Now I know we typically talk about the “evil monkeys” in freediving more-so than we talk about gorillas, but as I get back into training for my upcoming freediving competition coming up in May I’m finding that this new adage rings true.
Every year I go to Grand Cayman to compete in Performance Freediving’s competition, Deja Blue, and every year I prep several months in advance by training, primarily in the gym and in the pool with my training partner. I brush the dust off my monofin, look through the garage for my swim goggles and swim cap and try and find a pool that will let me do my freedive training.
I’ve been lucky this year and found a pool that seems to be very freediving-friendly. I try to go a couple of times per week and spend a few hours underwater each day.
But anyone can KEEP going to train, but I find that the hard part is to START going to train. The first day is never fun. Sets that were once easy are now hard again. Techniques that were perfected are now rusty. Breath-holds that were long are shorter and more difficult. So how the heck am I to motivate to catch up to where I once was and improve?
I find the best way to get back in the water is to spend a couple of the first sessions doing easy sets, working technique and finding my rhythm. Day 1 is not for personal bests. Instead I spend that time going over my old programs, doing shorter dives and breath-holds that allow me to get back into monofinning after using long-blade freediving fins for months of teaching. I spend that time getting back into dynamic training.
After the first week I start pushing myself again. I’ve brushed off the dust and my body remembers what it is to feel lactic burn again. My dive reflexes have improved and become more responsive. I build back up to my performances from last year and it’s around this time that I start fighting the gorilla. The idea with training is that no dive ever feels easy. Training is the time to push yourself to failure so that you can succeed when you start target freediving, be it for depth or underwater pool distance.
I do sets to train excessive lactic burn, making my legs tired. I do dives to train CO2 tolerance, creating strong urge to breathe. I do others for distance, tasking both my physical and mental ability to persevere through difficult moments. It’s like training for basketball by doing suicides. They suck, but the next time on the court you’re faster and have more endurance.
But on that same tack, this is also why it’s so important to have a trained safety in the water during training. Honestly, I’ve blacked out and had near-blackouts more often during training than during competition. Training alone is very dangerous. Can’t say that enough.
Another key to making freedive training work for you is to track progress. I’m a nerd and use my Outlook calendar for EVERYTHING, so I make a calendar with all of my planned training dates on it. When I finish a session I note what I did to train and what my performances were. It helps when there’s rough days to look back and see how far I’ve come from day one.
So when training is so grueling and painful, why do it? If you’ve ever hit a personal best depth, then you understand why already. The elation that follows an accomplishment like that is worth every moment of work it took to get there. The moments after I reach a new national record depth all the hard work and discomfort disappear and all I feel is that excitement.
This picture is from my first national record dive- you can see what I mean.
It’s those moments that motivate me to get back in the pool. It’s what I think about when the dives get hard or when my urge to breathe tells me to stop. It’s that feeling that makes me fight the gorilla.
I just wish the gorilla wasn’t such a good freediver.