Monday, April 15, 2024

Mastering the Art of Freediving: Top 10 Techniques for Success

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The first time you saw a freediver, whether it was in real life or in a video, they probably seemed less than human, right? After all, how can a regular human woman swim 213m (699ft) in a pool without fins like Poland’s Julia Kozerska or dive 136m (446ft) deep in a monofin like Russia’s Alexey Molchanov?

Well, maybe those athletes are more dolphin than human.

However, within the Molchanovs Freediving Education system, for example, the freediving instructor’s breath-hold requirement is 4 minutes, while the depth requirement is 40m (131ft). Those may seem like crazy numbers at first, but guess what? They’re very achievable for normal humans!

Remember, freediving is a sport; to become better at a sport, you must learn the right techniques and train the required skills. Keep reading to find out the top 10 techniques for freediving success!

It’s very important to note that you learn all of the techniques listed below in a certified freediving course. Reading blogs/articles and watching videos on freediving to learn freediving techniques can NEVER replace learning from a professional who can watch over you, correct you in real-time, and keep you safe throughout your learning experience.

Read More: Find a certified freediving instructor

Breathing techniques

A freediving instructor coaching a student through relaxation breathing before a breath-hold.
A freediving instructor coaching a student through relaxation breathing before a breath-hold.

Relaxation breathing

Relaxation breathing is how you breathe while preparing for your dive.

How do you perform relaxation breathing? It’s easy – think of how you breathe when reading a book in bed. There are no extra-long exhales or counting the inhale duration; it’s simply how you breathe when you’re calmly sitting still and not thinking about it!

Recovery breathing

Recovery breathing is a specific breathing technique after a breath-hold is finished. It is a very important part of freediving safety and involves:

  1. A quick inhale
  2. Pressing your lips together momentarily
  3. Passively exhaling against slightly pursed lips
  4. Repeating two more times (or more) if necessary

With this breathing method, you quickly restore oxygen levels while exhaling excess carbon dioxide that’s been building up in your body during your breathhold. Even when you don’t feel like you need to recover breathe, you should do so anyway to make it a habit!

Never hyperventilate

If you’ve seen hyperventilation and freediving discussed in the same sentence – ignore it!

While some experienced competitive freedivers may use hyperventilation, normal freedivers should focus only on relaxation breathing. Hyperventilation raises your heart rate, reduces the amount of oxygen available to your body, and can make you black out (lose consciousness) earlier and without warning.

Relaxation

Body scan

The body scan is one of the most effective relaxation exercises for freedivers! Just follow the steps below:

  1. In a lying-down position, limit all movement and close your eyes.
  2. Imagine a warm, glowing ball of white light floating above your head and then slowly through your body from your head to your toes.
  3. As the light slowly moves through you, feel the ‘warmth’ and consciously relax each part of your body the light touches (e.g., first your forehead, then your eyebrows and eyes, then your cheeks, lips, and jaw, etc.)
  4. Do this until you’ve worked your way through your entire body

The body scan is effective because it’s more effective for some people to relax individual parts of their body instead of trying to relax their entire body simultaneously.

Mindfulness

The art of mindfulness, or being fully present and aware of one’s sensations and feelings in the moment, is as useful in freediving as it is in real life.

When you are mindful during a dive, you can calm your mind, regulate emotions, and manage any stress, anxiety, and fear you feel. It’s common to feel your mind racing with thoughts, especially negative ones, before or during a dive.

Instead of trying to clear your mind (which is easier said than done), practicing mindfulness is much more achievable. Try out this 6 Mindful Minutes video from Train Freediving.

Visualization

Visualization in Freediving (Embodied Meditation) with Kate Middleton

Many top sports athletes do visualization to help them achieve their goals. You should do it too!

It involves imagining every detail and aspect of your performance, acting as a ‘rehearsal’ for your future performance. You can even visualize things you struggle with on a dive (e.g., you bend your knees too much while kicking and, as you see this in your visualization, imagine yourself straightening your legs and kicking from your hips).

And the best part? You can use visualization in your bed before falling asleep! Try it out with this Visualization in Freediving video from Molchanovs Freediving.

Streamlining

When running for time or distance, do you ever lift your arms at your sides like an airplane? No!

This would slow you down, and the same is true for freediving. We want to be as hydrodynamic as possible so that every bit of energy we put into pulling and kicking translates into efficiency. So when you are diving, make sure that your:

  • Face is pointed straight ahead of you (you can also slightly tuck your chin toward your chest if that’s more comfortable – just never look up during a dive!)
  • Arms are at your sides and touching your thighs when they are not in use
  • Legs are kicking forward and backward with equal force and distance
  • Toes are pointed
  • Freefall is parallel to the line

The best way to check your streamlining is to have your buddy take a video of you in the pool or open water.

