Scuba Diver and a Freediver, then it is not that simple. As a former scuba instructor, I had a few thousands of dives and I can say that majority of the marine life can come very close to you (reef fish, turtles, stingrays, sharks etc). Less than a half meter. Some people are saying that fish afraid of the bubbles. But why should they be? Fish are afraid of their natural predators and they don’t make bubbles. Fish afraid if you make too much movement and if you are rapidly closing the distance. However, I am willing to accept that some marine life can come close to a Freediver (at least I was told so by other Freedivers).
Freediving is more environments friendly. TRUE. Freediving boat is usually much smaller and requires a smaller engine. And they don’t have compressors. It reduces air and water pollution (as well as noise pollution). All of this makes a difference on our impact on Nature. Also, Freedivers are usually not that close to the corals (especially beginner level), so, fewer chances to damage fragile corals. We are also diving on the reefs less often (mainly we are diving just in the blue).
Freedivers have less equipment. ALMOST TRUE. If you compare Freediving vs Scuba Diving – you will probably think – oh, this is 100% true, but it is not that simple again. If we are talking about starting – then for sure it is true! As soon as you have a mask, you can be a Freediver 😉 For scuba, even for absolute beginner level, there is a standard set – BCD, regulator, fins, scuba tank etc. Coming back to Freediving, like I said, in the beginning, you can just invest in the mask and snorkel. But then it will probably be more equipment – weight belt, neck weight, wetsuit, nose clip, safety lanyard, goggles for the swimming pool, float and rope if you want to train with your buddy independently, etc.
Freedivers are leading a healthier lifestyle. TRUE. Some people like to call Scuba Diving sport, which always confuses me. Obviously, it is not. But freediving is. Even if you are not very serious about results. Freediving training combines correct breathing, different relaxation techniques, different physical exercises (in open water, pool, gym etc), as well as mental training. So, yes, if you like to be connected with Nature and stay healthy – Freediving should be your choice.
Freediving is more dangerous. ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE. Let’s make a line between Freedivers who are properly educated and follow safety rules and someone who has no idea about basic safety rules and just decided that he/she needs to dive deeper or hold the breath longer. Among the first groups, some problems occur, but they are not fatal. The second group is just playing Russian roulette. But the same is true for any other activity in our life – you have to follow safety rules. Even for walking. Disagree? Try to walk across a high way! When someone tells that Freedivers are dying regularly, I am always asking where this information is coming from. And there is no answer. Simple because it is not true. So, the bottom line here – follow safety rules and Freediving would be the safest water based activity!
Freediving is a more natural way to be underwater. Well, of course, it is TRUE. We don’t create with the scuba tanks on our back. But we have reflexes which help us to stay underwater longer and dive deeper. Holding the breath for a certain time is natural for us, as well to the other marine mammals.
So, what would be your choice? Ideally, try both freediving and scuba diving! In my opinion, if you want to explore reef up to 15 meters deep – Freediving is a much better choice. But if you are planning to explore a dive site 25-30 meter deep, then it is easy to do with a scuba tank. If you are interested in underwater photography or videography, then again, having scuba tanks make your life easier. On the other hand, if you want to enjoy to be underwater and also combine it with a healthy lifestyle – Freediving is a better choice.
If you are interested in proper Freediving education click HERE 😉
What do you think about it? Stop reading for a second and let me know your opinion in the comments section at the end of this article!
Ok, let’s start with it – any activity is potentially dangerous. And I am not even talking about such activities as a base jumping or rock climbing. Walking on the busy street can be extremely dangerous, right?
However, if you follow the rules of this particular activity – risks can be dramatically minimized (don’t walk on a highway for example). And Freediving is not an exception. Follow simple safety rules and Freediving would be the safest water based activity!
But I would lie to you by saying that there are no risks in Freediving. Are they big? Let’s have a look.
It is going to be two parts about most common problems in Freediving.
