The Role of Technology & Data: the Future of Freediving

For the past few years Vertical Blue has shown its thought-leadership around adopting technology to benefit its athletes, by embracing the use of a pulse oximeter in its annual freediving competition. Using a powerful, wireless monitor called the “MightySat”, the Vertical Blue staff have been able to measure how much oxygen each athlete’s blood carries relative to the overall percentage that would be possible in the body (otherwise known as Oxygen Saturation).

New World Record Holder Sayuri Kinoshita of Japan places her finger into a MightySat for monitoring.

The “MightySat” also provides the rate of a person’s heartbeat and their respiration rate — the number of breaths taken per minute. In the past, it has been difficult to measure an athlete’s body, either as it was in motion or during extreme conditions, such as freediving; but with the advent of portable devices and an iPhone App that tracks data and offers trending information, Masimo, the manufacturer of the “MightySat” has created an incredibly important stream of data for analysis. Monitoring all of the freedivers before and after each performance is creating a baseline that will grow as the practice continues.

The Masimo “MightySat” and it’s companion interface on the App for iPhone6

“When I initially started to work on this technology, I was focused on improving the accuracy associated with pulse oximeters. I never imagined that it would one day be used by elite athletes in this way.” said, Joe Kiani, co-inventor of “Measure through Motion Pulse Oximetry” & Founder of Masimo. “We are tremendously proud of the Medical & Safety teams at Vertical Blue 2016 and look forward to seeing the data from the divers. I congratulate all of the competitors on the incredible number of National & World Records set this year!”

Whether it is for freediving, or any other cutting-edge sport, maintaining oxygen levels is of great importance in relation to an athlete’s overall performance. When you take a breath in, you are distributing the oxygen that is in the air you breathe, into the lungs. There in the lungs the oxygen passes into the blood where the majority of the oxygen attaches to your hemoglobin – a protein located inside the red blood cell. The oxygenated blood then circulates to the tissues, so maximizing a healthy lung function is integral for optimizing performance.

The Masimo safety divers escort Sofia Gomez of Colombia up on her CWT ascent (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

“At Vertical Blue, safety comes first,” said William Trubridge, founder of Vertical Blue Freediving School & Competition. “Technology helps provide empirical data to guide decisions. For example, our AIDA judges & medical staff will advise a diver to abstain from an attempt, if they observe that oxygen numbers are not what they should be. It helps the freedivers themselves make better decisions when they see the data. Knowing when to rest is just as important as knowing how to train hard. At some point, we hope the data collected from the “MightySat” can be used to give us more insight on when it is ok to push the envelope, and when it is not. Data is important for any high performance sport but especially in freediving.”

Kiwi and #VB2016 host William Trubridge has his stats taken before a dive.

As any competitive freediver knows first-hand, and as research shows, the first thing to happen when the brain is not fully oxygenated is the loss of motor skills or proper coordination. When the brain is not receiving enough oxygen, the heart rate will increase in an attempt to delivery more oxygen. Stress enters the body as the heart rate goes up and mental resources for peak performance goes down. Oxygen also plays an important role in muscle metabolism, especially during exercise. Low oxygen saturation will diminish an athlete’s muscles ability to fire.

Dr. Stig Severinsen, consultant to the Medical & Safety Team of #VB2016 and author of Breatheology”, said:

“Any endeavor is dangerous if safety is not made a priority. In high-performance sports like freediving, this is amplified. Freediving has grown in popularity as more people look to test their own physical limits but safety should never take second place. Risks in freediving include lung squeeze, black out, eardrum rupture, narcosis and more.  At #VB2016 we monitored every freediver before and after each dive (with the MightySat) to get their oxygen saturation, pulse rate and respiration rate. This data helped us determine how they were doing during the 11 day competition. This data will also be sent to Masimo for analysis and further study.”

Aolin Wang of China checks in with Dr. Stig after a target depth performance to, have his oxygen levels assessed.

Stay tuned to DeeperBlue.com as the data set grows and additional reports on the analyses of these data become available.