High-Intensity DNF

By PFI Instructor and 2 X USANational Record Holder (DNF) and PFI Instructor Trainer Shell Eisenberg

This Month’s training tip comes to us from 2 x USA national record holder Shell Eisenberg, who shares her tip for getting the most out of your pool training. Shell developed a training program that propelled her to two national records in Dynamic No Fins in under a year!

“I run into the same issue time and again when it comes to apnea training, who can I convince to spend an hour safetying me for pool training? Training sessions can become long and exhausting when individuals safety for 30-40 minutes while the other trains apnea before trading roles. When I was training for my first Dynamic Apnea No-Fins national record attempt, my friend and pool coach, Jessica Hill, and I practiced a fun and challenging pool exercise that involved the both of us. So, rather than needing to ask her to give up an hour of her time to safety me in the pool while I do my breath-holds, this exercise involved both of us, making it a bit more fun for us to workout together. Additionally, this exercise is fantastic for building your tolerance to Carbon Dioxide as well as increasing your lactic acid threshold.

The High Metabolism Rotational DNF Drill can be adapted for Dynamic Apnea if you’d prefer. Because I was specifically training Dynamic No-Fins, we always did this exercise without fins; however, it can easily be adjusted for Dynamic. Here’s how you practice the drill:

First, choose your recovery breathing time for in between sets–this will remain constant through the whole exercise. For safety reasons, the minimum recovery breathing time you should practice with is 30 seconds, but choose a breathing interval that you and your buddy can maintain for 10 rotations (if you’re unsure, start with 1:00 and adjust as needed)
After your designated breathe-up time, Buddy A takes their peak inhalation and swims underwater, DNF style, for 1 pool length (25yd for most American pools) on a breath hold. Doing this without weights will make it more challenging, as your natural buoyancy will require you to use more energy to remain trim and level underwater. We also practiced without weights to find where our strokes were lacking and to correct those deficiencies.
While Buddy A is underwater, Buddy B is swimming freestyle at the surface. Buddy B needs to swim fast to keep up with Buddy A (another reason it’s good for Buddy A to go weightless, it slows them down a bit). Buddy B provides safety across the pool and increases their own heart rate and metabolic rate in the process.
When both swimmers reach the other side of the pool, Buddy B provides surface safety for Buddy A for a minimum 30 seconds. After the designated recovery breathing time, Buddy B, who now has a relatively high heart and metabolic rate, holds their breath and swims back to the other side of the pool while Buddy A provides safety and swims freestyle at the surface.
Maintain that same breathing interval and rotation for a minimum 10 rotations.

The goal of the High Metabolism Rotational DNF exercise is not to perform maximum breath-holds, distances, or minimum breathing times, as that may cause you and your buddy to give up from exhaustion after only a few rotations. The goal here is pick times and distances that are challenging enough to give you an urge to breathe as well as a bit of muscle burn, yet which allow you and your buddy to still maintain the same time and distance combination for 10 or more rotations.

This exercise is fun because you and your buddy succeed together (or fail together!). It’s an exercise that include both divers, so you won’t need to spend 30+ minutes at a time safetying the other person before you get to perform your own apnea. Not to mention, it’s quite challenging!!! If you and your buddy get to the point where you can easily complete the exercise without much effort, then shorten your breathing interval (remember that you should not decrease your recovery breathing interval below 30 seconds because you’re switching safety and breath holding roles and you need to be fully prepared to provide adequate safety for your buddy). If you get down to 30 seconds and it’s still too easy, you can increase your distance to 2 lengths of the pool (50 yd in most American pools). That one will really wipe you out!

You can alter this exercise for Dynamic instead of Dynamic No-Fins. I recommend doing this with bifins instead of a monofin because the surface swimming involved will be challenging with a monofin, and the underwater swimming will be too easy. If you’re doing DYN instead of DNF, start with a 2 length (50m/or 50yd) distance rather than the single length used for DNF.

Have fun and track your progress over time so you can see how much you’re improving. Above all, practice safely!