Training: How to go Deep

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Fitness for the Outside Athlete, December 1996

Training: How to go Deep
By John L. Stein

If snorkeling is like viewing the moon through a telescope, free diving is like making a lunar landing. It's an extension of snorkeling that can set you face-to-face with a scarlet garibaldi. But free diving, which requires both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, can frustrate the untrained. Novices are lucky to stay down for 40 seconds, hardly enough time to enjoy the scenery.

Holding one's breath for long periods is a skill that can be acquired, though, as any tantrum-prone toddler knows. "Begin by running, biking, skiing--whatever you usually do to stay fit," says Tom Campbell, an underwater photographer and former Navy SEAL. Once you have an aerobic base, take a deep breath and follow these tips.

Sit Back, Relax, and Swim
Relax in a chair and hold your breath for as long as possible. That gives you a target time, Campbell says. In the pool, work on swimming underwater for as long as you held your breath while resting. Swim just below the surface, so you can pop up if you feel panicky. Use slow leg strokes, which are less oxygen-intensive than fast chops, and keep your arms at your sides to reduce drag. Do this four times a week for at least a month before your diving trip.

Wait to Exhale
The breathing techniques best suited to free diving are almost counterintuitive, Campbell says. "Contrary to what many people think, hyperventilating before you go under does not add oxygen to your blood," he explains. Instead, take two or three deep breaths before you submerge. When you first feel the need to surface, swallow a few times. That should give you a few more feet. Next, exhale half your air, and you'll gain another ten feet or so. When you're at your limit, let out your remaining air and head for the surface.

Wear Breathable Clothing
Finally, to make free dives as comfortable and prolonged as possible, dress appropriately: A lightweight, neoprene, hooded vest combats energy-robbing cold, long snorkeling fins provide efficient propulsion, and a snorkel with a purge valve allows for rapid clearing of water--a feature you'll appreciate if you've just expended your last breath staring down that garibaldi.

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