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Understanding the mammalian diving reflex

The animals that live and feed underwater have developed a method to conserve oxygen and defend against hypoxia when diving under the water. This ability is termed the diving response or mammalian diving reflex (MDR), which controls the constriction of blood vessels in certain parts of the body (vascular constriction) and decreases heartbeat (bradycardia). This was not known to be capable by humans until the 1950s, but was observed by researchers in whales, seals, sea lions, and penguins in the early 1900s.
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0 to 100 in 3.5 days!

Intermediate Free Diving Training with Performance Freediving
by David Miner

Ever dream of diving down to 60, 70, 80, 100+ feet on a single breath? Ever think you could hold your breath for 3 to 4+ minutes? We didn’t either until we joined Performance Freediving and their record-holding instructors in Miami, Florida for their Intermediate Freediving course.

Free diving is like snorkeling but taken to another level. It requires no tanks, BCs, or regulators. With a mask, snorkel, good pair of long-bladed fins, and a wetsuit, you can participate in the sport. Whether you’re interested in diving on a shallow reef, chasing a fish at depth, or participating in competition, quality free diving training can get you there. “Freediving is about the comfort and exploration of the ocean realm for recreation, spearfishing, competition, or personal discovery,” states Performance Freediving. Being relaxed underwater on a single breath exploring the underwater world in ways you never thought possible is exhilarating and exciting and gives you a glimpse of what it might be like to be a dolphin, whale, or seal.

World class insturctors Kirk Krack, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, Martin Stepanek, and Paul Kotik
The classroom, where we learned about free diving

Divingindepth signed up for Performance Freediving’s intermediate course in Miami, Florida, which spans four days. Our eight-hour days (except the last day) were filled with slideshows and lectures in the classroom, skill training in the pool, and three days included an open water session where you tied everything you learned into free dives on a weighted rope apparatus. The training is detailed and focused, taking you through each aspect of free diving. With training in the psychological aspects of the sport, the physics and physiology of free diving, safety and buddy procedures, static apnea, constant ballast, equipment, and proper breathing techniques, everything is covered. Emphasis is placed on safety, teaching you how to be a good buddy, proper rescue techniques, and procedures for avoiding complications. The thoroughness of the course was one of the things that really stood out as well as the high instructor to student ratio (one instructor for every four students). It was easy to get our questions answered, get personal attention, and there was no pressure, meaning that you weren’t “expected” or “pushed” to do something you weren’t comfortable with. Students were able to progress at their own pace, which made for a comfortable, relaxed, and fun environment.

We practiced all of the skills here before heading to open water
Training began in the deep tank
Training began in the deep tank

It was amazing to see the progression of the class from the first day to the last. On day one, after only a few hours of classroom work and pool work, we were already holding our breath for longer than we’d ever had before. After one of our static apnea sessions, an instructor asked, “for how many of you is this a personal best?” Everyone’s hand went up, proving that the techniques and skills were working! We were already doing things we’d never done before and this was only day one.

Rescue and safety training is a BIG part of this class and is extremely important. It was great to see so much emphasis placed on safety.
Static apnea (holding your breath) training was an important part of building our abilities and confidence

The breathing techniques they taught us before and after a breath hold and dive were one of the neatest things we learned. Diaphragmatic breathing and proper “breath-ups” before a dive were critical to our success and safety. Upon surfacing, knowing how to “hook” breathe and “cleanse” breathe could have been the difference between blacking out and feeling great. Learning the breathing techniques was one of the greatest things we came away from the course with, something we can continue to practice and improve upon to make us better free divers.

On day two, we moved into the open water environment after morning classroom and pool sessions. Boarding a dive boat, we headed out to the Gulf Stream just a couple miles off Miami. We were dropped in the Gulf Stream where there was no bottom in sight to just drift along with the current. This is where we really tested our new skills on a diving apparatus specifically designed for free diving training. The diving apparatus consisted of five buoys, one in the middle and one on each end of a pole system, which connected in the middle and looked like a plus sign (+). Each end of the apparatus had a down line with a disk on the end that was weighted. The rope was color-marked for depth and each day the disk was placed at different depths. It was a great system with two buddy teams and one instructor per buoy. Again, we amazed ourselves with our early accomplishments. It was only day two and we were comfortably diving to around 60 feet and comfortably executing our safety and rescue training techniques.