First one about – LMC/BO/SWB
And second is going to be about lung squeeze, DCS/lung overexpansion/gas narcosis
Before we start – it is very unlikely that you are going to experience it on your Freediving course (especially on the first level – chances close to zero). But with the experience, you are going to be not that much distracted with a high level of CO2 (you still have contractions, but you are going to be more ok with them) and able to hold your breath longer and longer. And longer your breath hold is, less O2 it is going to be at the end of it. And less O2 you have more likely problems can happen.
Let’s say a Freediver decide to do his PB (personal best attempt). He is relaxed and enjoys his breath hold. At some point, contractions (involuntary movement of respiration muscles) will start. But he is still relaxed. He has them before and he is not freaked out, everything is under control. Contractions become harder and harder, but he is still holding his breath. At some moment, contractions became unbearable and Freediver comes up. But because the level of O2 reached the critical level, there is a chance of LMC (loss of motor control). What happens with this Freediver if he has an LMC?
He is still conscious; the heart is working, blood still circulating through the body. But the partial pressure of O2 is too low for normal functioning. He is not fainting, but close to it. Signs can be small (blue lips, light uncontrolled eyes or head movement), or big (body shaking and losing coordination). What happens when a freediver lose coordination while he is in the pool? Big problem…
And this is why your buddy is very important! Safety buddy is going to grab the Freediver, provide support, remove a mask from the face (or nose clip) and encourage him to breathe!
HOW TO AVOID LMC?
No hyperventilation before any breath hold
Don’t push too much (be moderate with your progress and don’t do big jumps in it)
Secure support (float, pool’s edge, your buddy arm) after surfacing
Proper recover breathing after stop holding.
Don’t do PB’s if you are dehydrated, too tired, you haven’t slept well, it is your second training per day etc
AND NEVER FREEDIVE ALONE!
HOW TO DEAL WITH LMC?
Support your buddy, making sure airways about the surface
Remove mask/nose clip
Encourage to do recovery breathing
Be ready to deal with BO
If you have an LMC, take it as a lesson, stop training for at least a day, analyze why it happened and don’t repeat the same mistake ;-)
What is BO? In Freediving we call it a situation when Freediver lost his conscious due to hypoxia (insufficient supply of O2) during the long breath hold. There is a difference between hypoxia and anoxia – complete deprivation of O2 supply. Why it is important to understand this difference?
Anoxia is extremely dangerous because some of our tissues could not survive without O2 supply even a couple of minutes (brain as an example). During hypoxia there is still available O2, but not enough for normal body function. And the protective mechanism launched – Freediver experience blackout.
HOW TO AVOID BO?
Don’t do hyperventilation
Do recovery breathing after any breath hold
Avoid pushing too much your limits (especially if you are a beginner)
Don’t depend on the watch, if you feel that you need to stop – stop!
Have enough time to recover between Freediving sessions
Don’t train when you dehydrated
AND NEVER FREEDIVE ALONE!
HOW TO DEAL WITH BO?
Learn rescue skills under professional supervision
Practice these skills
If your buddy has a BO – don’t panic, you can easily recover him
If you have a BO – stop your training for today
If there is a chance that you inhale water – look for a medical checkup
As you know, BO happens when there is not enough O2 for normal buddy’s function (when a partial pressure of O2 below a certain level).
When we are diving, pressure changes very fast, compared to the surface. When we are only 10 meters deep, pressure increase twice (2 atm), 20 meters – three-time (3 atm) and so on. Same happens with the pressure of any gases in your body, include O2.
Deeper you go higher partial pressure of O2 you have.
But now you turned 😉 And while you are ascending, you are still burning down O2, but now also pressure decreasing. And on the last 10 meters, it is going down twice. And this is where the majority of SWB happens (some of them even on the surface).
It is almost the same recommendations which I wrote about how to avoid BO! let’s repeat
Don’t do hyperventilation
Do recovery breathing after any breath hold
Avoid pushing too much your limits (especially if you are a beginner), in case of SWB – don’t progress with depth too fast
Don’t depend on the watch/depth, if you feel that you need to turn – turn!
Have enough time to recover between Freedives (apply the rule, surface interval 3-4 longer then dive time or more conservative time)
Limit the number of deep dives per session
Don’t train when you dehydrated
AND AGAIN – NEVER FREEDIVE ALONE!
