We already covered why you should learn freediving from a certified instructor, but you might be wondering what to actually expect from a certified freediving course. Certified freediving organizations (such as AIDA, SSI, Molchanovs, PADI, RAID, PFI, etc.) are internationally recognized organizations that have developed thorough education systems and focus heavily on safety and knowledge. There are independent instructors or freedivers, teaching on their own, that are not certified with these agencies, but you may want to reference the article above on whether or not you should take a non-certified freediving course. Often, if you go to a freediving center and want to train with them, they will require proof of certification, and will not take non-certified divers out, so keep that in mind when you are choosing where to take your first freediving course.
So what should you expect from a certified freediving course?
Theory is something that not everyone may look forward to but is a genuinely interesting part of freediving. Theory sessions in beginner courses explain how to relax at the surface, take a full breath, some physiology, proper technique, different disciplines in freediving, and most importantly, safety. Freediving is considered by many to be an extreme sport, even though freedivers themselves know that with proper training and self-awareness (and always a certified buddy!), freediving is very safe. Theory is the meat and potatoes of freediving, and it is the key to progression, safety, and technique. Most certified freediving courses require you to pass an exam relating to the theory you learned, so make sure to listen/read thoroughly and study on your own time.
Most certified courses will have you do some practice on land before even getting in the water. One important thing to learn in the dry is how to breathe properly when preparing for a breath-hold. Certified freediving courses normally teach what hyperventilation is and why we do NOT do it before a breath-hold. Practicing how to take your final breath before a breath-hold is another critical part of the dry session, as a freediving course teaches you the most efficient way to fill up your entire lungs and store as much oxygen as possible. Recovery breathing, the way to properly end a breath-hold, is also something that will be taught as a critical safety concept. Other items that may be included in the dry session is how to equalize using the Frenzel technique, simple stretches, and breath-holds on land while laying on your back so that you can feel what contractions (the urge to breathe) are and how to relax through them. This extra breath-hold practice helps you to gain confidence before you even step into the water.
Pool/Confined Water Session
Pool/confined water sessions are where you learn the basics of static, dynamic, buddying, and rescue, along with a swim test. You will go over how to enter into and exit out of a static breath-hold (a breath-hold performed floating face-down and unmoving at the water’s surface), perform the static breath-hold requirement, learn how to act as a buddy to someone training static, and rescue techniques. For the dynamic part of the session (swimming horizontally in the pool on one breath with fins), the instructor will focus on technique. There should be a lot of emphasis on learning the proper push-off, turn, and streamlined finning technique and body position, as well as completing the requirement of your organization, buddying, and rescue.
Open Water Sessions
After you have gained some confidence and practiced your breath-hold and finning technique in the pool, it will be time to go out on the buoy and start line-diving. Equalization and comfort are the primary areas of focus for the first session, which means you will start out training free immersion (pulling up and down the line) while slowly increasing the depth and monitoring the ease of equalization. After learning how to duck dive, you will start training constant weight (finning up and down the line), applying the same techniques you learned in the pool from your dynamic session while equalizing. Once depth and equalization become comfortable for you, the focus will switch to learning the proper turn, executing the depth requirement, learning how to buddy someone who is diving on the line, and practicing different rescue scenarios (at the surface and at depth).
There are students who party non-stop during their open water scuba diving courses and still manage to pass, but be warned – freediving is much more physically and mentally demanding than scuba diving! Relaxation, confidence, and good technique are essential to freediving, which means that a good night’s rest is mandatory. It is also a good idea to drink lots of water, especially before and after any water sessions, and to try to avoid eating 2 hours before any breath-hold activities. Keep your meals light so that you avoid feeling heavy, practice a ton of dry equalization if you need it, and learn at your own pace (as in avoid comparing yourself to other students in your course).
Whether or not you pass the course, you will still have acquired a mountain of knowledge, technique, and safety skills under your belt, and most agencies offer students up to one year to pass the requirements and attain the certification.
Remember to always train with a certified buddy and never dive alone!