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Improve Freediving Performance with Breathwork: 10 Best Tips

Freediving is the most beautiful sport I’ve come across. It takes physical, mental and emotional strength and focus, and the benefits from practicing it are unlimited! Having said this, it does require physical and mental preparation. Freediving is not just about holding your breath and kicking down – it’s about mastering the art of relaxation, perfecting your technique, and pushing your limits in a safe and controlled manner. 

Here, we’ll explore 10 tips that can help you improve your freediving performance and take your freediving skills to the next level!

1. Practice Specific Breathing Techniques:

Breathing and breath control are crucial in freediving, and practicing proper breathing techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing and slow breathing can help increase your lung capacity and improve your ability to hold your breath for longer periods of time.

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing or deep breathing, is a breathing technique that involves using your diaphragm muscle to inhale and exhale air in a controlled way. We want to master our diaphragm so it does what we want it to do, rather than acting independently as a reflex of the body. 

The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle that can be found under our lungs. The diaphragm separates our chest from our abdomen.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing, you can follow these steps:

  1. Find any comfortable seated or lying position. I like to do it lying down so I can allow myself to relax completely into it.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other one over your belly.
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose, filling your lungs with air while allowing your belly to expand. You should feel your hand on your belly rise while the hand placed over your chest remains still.
  4. Exhale slowly through your nose, pushing out all the air while allowing your belly to contract. You should feel your hand on your belly lower as you exhale.
  5. Repeat this process for several breaths, focusing on the sensation of your belly rising and falling with each breath.

The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing include increased oxygen intake, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved lung function. By using your diaphragm to breathe, you can take deeper and more efficient breaths, which can help you relax and stay calm during stressful situations, such as a dive, or in any stressful life situation.

In freediving, diaphragmatic breathing is particularly important because it can help increase your lung capacity and improve your ability to hold your breath for longer periods of time. By practicing diaphragmatic breathing regularly, you can train your body to take in more oxygen and use it more efficiently, which can lead to improved performance and longer dives.

2. Work on your Equalization

Equalization is the process of balancing or compensating the pressure inside your ears and sinuses with the pressure outside. By mastering equalization techniques, you can prevent ear pain and discomfort while diving. If you don’t equalise your ears and ignore that pain, you can severely damage your ears, which will take a very long time to heal.

Frenzel equalization is a technique used in freediving to equalize the pressure in the inner ear and sinuses. This technique involves using the muscles in the throat to control the air pressure in the nasal passages and eustachian tubes.

Some people can Frenzel equalise intuitively, while for others it’s something to learn. If you don’t get it the first time, don’t worry, practice makes mastery. 

For a quick way to do Frenzel equalisation, you can follow these steps:

  1. Pinch your nose closed with your fingers.
  2. Close your mouth and exhale gently through the nose, you should feel some pressure building up in your ears.
  3. Use the muscles in the back of your throat to push air up towards your nose.
  4. As you “exhale” through the nose (you won’t be actually exhaling because your nose is pinched and your mouth is closed), use your throat muscles to create a small pressure bubble in the back of your nose. I like to imagine I’m lifting the back of my tongue, or crushing a marshmallow with the back of the tongue towards the soft palate.
  5. This will open up your eustachian tubes and allow the pressure to equalize.

The Frenzel equalization technique is different from the Valsalva maneuver, which involves forcing air into the nasal passages by closing the mouth and pushing air out from your lungs.

Frenzel equalization is considered to be more efficient and less strenuous on the body than the Valsalva maneuver, as it involves less air pressure and allows for more precise control of the pressure.

Practicing Frenzel equalization on dry land can help improve your ability to equalize your ears and sinuses while diving deeper. It requires practice and patience to master, but once you become comfortable with the technique, you’ll be punching depth in no time!

3. Practice Relaxation Techniques: 

Freediving requires a calm and relaxed state of mind. The more relaxed you can get, the more comfortable and beautiful your dives are going to be. Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, mantra repetition and visualization, just to name a few, can help you stay calm and focused during your dive. 

Here are some relaxation techniques that might come in handy:

Meditation: Meditation is a mental practice that involves focusing your attention on a specific object, sensatio, part of the body, thought, or activity to get to the most wonderful state of relaxation and mental clarity. Scientific studes all over the world have proven that regular meditation practices can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus, and maintain a calm and centered state of a zen mind in life, and for our purposes, during dives.