Rescue skills in open water
What to do if your buddy has SWB
Reach the diver
Bring to the surface
Remove the weight belt if necessary
Blow-tap-talk for 10 seconds
2 rescue breath and ask for help
Start moving the diver to the boat/shore, providing 1 rescue breath every 5 seconds
First of all the term, Mammalian Dive Reflex is a little bit misleading term since not only mammals have it. So, let’s call it Dive Reflex or Dive Response or just DR 😉
Doesn’t matter, you are complete beginners or you already Freediving Instructor, Dive Reflex is your best friend!
A bit of history. Many years ago one French doctor made a statement that man could not dive deeper than 50 meters because the thoracic cavity is going to be crushed (some sources say 30-40 meters). Why? Because every 10 meters pressure increasing with 1 atm and when you are 50 meters surrounding pressure already 6 atm. And it is huge. But back to those time, no one was even trying to do it (ok, there a couple of exceptions). But in 1961 Enzo Maiorca dived to this depth and survive! Why? Because of the blood shift! And blood shift is a part of DR!
DR is activated when our face is cooled (by cold water for example) or when we hold our breath. When we do both – even better!
This reflex helps us to hold our breath longer and dive deeper! How? By:
Peripheral vasoconstriction and blood shift
1. DR is responsible for spontaneous activation of Apnea. If we place infant underwater (don’t ask me why) their windpipe would spontaneously close (by vocal cords) and this prevents water from entering the lungs. This reflex quite strong upon 6 months and then start to disappear. My assumption – around this age baby start learning how to crawl and probably decide that Dive Reflex is not that important for them! Does it happen because of our genetic memories of our aquatic past or because nine months before birth our natural environment is liquid? Who knows 😉
2. DR causing bradycardia – slowing your heart rate (HR). Quite common is 10-30 % reduction of HR for Freedivers (up to 50% or more in highly trained athletes). There are stories with even more impressive results, but let’s skip them now. Sounds impressive? How about this – laboratory rats have 80% decreases in HR while submerged underwater!!
Bradycardia is usually followed by tachycardia (increase in HR) after breath hold is over.
Why bradycardia is important for Freediver? Well, it is a protective mechanism of our body, it decreases O2 consumption, which means we can hold our breath hold longer without risk of losing the conscious! It also compensates the result of peripheral vasoconstriction effect (which cause increased blood pressure)
3. Next benefit of DR is a peripheral vasoconstriction and blood shift
Back to 1974 study showed that during dives to 40-60 meters, the amount of blood in the thorax (chest cavity) increased more than twice! And this reflex was called (pretty obviously) blood shift.
Peripheral vasoconstriction (PV) is a narrowing of the blood vessels to reduce blood flow to non-vital organs (such as skin or inactive muscles, for example) ensuring that oxygen-sensitive organs like the brain or heart receive enough O2 for normal function. In another word PV is a redistribution of blood to vital organs from peripheral organs. PV also induces anaerobic metabolism, with an increase in lactic acid as a by-product. Interesting that the release of lactic acid into the bloodstream doesn’t occur (or at least significantly reduced) until Freediver resurface (at least this is what experiments on laboratory rats show).
For all of the above, you can say that blood shift (BS) happens (blood moves from non-vital organs to vital organs) when PV happens, but quite common Freedivers are using the term BS when describing the movement of the blood to the chest cavity to protect it from increasing pressure while diving deep.
Due to PV certain amount of blood pushed to the lungs, the capillaries in the lungs receive a greater blood flow and increase in size, compensating for space lost in the lungs due to increasing of ambient pressure. The lungs become filled up with the blood, which is reabsorbed when Freediver ascending.
IMPORTANT! Blood shift not pushing the blood into alveoli! It pushes it into capillaries around alveoli!
Why PV is very important for Freedivers? Well, it helps to move O2 from organs which can survive longer without it, to organs which are in constant demand of O2. So, it helps us to hold our breath longer and dive deeper (by moving blood to the chest cavity).
