Basic Training for Beginners
This article was written in 2002 by Rudi Castineyra for publication on several sport magazines in Turkey. It gives very useful general training tips and advice for beginner and amateur freedivers. After the success of Yasemin’s records, interest in freediving in Turkey has grown a lot. I have been in Turkey now a total of 10 times and during all this time have had the chance to meet many Turkish divers and people in general. One question that I invariably get from almost everybody is what kind of suggestion can I give to those who want to improve their freediving performance. I am very happy to see that there is so much interest about freediving in Turkey, and it reminds a lot about my native country Cuba, where 4 out of every 10 kids tried freediving while they were growing up and the country respected and loved freedivers as much as baseball players or boxers. By comparison, the United States, the country where I live now, knows very little about freediving and it is very hard to create interest on this activity, since most people are used to completely different sports. So, I wanted to write this article and give some basic suggestions to all those freediving lovers in Turkey, as my way of showing appreciation not only for supporting Yasemin but also the sport in general.
What is freediving and what do we need to know about it?
Freediving is basically the ability to perform tasks underwater while holding the breath. We must keep in mind that the human body is designed to breathe between 20 and 100 times per minute, depending on the activity we are performing, so functioning without breathing at all is against our most basic survival instinct. Therefore, it must be understood that freediving is more a process of adaptation than athletic training, and that creating strong and responsive muscles is not the solution until we teach our bodies to work without oxygen. This learning process can take a shorter or longer time depending on the person, but everybody must go through it in order to become a good freediver. Some people are able to adapt to this low oxygen set-up very quickly, while others can take very long. Those who can adapt quickly can potentially be better freedivers, but those who take longer can also achieve this, as long as the final results are the same. So, in principle, becoming a good freediver means that the person must be able to teach their body how to work with low or no oxygen. How can this be done?
Training is the process by which we teach a living creature to do something. In the case of freediving, like with any other training, teaching our bodies and minds to function without oxygen can be a very long process. So, this process must be done in a slow and controlled manner, without being in a rush, not pushing ourselves to do more than what our bodies can learn naturally. Those who want to become better freedivers need to be patient. The best way to start training is not by trying to go deep, but by doing other things instead. One excellent training tool is the pool, where we can swim underwater and go for controlled periods of time without breathing. The person must first find a distance that he/she is comfortable with and then swim that distance underwater under the most comfortable of conditions. This means, for example, using long fins or breathing for a long time before going underwater. This skill must then be repeated many times until it becomes very comfortable and easy to do. Then, you are ready to start increasing the difficulty level of your underwater swims, but not the distance. Instead of trying to swim longer, do it under harder conditions. For example, use smaller fins, breathe for less time before going down, or use no fins, or combine many of this at the same time. Once you are able to practice these different routines and become used to the concept, then you are able to go for longer distances. Again, once you try a longer distance, start first with the most comfortable combination of options and do it until you’re comfortable with it. Once you have mastered this set-up, then you can try this distance under harder conditions, and so on it goes. If, at any point during this training you become impatient and you want to swim too long or do impossible things, then you will notice that your results will go down instead of improving. Listen to your body and do what it asks you to do. If you’re tired, rest, if you are finishing a swim with a lot of difficulty, stop, if you feel wrong, leave it for tomorrow. It is not only important to understand that progress must be slow because of safety reasons, so you don’t put yourself in a situation where you could get hurt, but also because if you over-train your body, it will take a long time for it to recover and to perform at full capacity again. At the same time, besides swimming underwater, the diver also needs to spend time working on his/her muscles, making sure that they are strong and flexible enough for the requirements of freediving. A freediver needs to have a strong body all around, not just the legs because they are the ones used for kicking. More importantly, the freediver needs to have muscles that are strong, but not too big so that they don’t consume a lot of oxygen. Once we have created a proper balance between weight workouts and pool sessions, then we are ready to go to the sea. But, wait a minute, how do we exactly plan the training so that we do the right thing?
Designing your training
This is the most interesting part of freediving. The ideal thing is to have a professional trainer follow the athlete carefully so that a training system can be designed specifically for that diver, taking into account all the particularities that define such person. This is what I do with Yasemin and that’s a big reason why we have obtained such results, but a general outline can be followed where the diver can achieve some progress, even if it is not the maximum that can be expected. For example, I would recommend those who are really interested to follow a training regime of 5 days per week. 3 of those days should be in the pool and the other 2 in the gym, the other 2 days of the week should be of rest, which is a VERY important part of all training. The pool and gym days should be alternated, so that each day the person is doing something different, which will allow the body to use different areas and react in different ways and the mind not to get bored, something also very important. A minimum of 45 minutes and a maximum of 90 minutes are good for pool sessions, and a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 60 minutes are recommended for gym/weight workouts. During those times, you can design your training so that you start with the easiest things, then move to the hardest, and finish the workout with something easy again. For example, you can swim 25 meters u/w with long fins 5 times while breathing for 2 minutes before each dive to start the workout, and then you can move to swim the same distance but with short fins and the same prep time for another 5 times. After that, you can then swim the 25 meters but without any fins for 3 times, and then you can swim without fins for another 3 times but this time with only a preparation of 1 minute instead of 2. After that, you should go back down in intensity and finish the session with another 5 sets of 25 meters with long fins and a 2 min prep time. This is just an example, your sets should be longer or shorter, depending on your capacity and your goals. How do you determine how long to swim? Remember, start with a distance that is very easy and then start moving up VERY slowly, keeping it always easy. That’s the key. When you go to the gym for weights, you should work on your lower body one time and the next time on your upper body, and make sure that you never tire yourself. All the machines or exercises you do should be performed at no more than 70 % of your maximum capacity, and each machine should include 3 sets of no more than 15-20 repetitions each. To find your 70 %, you first need to find your 100 %, and this is just the weight that you can lift only one time, because of how heavy it is, so if this weight is for example 50 kilos, then your 70 % will be 35 kilos. You should then train for 5 days and then rest for the other 2 days. If you can train less times per week, that’s fine as well, just make sure that you follow the same procedure, 3 times pool + 2 times weights, and then 2 rest days and you start again. If you need to stop in between training days, treat it as if you never stop and continue exactly where you should, including at least 2 rest days at the end of the whole thing. Those who have the time and commitment to train 5 times per week will be the ones who will reach the quicker results, but it is important that every person trains at their own pace, according to their possibilities. How do we test our progress?