Visualization: Visualization is another mental technique that involves creating vivid mental images of positive outcomes, such as successful dives or overcoming challenges. By practicing visualization before a dive, you can help reduce anxiety and increase your confidence and motivation. I love to do my breathe ups on the buoy while visualizing my dive step by step: relaxing on the surface, doing the first pull and equalisation on the surface, then I visualize myself on every step of the dive, feeling my ears compensating the pressure, until I’m at the bottom of the dive, focusing on nice sensations, turning around at the bottom plate and coming all the way back up to do my recovery breaths.

Progressive muscle relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in your body to reduce tension and promote relaxation. It’s similar to Yoga Nidra. By systematically relaxing each muscle group in your body, you can release physical tension and achieve a deeper state of zen.

Yoga: Yoga is a physical and mental practice that involves a series of postures, breathing exercises, and meditation techniques to promote relaxation, balance, and flexibility. Practicing yoga regularly can help you develop a strong mind-body connection and improve your mental and physical resilience during dives. It will also aid your lung flexibility and give you some extra room to store air for your dives. Here are some ways to improve lung flexibility.

Breathing exercises: Breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing and slow exhalation, can help you regulate your breathing, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote relaxation. By practicing breathing exercises regularly, you can improve your lung capacity and control your breath during dives, which can help you stay calm and focused underwater. Here is a beautiful breathing technique vastly practiced in yoga: alternate nostril breathing. Here you can find a video on a very powerful relaxation technique called Heart Coherence.

4. Master your Physical Fitness: 

Physical fitness is essential in freediving as it is in any sport. It helps build the necessary strength and endurance to withstand the challenges of diving. Incorporating cardiovascular and strength training exercises into your routine can improve your overall fitness level.

For freediving, your body needs to be strong and flexible, as well as able to handle the intense pressures of diving.  You will get this from just freediving, your body will adjust slowly to changes in pressure and your lungs will become more flexible. Here are some tips for physical preparation:

Cardio Training

Freediving is an aerobic sport, which means it requires a lot of oxygen. To improve your ability to hold your breath for longer periods, you can engage in cardiovascular exercise regularly. Running, cycling and especially swimming are all great options.

Strength Training

Strength training is essential for building the muscles needed for freediving. Focus on building strength in your core, back, and legs. Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups are excellent for building these muscles. There are some conversations in the freediving world about how much muscle you should have to be most efficient in freediving. Muscles consume more oxygen than fat to maintain, so if you have very big muscles your body might consume more oxygen just maintaining them at resting heart rate. However, the world champion, Alexei Mochanov, is known for his strength training and developing great muscular strength for competition. 

Divers that compete in static apnea specifically try to lose as much muscle as possible before their competitions as a way to preserve oxygen.

In my opinion, however much oxygen it takes for muscle maintenance, it is important to work the muscles we are going to use for finning down the line, making our movements more efficient, but attempting a body-builder type of physique is not the best option. 

Flexibility Training

Flexibility is important in freediving as it allows you to move through the water with ease. Especially lung and core flexibility can be very handy, giving you extra space to carry oxygen down deep. Yoga, stretching, and Pilates are great ways to improve flexibility. Preparing your lungs and your body for diving in this way can prevent lung squeezes and other diving risks.

Breath-Holding Exercises

One of the best ways to improve your freediving performance is to practice breath-holding exercises, and exercises called oxygen tables and carbon dioxide tables. Start by holding your breath for short periods and gradually increase the duration over time. You can also practice apnea walks, where you hold your breath and walk around, to improve your ability to hold your breath while in motion.

Building up your carbon dioxide tolerance is great way to improve your breath holding. Here is how.

Breathwork Facilitator runs and high fives with other Breathwork trainers

5. Proper Hydration and Nutrition: 

Proper hydration and nutrition are critical for optimal performance in any sport, including freediving. While some divers prefer to dive on an empty stomach, when you are attempting deeper dives it is important to have energy to endure it. As odd as it sounds, my favorite thing to have before a dive is gelatin and peanut butter!

Drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet can help you maintain your energy levels and avoid fatigue during dives. Regardless of whether or not you are freediving, water intake is very important. However, there are some specific reasons why freedivers should drink plenty of water and get hydrated before and after their dives.

Dehydration can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms and sensations, such as headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. These symptoms can be dangerous when diving, as they can impair your ability to make good decisions and react fast in case of an emergency.

Drinking water can help to prevent the onset of a condition called “shallow water blackout”, which is a type of loss of consciousness that can occur when a freediver returns to the surface too quickly after a deep dive. One of the main causes of shallow water blackout is a low level of oxygen in the blood, which can be exacerbated by dehydration and physical fatigue.