4. And the last but not least benefit of DR is the spleen contraction. Spleen in the human body has two main functions – mechanical filtration of red blood cells (RBC) and as a part of the immune system. We are interested in the first function. About 240 ml of RBC’s can be held in the spleen and released when needed (due to hypoxia for example). When the contraction of the spleen happens oxygen-rich RBC’s gradually start their journey to circulatory system increasing O2 carry capacity of our blood (and helping us to hold our breath longer).
Interesting that spleen not recovering fast, even after an hour it is only partially recovered (however there are studies which show that spleen can be fully recovered in size in less than 20 minutes).
5. This is not a benefit, but still part of DR. Immersion diuresis. Yes, this is an explanation why while Freediving you want to pee much often! As you know part of DR is PV and it causes increased blood flow to the torso area and increased blood pressure as a result. Our body detects it and releases a specific hormone responsible for liquid regulations, which increase urine production. Don’t be embarrassed because of it! But make sure that this reflex doesn’t make you dyhadrated (drink enough before and after Freediving session).
6. Another side effect of DR is faster muscles fatigue. And again you can blame PV. When PV happens and blood moves away from your muscles, they start to work in an anaerobic way and produce more lactic. And even after you finish apnea, the effect does not disappear quickly (depends how long and intense your apnea was). Do you need proof? Try to do DYN bi fins 100 meters and 100 meters surface swim (with the same fins) and compare how do you feel.
If you have any question about Freediving, let me know in comments below!
What is the best way to learn how to hold your breath? Of course, it is signing up for Freediving course 😉 But if you couldn’t do it at this moment (or did it and forgot), here is a small review about it!
If you haven’t read my previous post about breathing in general – check it out here
So, any breath hold has 3 parts – preparation, breath hold itself and proper recovery after it.
So, the first part is relaxation breathing.
We can say there are two main types of relaxation breathing
First one, let’s call it “old school” relaxation breathing is when you are trying to slow down breathing rate by extending your inhale and especially exhale part. There is even recommendation – exhale twice longer than inhale (not sure why twice). Let’s be honest – it is a mild version of hyperventilation (if you extend your exhale over a period of time, you removing extra CO2 from your body). I think Goran Ccolak said in his interview to Freediving Café, that every breathing, which differs from tidal breathing is hyperventilation. The question is how big ;-).
Yes, you are going to feel that you need to breathe less and less. But if you remember, your respiration rate regulated by the amount of CO2, reduction of CO2 will cause a reduction in the breathing rate. But do you want to reduce your CO2 level? Just quick reminder – if your CO2 level is low then O2 delivery going to be not that effective (Bohr effect).
You also creating some resistance for your respiratory muscles, right? And it potentially won’t allow you to completely relax (this is my opinion).
The second type of relaxation breathing is a relatively new way of warm up. Instead of extending the duration of your exhale, do tidal breathing and then just 1-2 big breath in (with passive exhale) before actual breath hold. Same breathing what you have before you fall asleep. Still better to use diaphragm breathing for it though (it means that you still want to learn and practice it). Let’s say for two minutes you are doing tidal breathing. You relax your muscles and mind. Your heart rate will go down since you are more and more relaxed. And your CO2 level not going to be high as well. But at the same time, it is not going to be below the normal level for this particular level of activity.
I remember first time read about it on William Trubridge FB page (hope I am not wrong here) and then Alexey Molchanov said the same on a Deep Week in Amed, about his breathing routine before a dive.
And lastly, another Freediving champ Adam Stern was talking about this type of Breathing on one of his last video!
Questions are – what to do while you are holding your breath and what happens in your body?
The answer is – try to become as much relaxing as possible. Easy to say, hard to do. What I recommend for my beginner students is to “scan” their body during breath hold and check if their muscles relax or not.
Face muscles (especially around eyes and jaw), neck, shoulders, arms, belly area, hips, ankles. And then do it again and again. Sooner or later you can relax without such “scanning”, but in the beginning, it is VERY useful!
If you are a beginner, not tolerance for a high level of CO2 or low level O2 important. It would be later. Now, you need to learn one of the most important parts of Freediving – how to relax!
