Training for freediving – Exercises to improve your mental and physical fitness
If you would like to improve as a freediver it is beneficial to work out a training plan where you can set your goals and keep track of how you are doing. Freediving trainings involve a mix of in-water, dry, gym, and mental exercises. Combining all these factors is the key to improve as a freediver so let’s look at some examples in these different areas and discuss how/why they can help.
The most obvious training for freediving involves being in the water. Regardless of your freediving goals, the best way to get better at any sport is just to spend a lot of time doing it.
Doing some pool training can be beneficial for you whether you are a pool diver, a depth diver, or just a recreational diver. Practicing freediving in the pool allows you to work on your technique (finning/swimming) while being in shallow, safe, and calm waters.
It also helps to improve your CO2 tolerance if you go regularly and perform breath holds in static sessions or while swimming lengths. Of course, always make sure you have a trained freediver there with you for safety if you are performing breath holds in the pool.
Depth & Line Training
Depth diving on a line is great training that allows you to work on your diving technique. It also helps you to become adapted to the added pressure on your lungs at depth.
As we dive deep, the pressure of the water around us increases and our lungs compress. You can’t wake up one day and just decide to try your luck at diving to 300ft/90m+ deep. You must start shallow and gradually add a little depth at a time to give your body a chance to adapt to the environment.
Depth diving regularly will also help you to gain confidence and learn what you are capable of in freediving. Unlike diving in the pool, you are not able to just pop your head up for air any time you like, so such trainings will help you learn properly equalize, get to know your limits and progress sensibly. Confidence will grow as you see yourself gradually adding more and more depth to your personal best.
Recreational freediving can be enjoyed by people of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. But to excel at freediving it helps to be physically fit. Exercise comes in many forms; there are anaerobic exercises that involve short, high intensity exercises that use energy from the muscles. While aerobic exercises use oxygen to create energy, some people call this exercise ‘cardio’.
There’s no set way to train for freediving fitness so it’s good to find one that you enjoy and can keep up long term. Here are a few exercises that can be beneficial for freediving training:
Swimming is great aerobic exercise for freediving as it improves all-round physical fitness; it encourages cardiorespiratory endurance and works out many areas of the body, while also allowing you to work on your swimming technique.
Running or jogging is another aerobic exercise that can improve cardiorespiratory endurance and help improve bone strength. What’s more, running is an excellent form of training if you need to get rid of the extra weight you’ve gained during the holidays!
Cycling is a low-impact aerobic exercise that improves cardiorespiratory endurance, burns fat, and strengthens the lower body.
Yoga and pilates are anaerobic exercises that encourage better balance as well as flexibility which is hugely beneficial for freediving with ease. These exercises also help to strengthen the whole body, especially the core.
Lifting weights is an anaerobic exercise activity that you can practice to improve strength, speed up metabolism, and improve heart health.
HIIT (high intensity interval training) is anaerobic exercise that burns calories, and improves strength, power, agility, and endurance.
Many martial arts involve breathwork and mindfulness which go hand-in-hand with freediving. They also improve balance, flexibility, and give a good workout with a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercises.
Jump rope is anaerobic and can improve cardiorespiratory endurance, strengthen bones and muscles, burn fat, and improve coordination.
IF you are an adrenaline junky and look for an exciting way of working your body, try rock climbing. It is an anaerobic workout for the body as well as the mind as it involves planning and strategy, all while improving strength in the core, upper limbs and your stability.
There are various dry exercises that can be practiced to improve your freediving. A few examples include:
Stretching or practicing yoga regularly can improve flexibility which is very beneficial to freediving. Being flexible allows you to move more easily in the water, which will make the dive feel less difficult and lead to longer breath hold times.
Performing lung stretching exercises can help improve your lung capacity and will reduce your risk of having a lung squeeze (lung barotrauma) as you start to dive deep. They can help your lungs to become more flexible and better prepared to handle pressure. A freediving or yoga instructor will be able to teach you some lung stretches, and there are instructional videos online.
Many freedivers struggle with their equalization. There are different techniques to equalize the ears for freediving but the most common and effective way is by performing the Frenzel maneuver (contracting the throat to equalize the ears).
Some people do this naturally, but some people will naturally perform something called Valsalva equalization (pushing with the abdominals to equalize the ears) which might work fine on the surface but can become very difficult to perform at depth.
With some practice and instruction you can soon switch techniques to ensure you are always using Frenzel to equalize, but this requires some practice on dry land before taking it to depth.
As you become a more advanced freediver you might also start to consider Mouthfill which is an equalization technique used by deep divers, this can also be tricky to master and requires a lot of dry practice.
Equalizing successfully is essential to getting deeper and freediving with ease, even world record holders still practice dry equalization training.
Dry static apnea
You don’t have to get wet to practice your static breath holds. By performing regular dry static apnea you can gradually extend your CO2 tolerance and become more comfortable with contractions.
Some freedivers will perform breath holds while walking, to increase CO2 tolerance, as you will feel the urge to breathe quicker than if you stay still. It is a good exercise to extend your breath hold time.
Freediving involves as much mental strength as it does physical strength. Some would argue even more so.
To advance in freediving you must be confident in your abilities, trust yourself to stay calm at depth, and have a healthy and distraction-free mind while diving. These are qualities that must be trained just like your muscles, and they take time to master. Here are some ways to encourage a strong mind for freediving:
Not being relaxed when freediving can lead to lung squeezes, make you fail equalize or even blackout, so it really is important to leave your stress on dry land.
A key part of relaxing for freediving involves breathwork; freedivers will take time to ‘breathe up’ before a dive by performing slower breaths into their belly to become relaxed.
Breathwork can be practiced regularly as part of dry training for freediving, as well as to improve your breathing in day-to-day life. Breathwork for freediving should not involve hyperventilation, which can postpone the urge to breathe underwater and lead to dangerous blackouts.
One of the greatest benefits of freediving is that it helps release stress. Practicing meditation, much like breathwork, is another excellent way to reduce anxiety, enhance self-awareness, and promote emotional health.
Eating healthy can reduce your risk of health conditions and it can also make you feel more energized. It’s best not to dive on a full stomach so many freedivers find that their eating habits improve as they train for freediving; they eat healthier and lighter meals with more vegetables and nutrients.
Following a good diet will help keep your body in good shape which will make freediving feel easier, and it will make your mind stronger because you will feel more confident and energized.
Visualization is a tool that is used by many freedivers to prepare for deep dives or competition dives. It is a form of meditation where you visualize every part of the dive, you see it all in your mind from start to finish and imagine it going perfectly.
You try to picture how you are going to feel at each stage of the dive; how it will feel to breathe-up, how the duck dive will go, how your equalization will go, how the freefall will feel, how you’ll turn at the bottom, and all the steps of getting back to the surface. You can even visualize your surface protocol if you are diving in a competition.
Visualization can help you to feel confident and prepared for everything you have to do and everything you might feel. It helps you to feel relaxed and ready, and it helps you to keep focused on the dive and nothing else.
Inspired? Pin It!
AG is a certified diver and freediver who started to explore the underwater world in 2005. He enjoys sharing his experience of the best freediving destinations and equipment tips as well. Follow him on IG!