Having plenty of fluids in our systems can help to flush out any toxins or waste products that have built up in the body during the dives. This can help to reduce muscle soreness and promote faster recovery after the dive.

6. Dive preparation: 

Proper preparation before diving is essential for maximizing your performance. This includes checking your gear, scouting the dive site, and warming up your body with some stretching exercises.

7. Improving Buoyancy: 

Buoyancy is a crucial skill in freediving, as it helps you conserve energy and move efficiently underwater. By improving your buoyancy control, you can achieve longer and more comfortable dives.

  1. Perfect your technique: One of the most important aspects of improving buoyancy is having good technique. This includes proper body positioning, finning technique, and breath control. Take the time to practice these techniques and focus on maintaining a streamlined, horizontal position in the water.
  2. Find the right weight: Finding the right weight for your body type and equipment is important for achieving neutral buoyancy. Experiment with different weights until you find the perfect balance that allows you to float effortlessly at depth without having to constantly adjust your position.
  3. Stay relaxed: Staying relaxed and calm in the water can help you conserve energy and maintain buoyancy. Avoid unnecessary movements and focus on being as still as possible to reduce drag and maintain a steady position in the water.
  4. Use buoyancy aids: Use buoyancy aids such as a weight belt or neck weights. These tools can help you achieve neutral buoyancy more easily and can be adjusted as needed before your dive.

Remember, improving your buoyancy takes practice and patience, and it can vary depending on where you are diving (salt or freshwater), the amount of neoprene you are using, lung capacity and body composition. With time and experience, you’ll learn to fine-tune your technique and find the perfect balance that allows you to move through the water effortlessly.

8. Mental Focus: be Zen 

Mental focus is crucial in freediving, as it helps you stay calm and focused during dives. Practicing meditation and visualization techniques can help you maintain your mental focus and clarity.

Positive self-talk is very important whe you are about to dive. When you are downthere, you are alone with your breath and your thoughts (and maye your instructor). Positive self-talk involves using positive affirmations to boost your confidence and motivation. You can use positive self-talk to overcome any negative thoughts or fears that may arise about freediving. 

You can repeat phrases such as “I am strong,” “I am capable,” or “I can do this” to help you stay focused and confident. When I’m about to do a challenging dive I think “You’ve got this!”

Freediving instructor and founder of Breathless expeditions

9. Take All Necessary Safety Precautions: 

The most important thing in freediving is to always prioritize safety. Always dive with a partner or in a group, stay within your limits, and be aware of the risks associated with diving in different conditions and environments.

Controlled descents and ascents are key to preventing injuries and reducing the risk of decompression sickness and equalisation problems. While not as often as in scuba, when you are freediving it is important to take rests between dives to prevent decompression sickness. Take your time and avoid descending or ascending too quickly, also as a way not to burn down the oxygen in your lungs very quickly. It might alarm your buddy if they see you moving too quickly, as this can be an early sign of a blackout.

10. Goal Setting

Setting goals is an effective way to improve performance. Set realistic goals for yourself and focus on achieving them.

I like to use the acronym SMART for goal setting. This is what it stands for:

  1. Specific: Goals should be well-defined and clear. They should answer questions like: What exactly do I want to achieve? How deep do I want to go and in what discipline? How long do I want my dive time to be? Where will it take place? What are the requirements for me to achieve this goal?
  2. Measurable: Goals should be quantifiable or measurable, so that you can track your progress and determine when you have achieved your goal. This could be: I want to dive up to 15 meters and do a 20 second hold at the bottom, or, I want to achieve a dynamic dive of 50 meters in 10 kicks.
  3. Achievable: Goals should be realistic, taking into account your skills, resources, and limitations. They should stretch you but still be within reach, especially to not create frustration or push you too far into a blackout.
  4. Relevant: Goals should be aligned with your broader objectives. They should be relevant to your current situation and should support your larger aspirations as a diver.
  5. Time-bound: Goals should be linked to a specific time frame, so that you have a clear deadline for achieving them. This creates a sense of urgency and helps you stay focused on your objectives. For example, if you are going on a 5-day diving trip, you might set your SMART goals for the first day and the last day.

Using the SMART framework can help you set clear and achievable goals, track your progress, and stay motivated. It’s a great tool to help you turn your diving aspirations into reality!

And… don’t forget to celebrate your successes and use them as motivation to continue improving!

To Wrap it Up

There is so much you can do to improve your Freediving performance. It will all sum up to how much you are willing to do to accomplish your dreams. Wherever you’re at in your freediving journey, there is always room to improve, grow and challenge yourself. 

Now you are ready to start preparing for your next freediving challenge! See you underwater…