3 Ways to Improve Freediving Performance
By Chris Bustad
We all start somewhere. For a lot of us, it was going out and buying a set of long blade fins, then getting in the water and trying it all out. Maybe, you started recently enough that you have had access to online freediving videos, seminars, and courses. Others started by taking an entry-level freediving course straight away. But once we have taken a class and have been shown the techniques that will help us freedive safer, longer, and deeper, what comes next?
Who hasn’t heard the adage “Practice makes perfect?”
The thing is – practice only makes perfect if the practice IS perfect! So, if we finish up our freediving course, then run out with our new skills and practice them, we will only end up as perfect as we can if we have someone looking at us and correcting our imperfect techniques.
For those of us that got into freediving through the school of hard knocks, we probably have some really bad habits to break on top of that! As a freediving instructor, every student I have gets corrected over and over and over, for technique. Maybe it’s head position, too much bend in the knee, moving their equalizing hand above their head, then back to their nose, and back above their head, wasting precious oxygen and energy. I repeat it over and over, not because the student isn’t smart or not listening, but because there is muscle memory developed – even if you haven’t been freediving before! It takes time and repetition to break that muscle memory.
Skills are perishable
Another thing to consider is that the skills you learn in a freediving course are perishable. Imperceptible changes in technique morph over time to bad form. Skills that aren’t regularly practiced, like rescue skills, can disappear altogether. Think about when you just get out of a First Aid/CPR course. Driving down the road, you’re looking for accidents to stop and help, but six months without practice, you see a 12-car pileup down the road and think, “well I was going to turn left here anyway.”
Let’s also consider that freediving is a sport. And unlike most sports, freediving also requires physiological adaptations. Splenic contractions, peripheral shunting, bradycardia – all parts of the mammalian dive reflex, will kick in faster with practice. High altitude climbers also experience many of the physiological changes, but they take days/weeks to get the same results freedivers can get in minutes.
Open Line Diving vs Refresher Courses vs Coaching Sessions
How do you prevent imperceptible changes from becoming permanent? Or how can you continue to work on those problem areas that you had in your course? Speak with your instructor about Open Line Diving, Refresher Courses, or Coaching Sessions. Here is what you can expect from each of those from within the Performance Freediving International system.
Open Line Diving will usually be you joining a freedive professional, not always an instructor, who provides a freediving platform for you to use within your level of certification. They will oversee the overall safety of the session, but won’t necessarily be on the freedives with you. The freedivers that join will provide safety for each other, and most instructors that I know will offer some guidance or correct issues they see. However, they aren’t going to fine tune you like a well-oiled machine. Open Line sessions are less money than a coaching session, because they are a group, and you aren’t getting focused attention from the professional.
Refresher Courses are exactly what you think they are. It’s been a while, so you jump in a class you have already been certified in. Many instructors will offer discounts to refresher students. It’s really quite amazing how much you will pick up from your second course that you missed the first time around. You don’t have to focus on every detail, so you catch the things that slipped past the last time. Also, it’s not a bad idea to take a course from a different instructor. Most instructors have their own way of teaching things, and sometimes you will pick something up better when it’s approached differently. I always encourage my students to go take a course from other instructors.
Coaching Sessions are where you can really fine-tune your breath-hold abilities. Coaching sessions can be a group or private. They can be a general approach to your abilities, or the entire session can be spent focusing on an area you want to improve on. Maybe learn a more efficient dolphin kick, or work on your Frenzel or air management. Perhaps you want an extra 15 seconds on your static. All of these and more can be achieved through a coaching session. The top freedivers in the world are using coaches to eke out that extra meter or five seconds. Think about the big improvements that can be had with a few sessions yourself! However, Coaching Sessions are not to get you deeper than you are certified to freedive to. That requires the next level of course.
Even if you never plan on being a competitive freediver or freediving past 20 meters / 66 feet, if you learn and use the techniques that would make it comfortable for you to get two to three times as deep as you want to – think about just how comfortable you would be shallower! After all, aren’t the best dives the most comfortable?