So, you finished your relaxation breathing, made a big breath in and start holding. You managed your relaxation and completely relaxed. But all functions of the body are still working. So, you are still producing energy and as a byproduct, producing CO2. At some point, the CO2 level reaches a certain level and your respiratory center (RC) will send your muscles to remove this CO2 from your body. And you have the first contraction (movement of your respiratory muscles).
And what happens at this moment with your O2 level? It is going low for sure, but you still have plenty of O2. Enough for every body’s cells. And you know that and this is why you are keep holding.
Another contraction, a little bit stronger. But you are a Freediver and RC not dictated you what to do anymore. So, you are keeping holding. RC disagrees with you and sending you another command to breathe. Another contraction. And another. And they become a bit tougher.
Ok, you decide to finally follow this command and finish your breath hold! How? By start doing recovery breathing!
Ok, last part, recovery breathing. Why do it? During your breath hold (static, dynamic or depth) you use some O2. Longer you hold your breath, more O2 you use. Less O2 you have, higher chance of LMC/BO/SWB.
But as you remember, you start feeling discomfort, not because of low O2, but because of high CO2. So, when you stop holding your breath, what is your main goal – reduce the level of CO2 or increase O2?
The second option is correct. During your recovery, you don’t care about the level of discomfort (level of CO2), you care about not to lose your conscious!
First, exhale doesn’t have to be full (passive exhale more than enough) followed by full quick inhale. And you repeat it 3-6 times (or longer if you need it). Some Freedivers also do a “hook” breath – it is when after full and quick inhale, you keep this air for a second before exhaling.
And don’t forget while you are doing recovery breathing it is much safer if you have a support – float, side of the pool or anything else.
Another important rule – do recovery breathe every single time, not only when it was “hard” dive. Even after very easy dive you need to do it – it will help you to create a very useful habit and put it on a subconscious level!
Thank you for reading! If you have Freediving friends, who might find this article helpful – feel free to share! And if you have any question about Freediving – please let me know in comments below!
Is it possible to have DCS for Freediver? Unfortunately yes…But at the same time, it is quite easy to put the risk at the minimum. At our school, we normally discuss in details this topic at PADI Master Freediver course, so here are our thoughts on this subject…
In scuba diving, when you are breathing compressed air underwater, your body is saturated more and more with Nitrogen (79% of the air is Nitrogen). The chain looks like this – you breathe in the compressed air from a scuba tank and now the pressure of N(Nitrogen) in your lungs more than in your blood, so, it going to your blood. And now in your blood pressure of N is higher than in your tissues, so, it is going to your tissues. Until you have an equal pressure of N everywhere (this is what we call saturation). And when you start coming up, opposite happens. Now pressure of N is smaller in your lungs, so the reverse process is happening – from your tissues N going to the blood and then to your lungs and then you exhale it. But it doesn’t happen that quickly. In some tissues, this process is slower than in others.
So, this is why when scuba divers coming up, they need to do it slowly (in this case N slowly coming from your body with every exhale) and they also need to have a long surface interval between dives (to release as much N from their body as possible before the next dive). And why they can spend the only a certain amount of time on certain depth (not to get too much N to their tissues).
If they violate these rules, they have a very good chance to have DCS! Without making it too complicated, DCS is when molecules of N combined in your blood (or tissues) in the form of a bubble and can cause very serious damage!
But why it can be an issue for Freediver?
Among the first, spearfishers who were shooting fish relatively deep (around 20 meters) noticed that after the long session they have symptoms which are commonly associated with “bends” (another word for DCS). So, imagine you dive to 20 meters. On the surface, you did big inhale and bring this air (and around 79% of it is nitrogen) to 20 meters, where the pressure is 3 times higher. So, the pressure of any gases inside your lungs (we call it partial pressure) going to be also 3 times higher. If the pressure is going to be higher in the lungs, then it will go to your blood and further to your tissues in the attempt to reach equilibrium. When you start your ascend, the reverse process will take place. But not 100% (some of our tissue need time to release N2). Some N2 will still be in your tissues. Very very small amount. Not a dangerous amount. But then you are going to do 50 dives more to this depth. And now you have much more N2 in your blood. And on your next ascent, it can forms bubbles and this is DCS….
