In this short article we’d like to describe the importance of stretching for freediving. Everyone knows that stretching is very useful and plays an important role for any sport, because muscle stiffness gives absolutely no benefits. However, if in other sports you can stretch a little and from time to time, then in freediving stretching takes one of the most important positions in training before diving. We believe that for every freediver stretching should be part of the daily routine.
1) Preventing muscle cramps
Freediving schools really often are somehow connected with yoga and offer additional yoga lessons. Many people have found yoga through freediving and vice versa. The flexibility provided by stretching and yoga is very useful in preventing muscle cramps which can be very annoying and interfering with lifting during deep diving. Proper stretching and proper hydration (drinking water) is the best way to get rid of cramps.
2) Consume less oxygen
After proper stretching muscles become more relaxed and consume less oxygen which is vital in freediving!
3) Develop good swimming technique
Stretching plays an important role in your swimming technique. For correct swimming in bi-fins there ankle flexibility is required, for swimming in a monofin you need to have good flexibility and mobility in the shoulders and lower back, so that you can comfortably and correctly extend your arms above your head and transmit impulse through the whole body to the fin.
4) Prevention of lungs squeeze
Another very important advantage of flexibility and mobility in the chest area is the prevention of lungs squeeze, the most common injury that freedivers experience when diving deep below the residual lungs volume. Therefore, in deep freediving the correct stretching of the intercostal muscles and diaphragm is so necessary.
The reasons of lungs squeeze in freediving are still being discussed and studied, but, undoubtedly, the lack of flexibility and mobility of the chest, as mentioned above, is one of the main reasons. If the diaphragm and chest are not flexible enough they can’t compensate for the reduction in lung volume during immersion which can cause barotrauma at a certain depth.
One of the simple and effective exercises used to stretch the diaphragm came in freediving from yoga and is called udiyana bandha. This is an exercise that we always learn in the first freediving course and recommend our students to do it regularly in the morning on an empty stomach. There are more “advanced” versions of lung stretching exercises that are given in subsequent courses, but they have the same goal.
5) Easier equalization
Another advantage of flexibility is the facilitation of pressure equalization. Even if you use the most efficient and safe Frenzel method (and it is worth using it), excessive tension and insufficient flexibility in the neck can complicate equalization, because the muscles on the sides of the neck are connected to the muscles that we use to perform the equalizing. Therefore, tilting the head and stretching the side surfaces of the neck is also one of the important points in preparing for immersion and preventing problems with equalizing.
6) Decreasing residual volume
And the last, but not least is that lungs of an untrained person have a residual volume of about 25% of the total volume. This is the volume of air that always remains in the lungs after a full exhalation. On land you can reach the residual volume by completely exhaling all the air. Another way is to dive to a depth until your lungs are compressed to a residual volume.
When you have reached the residual volume, this means that you can no longer exhale air from the lungs, which means you can’t equalize the pressure with the usual methods that you are used to doing. Simple mathematics says that the lungs reach a volume of one quarter at a depth of 30 meters. One of the further advanced equalizing methods is to learn the mouthfill technique. But stretching the diaphragm and reducing the residual lung volume can also help a lot. In fact, the mouthfill was invented not so long time ago, and before that many top freedivers dove very deep without it due to the very good flexibility of the chest and diaphragm. This flexibility has an important advantage for the freediver: it increases the amount of air that can be ventilated before diving and reduces the residual volume, which makes it possible to equalize pressure at a greater depth.
As you can see, stretching has numerous advantages. What are the disadvantages? Sure, it takes time and you have to work, but if you want to seriously engage in freediving and prepare for depth, you will have to accept this and make stretching a part of everyday life in order to improve muscle flexibility, avoid injuries and improve your technique. Moreover, this is a great way to wake up and warm up!