Training Tips and Techniques for the Newbie

I have had several inquiries lately from readers expressing their frustration over finding training information for freediving.

Especially for those who are beginners.

Although their are several excellent books and videos on the sport, few, if any, give practical advice in the realm of developing a training regimen that can lay a foundation for pursuing the sport of freediving further.

What I am going to outline below isn’t based upon scientific study, nor advice from the masters of the sport.

It has come from personal trial and error, practical experience and, yes, even a small dose of common sense. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, my training techniques allow me to participate at a level that is comfortable for the less than ideal diving conditions I experience in my home waters. Cold water(40 – 52 degrees Farenheit), marginal visibility, and usually choppy conditions along with having to wear a full 7mm suit and 32 lbs of lead around my waist.

This ain’t warm water diving for me folks.

Much of my training takes place in a pool, either in a smaller one of 10 meters in length (during the warmer part of the year) or at one of the 25 meter public pools (late fall through late spring).

Background on this training schedule:

I had become sedintary during the last 18 months due to the nature of my work (sitting in front of a computer as a website developer), and I was becoming the antithesis of what I was espousing with the sport of freediving. Thus I had to make a change. The following is the training regimen I have been following for the since the early part of July and have noticed an immediate improvement in my fitness level, both physically and mentally.

The Formula:

In the second week of July, I concluded that I needed to build an overall fitness level for being comfortable in the water. Intervals are the key to this, and since I have had past experience in training for long bike rides and had run track in high school, which had intervals has a core component, I knew I was going to struggle for awhile. After having stretched out my upper and lower body, This is the following workout I developed and currently and using:

For the first week (done 6 days, rest 1 day):

1) 2×50 meters swim (no equipment except swim goggles) – Initially, just doing this short length, my heart rate shot to 180 beats per minute.

2) Rest until heart rate drops to 125 beats per minute.

3) Repeat Interval.

As a note: I cannot at this point in time do a crawl stroke for the full length of the workout. I maintain it for as long as I can and then immedately change to a side stroke. So don’t feel as though you can’t do this – remember – this is for developing a habit of swimming everyday and getting your muscles acclimated to this style of exercise.

Week 2 (done 6 days, rest 1 day):

1) Repeat as week one, only increase the length of the intervals to 100 meters (instead of 50 meters)

Week 3 (Done everyday)

At this point I began to see a change in my fitness level. I was feeling better in the water and my recovery was taking less time.

1) 3×100 meter swim. Crawl stroke as long as possible, then switch to side stroke for the remainder of the set.

2) Bring heart rate down to 130 beats per minute

3) Repeat each set

By not allowing your heart rate to drop too much, you actually keep in a semi-aerobic level when you continue with the other sets.

As a side note – the side stroke isn’t a resting stoke while moving in the water. It is a switch a different stroke to continue my aerobic workout without having to stop due to muscle fatigue from performing the crawl stroke. I have found that when I begin to get out of breath, I can vary my breathing pattern while doing the side stroke to bring my heart rate more in line with my maximum target heart rate and still continue with my workout.

Weeks 4&5 (Done everyday)

This is where I finally reintroduced my dive gear back into the equation for developing my fitness specifically for freediving. Utilizing the gear during some of the workouts has increased my leg strength as well. The workout is broken into 2 seperate realms during the week. 4 days of equipment swimming and 3 days of swimming with no gear.

1) Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday

a) Equipment swim with Mask Fins and snorkel. Swim 400 meters without stopping. As you progress in this, increase the distance to 500, then 600, than finally up to as much as you want. Concentrate on good form with smooth even kicking to maximize the workout on the quads and hamstring muscle groups. You will feel fatigued in your legs initially if you are out of shape in any way. The formation of lactic acid in your legs will tell you how out of shape your legs are. You should have brought your heart rate up to near it’s maximum for your age and weight. After the equipment swim, rest by relaxing in the water and concentrate on bringing your heart rate down to near 100 – 120 bpm through deep steady breathing. Don’t hypervenelate – you’ll know by a feeling of light headedness.

**For this next skill, I strongly recommend training with a dive partner, due to the nature of breath hold training in a pool environment. This will help with possible SWB (Shallow Water Blackout)**

1) The next phase requires an additional piece of dive gear – a weight belt. Mine consists of between 2 and 3 – 5lbs weights (determined by whether I am wearing my 3 mm wetsuit in the pool or not) This skill develops the ability to swim underwater for a set distance, rest while in static apnea and then swim back – all while underwater and without surfacing for a breath. This initially may seem difficult, but as you continue, your underwater times will increase. The pool I am training in at this time is only 10 meters in length and its depth at the deep end is approx. 2 meters deep (7 feet). But I actually get to replicate quite closely my diving environment (I usually dive to between 30 and 40 feet).

Rest at the shallow end with your face in water, breathing through your snorkel. Take deep, slow breaths (taking advantage of the mamalian reflex). Bring your heart rate down to between 100 and 115bpm. In the last 5 seconds, inhale as deeply as possible, then drop down calmly and swim slowly and methodically to the deep end, equalizing your ears along the way (this takes me 20 seconds). I then rest on bottom of the deep end for 10-15 seconds. Turn around and swim as relaxed as possible back to the shallow end. When you surface, exhale forcefully and then inhale as deeply as you can. You’ll feel like that was too hard to repeat, more than likely gasping for your first few breaths. Don’t give up – It becomes easier.

Rest for 2 minutes at the surface and repeat.

After 2 – 4 attempts – you’ll see that you can hold your breath at the deep end for 20 – 30 seconds. Continue this cycle. When you reach 30 seconds comfortably, increase your rest time to 2 minutes 15 seconds. Continue with increased breath hold times of around 45 – 50 seconds. Then extend rest time to 2 minutes 30 seconds and increase your time again until you cannot hold your breath any longer than what you maxxed out at.

I am currently able to do this skill with my breath hold of 80 seconds at the deep end. If you take into account the 20 seconds each way swimming underwater in addition to maximum time for static apnea – this totals 2 minutes total breath hold. Not a record by any means, but considering the course of how I got to this point so quickly, not bad at all. And once again, this replicates an actual dive cycle when diving in open water.

Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday

Aerobic swimming. I now swim 1 set at 300 meters, and 2 sets at 100 meters. My swim time is actually increasing as you can see. I have never been able to swim this distance without fins, so I have acheived a personal best as well. Once again, this is to continue developing cardio vascular condition, which is necessary for efficicent blood transport through out the body.

As of 9/4/2000 – I am now able to swim 800 meters in my dive gear and 400 meters without.

This is my current workout solution for my hectic schedule. It usually takes between 20 minutes (regular swimming) & 60 minutes (equipment swim and apnea skills) to complete. It is by no means a scientific method of increasing your breath hold times…

I’m leaving that for another article in the near future.

It can, however, help many of you who have asked me about training and how to get started. I hope to hear from those who want to impliment this simple routine to get in shape for freediving.

And remember – this is only a guideline. Change it to suit your needs and to provide variety in your workout. Boredom is the biggest threat to maintaining a regular workout schedule.

Safe diving.

Cliff Etzel

Cliff is the former Freediving editor of DeeperBlue.com. He is now a freelance journalist and film-maker.

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