A beginners guide to breathing for freedivingApril 6, 2023
For a sport that is focused around not breathing, there is actually a lot of breathwork involved in freediving.
If you are new to freediving you might be curious about how best to breathe before and after a breath-hold. We have put together the ultimate beginner’s guide on breathing for freediving… And we will follow up with a few top tips to extend your breath-hold time, too.
First, we are going to talk about the type of breathing we do right before a breath-hold. The idea is to get as relaxed as possible. Why? Because staying relaxed makes the breath-hold feel nicer and reduces our risk of having a blackout.
Did you know that freediving can actually make you happier? Check it out here: How Freediving Can Help Make You Happier.
The breathing we do before a breath-hold is called ‘relaxation breathing’ or ‘the breathe-up’. Everyone has their own way of breathing-up, and you will find what works for you as you go. Here are a couple of things you can try in your breathe-up to get you started:
- Take your time: Do not rush your relaxation breathing, take as long as you need to become completely relaxed before taking your final breath. Most people take over two minutes minimum.
- Belly breathing: A lot of people breathe into their lungs only, but if you take the breath into your belly, you can actually become much more relaxed. It also gives your mind something to focus on which will stop it from wandering.
- Tidal breathing: You should be breathing at your normal amount and speed. This means you do not have to speed up your breath rate, and you do not have to try to take big breaths in or out. Just breathe like you normally would at rest. Try to maintain a 2:1 ratio, so for however many seconds you breathe in for, breathe out for double that amount.
These bullet points combined are optimum breathing for relaxation. With research into yoga, breathwork, and pranayama you might learn some other techniques that you might want to include in your breath-up. Do not over-complicate things, though.
While we are on the subject of relaxation breathing, it is important that we address hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is a bit of a taboo topic in the freediving world, with many freedivers in the past using it as part of their breathe-ups. However, as time has gone on we have learnt much more about what works and what does not. We have discovered that hyperventilation can be dangerous and counter-productive.
Hyperventilation is ‘over-breathing’; the kind of breathing you would do if you were very scared. Short, fast breathing that lowers the body’s levels of CO2. CO2 build up is usually what causes the urge to breathe during a breath-hold, and hyperventilating can push back that urge to breathe. Sounds great, right? Well, it is unfortunately not that simple. The breath-hold might feel more comfortable, but the danger comes when freedivers overestimate what they can do because they feel fine. They do not come to the surface when they should. A blackout can catch the diver by surprise, which can have fatal repercussions.
Hyperventilation is a no-no in freediving these days. Using the techniques we covered above to become totally relaxed before the dive is actually much more beneficial for freediving.
Some people love freediving so much they build their life around it: Living the Dream: An interview with freediving couple Daan Verhoeven and Georgina Miller.
Now we know what to do (and what not to do) before the breath-hold. We can talk about what to do after the breath-hold.
After a breath-hold it is very important to perform ‘recovery breaths’ or ‘hook breathing’ as it is sometimes called. To do this, take a big breath in through the mouth, hold that breath for around half a second while holding some pressure (like you are about to make a ‘p’ noise), allow the ‘p’ noise to escape while performing a strong exhale. Repeat this a few times until you are sure you feel fine and will not blackout.
Breathing in this way helps to re-balance your CO2 and O2 levels and can often be the difference between blacking out or not. Even if you feel fine as you come to the surface, you should always perform recovery breaths as good practice.
Are you a scuba diver thinking of getting into freediving? Here is Why you should do both!
Once you start to dive deeper, you might want to include some lung stretching into your freediving training. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean stretching the actual lungs. It in fact refers to stretching on a breath-hold with either full lungs or with empty lungs. These stretches can increase the flexibility of the diaphragm and rib cage, and prepare the lungs for the extra pressure they will experience at depth.
There are a few ways to do lung stretches and a professional freediving or yoga instructor will be able to show you what to do. Always perform lung stretches in a comfortable position; either standing, sitting, or lying in a relaxed state. If you feel discomfort or pain in the lungs or throat, stop immediately.
Still unsure if freediving is for you? Here are 9 Reasons Why Freediving is the Perfect Hobby.
Top Tips for a longer breath-hold
Now you have all the information you need to perform perfect breathing for freediving. Here are a few final tips to increase your breath hold time for longer, deeper, and more relaxing dives.
- Work on your diving technique: When you kick, swim, or pull efficiently you will use much less energy, which conserves precious oxygen during the dive. The smallest of changes to your freediving technique can make a huge difference to your breath-hold time. Working with an instructor or a coach can help you to get your diving technique as smooth and as streamline as possible.
- Practice meditation: Practicing meditation, visualization, and breathwork regularly in your day-to-day life can help you to become as relaxed as possible during your dives. These practices will give you helpful tools that can crossover into your breathe-up and general mindset around depth and nerves in the water.
- CO2/O2 tables: You will discover these tables if you go on to take more advanced freediving courses. CO2 and O2 tables are training practices that you can follow to help raise your CO2 tolerance and improve your breath-hold times.