In and out, right? That’s all there is to it? Ha! And you thought you already knew how to breathe! One of the biggest revelations I had when I took my first freediving class was that I’d been breathing all wrong. My “biggest” breath was less than half of what I eventually learned to get on a peak inhalation, the final breath before a dive. And here I thought I’d been breathing correctly for my 20-something years.
These are a few small technique changes that will make a massive difference in your breath-hold, helping you get the biggest breath you can.
It’s all about the diaphragm
The time has come to be a diaphragmatic breather. Most of us spend our time breathing from our intercostal muscles, those muscles in between the ribs, which is really inefficient, particularly for freediving. Take a look at your abdomen right now while you’re breathing and see if you use primarily your stomach or your chest. If you’re breathing from the chest, don’t worry, you’re like 99% of freedivers I see coming into class, but you are going to need to make a change to maximize your breath.
For freedivers, chest breathing is as out-of-style as shoulder pads and Zubaz (Yes, I recognize how awesome Zubaz were…are….were!). Nowadays it’s all about using the stomach.
While it may not look cute, the key to a good breath is starting at the bottom and moving up. Try taking a breath, pushing your stomach out, then moving into your chest. This stomach movement activates your diaphragm, pulling down on your lungs and utilizing an airspace you may not have accessed before. Practice this until you can really segment those two parts of the breath. Next, try to make the motion fluid, stomach-to-chest. That’s how freedivers take a final breath.
This sounds intuitive, but is difficult for most people. When taking your final breath before a breath-hold or dive, keep any muscles you’re not actively using completely relaxed. To check that you’re doing this properly, try looking in a mirror while taking the biggest breath you can. If you look tense, you probably are.
Tension=extra oxygen consumption=shorter breath-hold.
Try to isolate first your diaphragm, then your intercostals, moving absolutely nothing else. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed and avoid working hard to get that last little bit of breath in. If it doesn’t come in easy, don’t strain to get it. Once you master this, you’ll find your breath-holds become much more comfortable.
Take your time
One of the biggest mistakes I see new freedivers make is hurrying through their final breath. Getting it in quicker doesn’t help. In fact, it usually makes you tense and reduces the overall volume of that breath. Better to take your time (my final breath usually takes around two seconds), get a full volume, then relax into the dive. A good rule in freediving is, “never hurry.” Slow, deliberate and relaxed always wins out.
Not only will practice help you master the basic motor functions behind utilizing the diaphragm and relaxing, but the more often you take big breaths like this the more you’ll stretch out your rib cage, which will help you maximize your lung volume. Just be careful in your practice to take small breaks to breathe normally between each peak inhalation breath to avoid accidental hyperventilation and dizziness.
With these small technique changes and practice you should find that your breath-hold gets longer much more comfortable. To perfect your technique and learn even more tricks to improve your breath-hold I highly recommend taking a course in your area.