There are also some predisposing factors which can increase the risk of DCS. Let’s name a few
High level of CO2
Not enough surface time
As you can see, spearfisher who is doing a long session with relatively deep dives and small recovery time has a very good chance to get DCS….What to do, if you are spearfisher? Limit duration of your spearfishing session, have enough rest between dives, use appropriate thermal protection, stay hydrated!
Ok, what about DCS for Deep Freedivers?
Let’s say you are one of the most famous Freediver of all time, Herbert Nitsh, and diving not to 20 meters but to 214 meters!! You make a big inhale as possible (don’t forget, around 79% of inhaling air is N2) and put it under a huuuuuge pressure of 21 atm (this is what you have at 200 meters). During your descent, this N2 from your lungs will come into your bloodstream and from there to your tissues.
And now you will start your ascent. It would be No Limit discipline and you are not going to use your muscles for going up (which is very good to reduce the risk of DCS), you are probably also not dehydrate it nor cold (which is also very good)
But you are quite fast for this huge amount of N2, dissolved into your tissues. The bubbles will form. But not big in the beginning. But when you ascent with the constant speed, they are going to increase in size (because the pressure is decreasing). How to prevent it? You need to slow down…And this is what Herbert did – he dramatically decreased his ascent rate after 50 meters (from 3 m/s to about 1 m/s). He also did some safety stop at 10 meters to make it even safer. And this is how he became The Deepest Man on Earth by making a dive to 214 meters!!
But later, when he was trying to beat his own record he lost his conscious on his way up and failed to do all of the above (safety stops and slow down his speed). As a result, massive DCS….Luckily (actually his story of recovery is almost like a miracle) he survived and recovered from it!
But if you are diving not that deep, let’s say to 40 meters; is it possible to have DCS? And the answer is yes… Last year Freediving legend William Trubridge got DCS during his routine training. I mean routine for him but crazy for all of us! Let’s have a look at it
William did 5 dives to 40 meters with “hangs”. Time of each dive was about 1.50, the surface time between dives only 2.15. As a result, after his 5th dive, William felt one of the symptoms of DCS – numbness in his leg. He went to a hospital and took special treatment for DCS there (pretty expensive!). This story has a lucky end as well, William completely recovered and competing again!
According to him, he done this type of training before (even harder) and never had any problem.
So, what is the problem here and how to avoid it? The dives were not too deep and not too long (especially if you are World Champion). But the recovery time was quite short.
So, if you are just starting freediving – this is a basic advice – DO have long surface intervals. How long? Here a couple of ways how to count it
The time between your dives should be 3-4 times longer than your dive time. For example, if your dive time 30 secs, then have a rest for at least 2 mins
Divide dive time by 5 and the result is a time in minutes. If you dive to 40 meters, have a rest for at least 8 mins.
And be even more conservative – have even longer rest!
A few things which I would you to remember
First of all – symptoms of DCS. Type 1 DCS – skin rash on shoulders and upper chest, joint and limb pain. Type 2 DCS – peripheral tingling and numbness, unconsciousness, respiratory arrest and paralysis, coughing, feeling of air-starving.
Second – predisposing factors. Obesity, intense exercise less than 12 hrs before diving, age, fitness level, dehydration, injury and illness, alcohol, carbon dioxide, cold. Obviously, scuba diving before freediving is absolutely no-no!
Treatment for DCS – the patient should lay down and breath 100% O2. Transportation to a recompression chamber should be organized as quickly as possible.
And one more times how to avoid DCS
Don’t freedive after scuba diving
Have enough surface interval
Don’t ascent very fast from the deep dive
Reduce the number of deep dives in one session
Limit the duration of the dive session
Stay hydrated and use an appropriate wetsuit
Don’t consume alcohol and don’t do intense exercise before a session
Stay safe, enjoy Freediving and educate yourself about the activity which you love!
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Let’s start with understanding why we (as humans) breathing. Yes, we all know that we need O2 (oxygen) for our life and this is one of the main functions of our respiratory system – bring O2 to our tissues.