Equalization

On your descent during a freedive, there are 3 air spaces you must equalize:

  • Ears
  • Sinuses
  • Mask

Unless you are sick, your sinuses and ears will equalize when you perform the Frenzel maneuver (see below). But your mask must also equalize—if not, you risk a mask squeeze, which is also known as facial barotrauma. Avoid this by releasing your fingers from your nose while equalizing every time you feel the mask pressing into your face.

If you can’t equalize your mask or sinuses because you’re sick, you should pack up and go home to rest—diving while sick is never a good idea! Remember that pain is not a part of freediving, so if you feel any pain while diving, turn around and return to the surface immediately.

Frenzel maneuver

How to Frenzel Equalize: an equalisation tutorial from a Professional Freediver

The Frenzel maneuver is not optional for beginner and intermediate freedivers – it is a must-learn technique!

Some people do it naturally, while others may need extra weeks or months to learn it. Don’t feel discouraged if you’re not getting it right away; there are YouTube videos online (check Adam Stern’s Frenzel tutorial and his common equalization problems and solutions video), some exercises you can follow (see this post on essential exercises for Frenzel), and plenty of coaches you can consult for personalized help (check out Harry Chamas from Freedive Passion).

Whatever you do, don’t give up on it!

Duck dive

The duck dive is the most effective way to descend efficiently underwater. Here are the steps:

  1. While lying horizontally on the water’s surface, take a full breath, remove your snorkel from your mouth, and pre-equalize.
  2. Reach your arms down toward the pool/ocean bottom and then bend your upper body down 90° at the waist.
  3. Raise your legs straight up into the air and then pull your arms down in a breaststroke movement.
  4. Pinch your nose to equalize and start finning down.

Remember that learning a duck dive can be difficult since you are most buoyant near the surface. Any pauses or inefficient movements will send you popping straight back to the surface like a cork. Overweighting is not an option – this may make it easier for you to descend, but will be dangerous on the ascent as you will be heavier at a critical part of your dive.

Check out how to perfect your way to duck diving!

Finning

Alenka Artnik of Slovenia WORLD RECORD 109 meters CWTB

If you’re finning as much/hard as you can, but using bicycle kicks, that’s a lot of energy for very little distance covered. That is why it’s important to be efficient in all of your movements while freediving, especially finning!

Remember to:

  • Keep your kicking amplitude small
  • Use equal force and distance on your front and back kicks
  • Extend your legs fully (there will always be a slight bend in the knees on the front kick, but it should never bend more than 45°)
  • Keep your toes pointed
  • Have your buddy film you on your dives so you can see your finning for yourself

An excellent example of the above bifin technique is Alenka Artnik’s 109m (358ft) CWTB World Record.

Buddy system

Do you know the number one rule in freediving? Never freedive alone – always with a certified buddy!

Yet there are still people that freedive or spearfish alone, saying “I don’t have a buddy,” “I know my limits,” or “I’m just doing easy dives.” These are not excuses and many experienced freedivers who knew their limits still died while solo freediving. Still, freediving is a safe sport when performed correctly.

So whether you are performing static or dynamic in the pool, training on a line, or snorkeling/fun diving on vacation, you must have a certified buddy who knows the signs of trouble and how to rescue you if necessary.

Remember, you don’t need a buddy when training breath-holds on dry land – just a soft surface (your bed is perfect)!

Training and consistency

How do you improve your technique, improve your safety skills, build confidence, and make progress? With training and consistency, of course!

If you took a freediving course in 2023 and plan on going on a diving vacation in 2024, do you think you’ll have retained all the knowledge and skills you learned? Probably not, and that’s okay. This is what training sessions are for, after all! And if you want to make progress and have extended breath-holds, dive longer distances, or go deeper in open water, consistency will help, too.

Read more about how to train for recreational freediving here.

Final thoughts

Freediver swimming underwater over vivid coral reef. Red Sea, Egypt
Freediver swimming underwater over vivid coral reef in the Red Sea, Egypt.

Remember that freediving is a skill, and when learning a new skill, you must have patience, determination, and a knowledgeable and professional instructor. So as long as you apply the above techniques, you too can become a freediver that makes a lasting impression on friends, families, and even strangers on social media.

Just please remember the number one rule in freediving: never dive alone, only with a certified buddy.

Kristina Zvaritch
Kristina Zvaritchhttps://www.instagram.com/kristinazvaritch
Kris is an AIDA/Molchanovs Freediving Instructor, freelance copywriter, and one of the founders of SaltyMind Freediving on the little island of Xiao Liuqiu, Taiwan. She has written 100+ articles centered around freediving for DeeperBlue.com and co-authored the Molchanovs Wave 4 - Competitive Freediving manual. When Kris isn't writing or teaching freediving, you can find her floating on a wave at the beach or struggling to learn Mandarin on land.

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