Equalization in Freediving: Problems and Solutions
Good equalization. These two magic words mean a lot in the freediving world (almost all freediving small talks are about equalization). Some people can equalize freely and easily from the very beginning of their studies, while for others, it can take years of practice to achieve it.
What we can say with 100% of confidence is that everyone experiences troubles with equalization in some period of their freediving journey. Frenzel and, especially, mouthfill techniques are definitely not the usual things for our daily life. That’s why it’s a normal thing that we need some time to understand which muscles we need to use and train their power and coordination.
The purpose of this article is to review the most common causes of equalization problems at the depth of 35 meters or shallower (Frenzel area) and provide recommendations that can help you to overcome the problem and go deeper.
1. Incorrect Technique
The incorrect technique is a common problem for beginners. There is a lot of new information about the muscles we even weren’t aware of before our basic freediving course: your instructor asks you to close your vocal folds (where are they), use air from the oral cavity (omg), place a tip of your tongue in different positions to make locks, push a root of your tongue up remaining soft palate in neutral position (the hardest part), be head down (!) and the funniest thing is you need to be relaxed at the same time (laugh from Dr. Evil).
Practice your equalization skills over and over again. Do dry equalization exercises with the EQ tool, attend equalization workshops, try online courses or work personally with a coach – there are many options available for training. Over time, you’ll develop the muscle strengths and coordination needed to be really relaxed while your body is performing all this equalization job in the automotive mode.
2. Relaxation and Body Position
Tension in your body while freediving will lead to multiple problems and one of them is equalization. Tension can be caused for a variety of reasons: stress, muscle spasm, not enough resting on the surface, tension in the neck after sitting near the computer for a long time, an uncomfortable wetsuit that doesn’t fit you properly, cold water, or the wrong body position with a raised head, fear, etc.
How to check if you have a raised head while underwater? It’s easy: if you can see where you are going, then your head is raised. Tuck your head in and imagine that you need to hold a small apple between your chin and neck. When your head is in line with the rest of the body, it reduces pressure on your eustachian tubes and makes equalizing much easier. Maintain your surface intervals. Change your wetsuit for the most comfortable one and wear the proper wetsuit for the given water temperature. Make a massage or go to an osteopath if you have muscle tension, especially in the neck. Practice relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and meditation during the day and before your dives, and last but not least, try to get enough sleep.
3. Stress and Anxiety
Being immersed in a 3D world head down causes a lot of happiness and delight for one person, while at the same time, for people being afraid of the water, the same environment can produce undesirable anxiety and fear. It’s almost impossible to maintain a relaxed position when you are anxious, so it also affects equalization.
If you experience any anxiety being in the water, don’t hesitate to give yourself time to get used to the new environment. Divide your attempts into more stages and go step by step. You can try to hang on the line under the water, getting used to it. Also, try descending in more usual position feet first. Only when you feel that you have managed to relax and the anxiety reduces, proceed to dive head down.
4. Infrequent Equalization and Waiting For The Discomfort
When you equalize rarely or infrequently, pressure builds up to a point where you need a stronger equalization to release it. Forceful equalization can cause eardrum barotrauma and hinder relaxation.
We never wait for the discomfort or even worse, pain to start the equalization. Smooth, soft, and frequent equalization is the key to success. There is no limit to how often you can equalize while you descend. Do it in the most frequent and relaxed manner ever, do it always in advance.
5. Fast Descent
Descending too quickly will play a bad role in your equalization. If your equalizing can’t keep up with your descending speed, you will definitely feel too much tension in your ears and can either miss the moment of equalization or equalize forcefully (which is not recommended). That, in addition, will create undesirable tension in your body.
A slower path of descent will help you to maintain relaxation and don’t force equalization. Your dives will be much more pleasant, long, and free from equalization issues.
6. Diet and Hydration
You always need to remember that freediving is a sports activity, which makes your body sweat and lose liquid due to diuresis, which is a result of one of the MDR effects – peripheral vasoconstriction. Without proper hydration, it’s easy to get into a dehydrated state. Dehydration, besides other negative effects of it, makes the mucus in nasal cavities more sticky, which also interferes with pressure equalization.
Speaking of nutrition, some food can affect producing more mucus in the body, which can lead to blockage of the Eustachian tube and difficulties in equalization.
Keep track of water balance in your body. Drink the proper amount of water during the day, and always take a bottle of water on the buoy. Diet recommendations can be tricker because the same nutrition recommendation doesn’t work for everyone. Listen to your body, eat food that you know will be good for you, and try to avoid extra mucus producers (trans fat, dairy, junk food, sweets, etc.) before your diving sessions.
7. Sickness and Physiological Issues
Diving with sickness can be a disaster. Besides the fact that you can’t be relaxed and your body asks you for the rest (which already takes all of the fun from the process), there is a risk of getting barotrauma (because of mucus blockage and forceful attempts to equalize) or reverse block (because of decongestants usage).
Some people can hear crackling, hissing, or squeaking sounds and have difficulties with equalization without being sick/allergic and still having proper Frenzel technique. In rare cases, there can be some physiological issues such as a deviation of construction of Eustachian tubes, septum, or other blockages of nasal cavities.
If you hear strange sounds in the sinuses and cannot equalize the pressure – don’t force yourself. Cheating with decongestants can cause a reverse block, so don’t mix the medicine with training. You can come back to freediving when you fully recover. We recommend you visit an ENT doctor to check the condition of your nasal cavities and ears. In case you have chronic allergies it is also better to talk with your therapist about the options. Generally, avoid air conditioning, and wind to the ears after being in the water. Wash your ears with fresh water after freediving in the sea or the pool.
We just covered the most common causes of equalization problems. They can occur to both beginners and experienced freedivers. If some of them happen to you, you need to know that you are not alone. Just don’t force your body, be patient, and take care of yourself. With self-love and systematic training, you’ll reach your goal.