The open water free diving apparatus, which consisted of four buoys on a cross-bar system with down lines for praticing our skills. The entire thing just drifted along in the Gulf Stream and was a very cool system.
The apparatus being constructed in the water
The ends with a buoy and down line where all of our free dives where done
The buoy was used when we surfaced to do our recovery breathing

We learned how to properly weight ourselves for neutral buoyancy at 30 feet and how important that was. We learned how many kicks it took us to get to 30 feet. We learned to use a strong kick cycle to 30 feet and then a soft kick cycle to 60 feet. We learned about the “sink faze” where after 60 feet you can just relax and let gravity take over. We learned how to position our arms, clear our ears, and stay in a streamlined position. We learned how to meet our buddies at 30 feet and escort them to the surface for safety. We learned how to get an unconscious buddy to the surface without allowing their airway to be compromised. We learned how to position our head, which was one of the most difficult things to do. It’s normal to look “down” as you dive to see where you’re going, but that puts stress on your airway and makes it harder to clear your ears. Everyone struggled with this one, but could see just how important it was the deeper we went.

http://www.divingindepth.com/images/FD1.jpg
On the way up from a dive, streamlining very important
On the way down, counting kick cycles, keeping the head positioned correctly, clearing your ears
The view from the bottom

By day three, everyone was a little tired, but excited on what we had already learned and accomplished and anxiously waiting to see where we’d be going from here. With more classroom and pool work in the morning, we dove deeper into the world of free diving expanding our skill sets for the afternoon’s drift in the Gulf Stream. With calmer seas than the day before and bluer water, the disks were lowered to 80 feet. Each buddy team performed their warm-ups and started executing dives practicing and perfecting what we already learned. Divers were executing deeper and deeper dives beating their personal bests and having a great time. It was amazing to watch the rapid progression everyone had made in just three days.

The Disk
The Disk

The last day was our final open water adventure in the Gulf Stream, again taking us to depths we never thought possible only few days prior. With the water even clearer, we could easily see the disks dangling at 100 feet just waiting for our arrival. We went through all the skills we had learned perfecting them even more. We were then allowed to make attempts at the 100-foot depth. With a few dives into the 70-foot range, team Divingindepth was hoping for at least pushing past the 80-foot mark, but that wasn’t to be for us that day, but we were satisfied with how far we had come in such a short time. Other teams, however, were able to hit the 100-foot mark and surface with smiles of accomplishment. In just 3.5 days, 16 divers had gone to places they never thought possible, reaching depths of 60 to 100 feet and breath-holds of 3 to 4+ minutes.

Performance FreeDiving
Performance FreeDiving

Performance Freediving is a leading free diving training organization that offers training in basic, intermediate, and advanced free diving. They offer classes in places like Grand Cayman, Hawaii, Florida, California, British Columbia, and Europe. Performance Freediving instructors Kirk Krack, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, and Martin Stepanek also participate in competitions around the world and hold or have held world records in many of free diving’s disciplines. If you want to learn from the pros, then sign up for a class with these guys (and gal). Their level of experience, knowledge, and dedication to safety can take you to places underwater you never thought possible on a single breath. Just ask Tiger Woods, because he took one of their classes! For more information about their classes, go to www.performancefreediving.com or email Kirk at [email protected]

Are you fit for free diving?

by David Miner

Free diving, like many sports, requires a certain amount of mental and physical fitness. Free diving requires athletic fitness so that you can power yourself through the water efficiently. Moving through a liquid environment requires strength and good cardiovascular fitness. Free diving also requires good mental fitness. Descending below the surface, holding your breath, and diving deep requires a balanced and controlled mental fitness. Fifty feet underwater, holding your breath is no place to become mentally unstable.
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