Performing a diving test
When are we ready to dive? The most amazing thing people find about Yasemin’s training for example is that she trains on land for 5-6 months and then dives only for the last 20 days before the World Record. This is actually how it works with many sports, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. Yasemin is a very good, natural diver, and she is very comfortable in the water, so once she gets back in it, she finds her form right away. Other people may need a longer time to get used to the feeling of diving again, but in general, diving everyday is not needed to improve your diving abilities. Every person should set a goal, a result that they want to achieve at the end of their training, instead of just going out there and diving as deep as they can to see what happens. This can be very dangerous and that’s why when Yasemin does a record, we decide the depth of that record right before she starts training for it, 6 months in advance. You should set a logical goal for yourself, not something impossible. Remember that not everybody can be a world champion and that we can always improve next time we dive, but if we dive too deep or too long, that might be the last thing we do while being alive. Set yourself something easy to start with, for example, a depth that is one quarter of your stature, or the same number as your age, etc, etc. So, if you are 150 cm/ 5 feet tall and 24 years of age, you can either choose to dive to a depth of 37.5 meters/ 123 feet or 24 meters/ 79 feet, whichever is easier. Or if those numbers still sound too big, then choose whatever figure your mind is comfortable with. Once you pick this goal, you need to train for 4 weeks for every 10 meters you wanna do, and you should be able to reach a distance in the pool which is at least 2.5 times the depth you want to dive to. So, for example, if you want to dive to 24 meters, you should train for around 9-10 weeks and you should reach a distance in the pool of at least 60 meters before you try that dive to 24 meters. Sounds easy? Not really, it’s actually very difficult, and this can change for every person, so my advice is that you set yourself an easy goal first and then go from there. Once you have reached your first goal, you can then plan your next training cycle and set up bigger goals, but move step by step. Remember, be patient. NOBODY becomes great in one day, especially in freediving. Lastly, you can freedive without wanting to reach any particular depth, just for the fun of it. That’s great as well, and in that case, training can help you enjoy the underwater environment even more and you don’t have to set yourself any training goals, just train whenever you can so that you become a better freediver.
The most important thing is for you to be safe while you train or dive. Every time you go to the pool, you should have a partner with you, somebody that can keep an eye on you while you swim your laps underwater. This person should know exactly what your training consists of, so that he/she can know if something is wrong as soon as it happens and help you. At the same time, when you dive, there should be divers with you ALL THE TIME. A properly trained scuba diver should be positioned every 10 to 15 meters of depth when you are diving and they should be properly trained on how to act and react in case of an emergency. In addition, there should always be another freediver on the surface waiting for you, ready to assist you. If there is not somebody available to accompany you to the pool or the ocean, then don’t dive at all. Remember something, all other sports are done while the athletes are breathing, but freediving is the only one that requires the person not to breathe. Therefore, it is very easy for something to go wrong, and this can happen at any point and to anybody on any day. The most common problem encountered by freedivers is blackout, where the person loses consciousness because of lack of oxygen in the brain. If the person is helped quickly and properly, then his/her life can be saved, but if not, death is the result of most blackouts. Most blackouts happen in swimming pools and in shallow water, not during deep dives done by experienced freedivers. ALWAYS DIVE WITH A PARTNER. It is also more fun to share your training with somebody else instead of diving alone, and you can help push each other and excel, this is a very motivating tool. There is a proper way to deal with a blackout, and somebody who is not properly trained can injure the victim even more, so if you decide to become a freediver, learn how to deal with this emergency the right way. I will explain how to deal with a blackout in an upcoming article, so we can discuss this subject later on. For now, remember, never dive or train alone.
Some final words
To finish this article, I wanted to remind all of you out there that ego is not an acceptable part of a freediver’s mental set up. I have been fortunate enough to do thousands of dives throughout my life, and the more I dive the more I realize how insignificant and powerless we humans are compared to the sea. Only if we respect and love the water, and understand that we are moving in a completely alien environment, will we be able to reach our full potential. Those who practice freediving to satisfy their egos with deep dives are the ones that get hurt, or that die, because they will never know what their limits are until the day when they go too far. Remember, even the smallest mistake can have huge consequences underwater. It is not important how deep you dive, but for how many years you are able to dive. Freediving is a sport that, sadly, attracts many people who only care about being better than others. Stay away from those, it will be easy to recognize them, trust me. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice from those with more experience, but make sure that they have true and proven experience, not a lot of tales to tell. For those who are really interested in freediving, I suggest that you register for one of the courses that the instructors of “LearnFreediving.com” will be teaching around the world this year. You will become a better freediver AND a safer freediver. Safe dives to all, Rudi Castineyra