But do you know that our breathing rate is mainly regulated by the amount of CO2 (partial pressure of CO2) in the blood, not O2. We even have a specific part of our brain responsible for this regulation. It has a very difficult name – Medulla Oblongata. This “thing” is responsible for such automatic functions as breathing, heart and blood vessels function, swallowing, digestion.
Why is it important to know, especially for beginner Freedivers?
Well, we all know that some of our tissues couldn’t operate without O2 even a short amount of time. For example – our brain. And when beginners hold their breath and feel the desire to breathe, they start to be nervous because they are thinking the level of O2 critically low! And it is becoming dangerous!
And – if not, why they feel uncomfortable?
Let’s say you are holding your breath for a minute.
Even if you are relaxed as much as possible, you still produce some energy. And as a result, produce some CO2. And when your CO2 reaches a certain level you want to breathe (actually you want to remove excess CO2 level). In Freediving quite often we use the term “urge to breathe”. So, how are going to bring new air to your lungs? What is the process looks like?
Our main respiratory muscle is our diaphragm. It is a big muscle between your chest (thoracic) cavity and abdominal cavity. When you need to inhale – your diaphragm going down (contraction of the diaphragm), chest volume increase and the air suck in. Reverse process happens when you exhale – you relax your diaphragm and it is coming to its normal position, pushing the air out of your lungs. Intercostal muscles (muscles between your ribs) involved as well, helping you make a bigger inhale or exhale.
And now let’s come back to urge to breath. When you are holding your breath and have an urge to breathe – it is simple contractions of your respiratory muscles (diaphragm for example), which are trying to remove CO2 from your body.
As a beginner, you want to stop holding your breath after you have a contraction, or a few seconds later (5-15 is a good start). But with the practice, you can hold your contractions much longer. And let me remind you, that contractions are not connected with the level of O2, it is a simple response of your respiratory system for a high level of CO2. So, you are safe when you have them, don’t be scared.
But what exactly happens with the air, when it comes to our lungs? You inhale fresh air (only 21% is O2, 78,96% N and 0.04 is CO2) and it starts its journey into your circulatory system! There is a natural dead space (no one dies, there is just no gas exchange) on its way (nose/mouth + trachea + bronchi + bronchial), so when air reach your alveoli, it has less O2 than you when you inhale.
Your alveoli are tiny compartments where gas exchange happens between your lungs and your blood (capillaries). The wall of alveoli is thin enough for gas (gas traveling both directions, from alveoli to blood vessels and back) and not thin enough for liquid (this is why blood normally couldn’t penetrate into your respiratory system).
So, from alveoli, O2 moves into your blood, where most of it binds with the hemoglobin and use it as a taxi to get to different tissues (your muscles for example) through arteries.
And within your tissues, cells use O2 for producing energy and also creating CO2 as a byproduct (as well as water). After CO2 produced, it goes to your blood (partially connected with hemoglobin, but mostly dissolved into the plasma – bicarbonate) and then going through veins to your lungs. Then again, through gas exchange, CO2 penetrates to your alveoli, going all the way up to your mouth and then you remove it through exhaling! This how we are breathing!
Pretty simple, right?
A few words about the importance of CO2 in our body.
If CO2 is just a byproduct of producing energy and our “urge to breath” depends on it, might be we need to remove it from our system before a breath hold activity? And then can stay underwater longer?
Probably same thought had freediving pioneers when they were doing hyperventilation (which is a big no-no nowadays). Basically, hyperventilation (or over breathing) is the process when you ventilate your lungs too fast.
What happens when you do hyperventilation – you reduce the level of CO2 in your body, which cause increasing pH of your blood (blood become more alkaline – respiratory alkalosis) and it triggers Bohr effect – now a connection between hemoglobin and O2 becomes stronger and exchange between capillaries and tissues becomes harder. In simple words – even if enough O2 present in the blood, it is much harder to deliver it to tissues. Since the human brain is very sensitive to the lack of O2, as a result of hyperventilation we have symptoms – dizziness, tingling in the lips, hands or feet, headache, weakness. Or in a worst case scenario – unconsciousness (our brain simple protect us from further depleting of O2).
So, CO2 playing an important part in keeping pH of our blood constant (7.34-7.45), so-called acid-base homeostasis
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