Instructor Course Preparation #2 – Freediving Training 2018

by | Feb 8, 2018

The purpose of this part of the blog is to share my learning progression. I’ll be testing and applying different freediving training methodologies for set periods of time and discovering what works best for me to progress in freediving in the most healthy way. Please feel free to use the comments section below to comment on or critique what I’m doing.

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So I’m six weeks out from my return to Indonesia where I’ll be training for seven weeks and ultimately taking the AIDA instructor course.

What has happened in the last three weeks? How do I feel physically and mentally? How has the dry training been going and how were the first two weekend dive trips of 2018? Let’s get into it….

First of all, the last three weeks have been mostly dominated by one pervasive issue which has affected all of the above-mentioned things. Just as with the previous three winters I’ve been living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I once again at the turn of the new year began to experience cold and flu symptoms, constant mucous production and coughing, post-nasal drip and nose blowing.

This is essentially a recurring case of bronchial infection, and despite numerous doctors, hospitals and tests, we have in previous years never gotten to the root cause. This year I decided to just keep my head down, maintain a positive attitude and proceed as planned. I’m certain it will resolve itself within a few weeks.

As for the cause of this chesty issue I will share with you guys what I think is going on; as the year ends in Taiwan, the prevailing winds shift from the south-east, to the north-west. As this shift takes place and settles in for the winter, the air pollution begins to get much, much worse. Haze descends upon the city and levels of PM 2.5 and other air-born pollutants rise significantly. The generally accepted reason is that the new north-westerly winds bring huge amounts of pollution from the south-west of China.

Taiwan’s winter pollution descends in force. Chest rebels…

Something about this increase in air-pollution triggers a strong immune response in me, leading to constant mucous production and dripping nose, while the congestion increases my susceptibility to both viral and bacterial infections that are naturally more prevalent in winter here anyway.

So what we’re left with is a budding professional freediver with a severely clogged-up breathing apparatus and overall lack of vitality!

In years past, I would usually just get really depressed and mope around during this time, but in years past, I didn’t have freediving. Now I have freediving I’m determined to stick to my training schedule as best I can and ‘work around’ my sickness is the most gentle and mindful fashion.

Here’s a breakdown of how my bugger-of-a-chest affected each aspect of my training and what I’ve done to accommodate it…

YOGA

There are days when I simply experience the chest and head symptoms but I have plenty of energy, and days when I feel like I’m down with the flu. I swear, working in a kindergarten is just about the best way to guarantee exposure to as many strains of air-born microorganism as possible.

Regardless, I have been sticking to my yoga, pranayama and meditation routine as best as possible. This means that I’ll get up at 4:50am even if I feel completely awful. I’ll prepare my tea and write a little bit, then get on the mat and start to open up the body a little bit. Sometimes, mostly, I’ve been able to do a good asana practice, but my coughing and nose-blowing is usually worst first thing in the morning so my pranayama routine has been suffering. However, I believe that a yoga practice is successful for the day if you manage to just show up and commit to exploring mindfully what is possible and what is not.

One thing I have been very regular with is my practice of Nauli/Uddiyana Bandha and as with every other time I have sustained this practice in combination with asana, the qualitative experience of depth diving is completely changed. A strong and flexible diaphragm, trunk and thoracic spine make me feel like a natural in the water with a strong desire to dive deeper. Those times when I have not been doing these practices regularly, I have experienced much more tension, strange sensations in the chest cavity and general emotional ambivalence about going deeper.

Finally returned to Xiaoliuqiu, our tiny freediving paradise…

RESISTANCE TRAINING, WEIGHT LIFTING

Now this has been coming along very nicely and I’ve only missed a couple of sessions in the last 5/6 weeks. Towards the end of the day when I get to the gym I usually have a big surge in energy. My coughing and sniffling has usually died down by this point so I’m in pretty good form and ready to lift hard.

The program I’m following seems to just hit the sweet spot with a good balance of heavy compound lifts and complementary exercises. I lift in the 8 – 12 rep range for most lifts ( 6 – 8 for deadlifts and squats) and aim to progressively overload, first improving the number of reps and then increasing the weight used.

I’ve been getting stronger every week, and feel stronger and more capable in the water as a result. Everything from carrying the buoy out into the water, bringing up the bottom weight, doing back-to-back safeties and coming up from dives without lactic, it all feels easier.

CO2 TABLES

Due to the fact that my breathing-apparatus isn’t in the best shape right now, coupled with extra workload and tight schedules I’m a couple of weeks behind in my CO2 table program.

However, I have still been steadily progressing, and I’ve noticed two things; I’ve been able to relax much more effectively around my contractions and actually reduce their number. I do this partly by focusing on relaxing the muscles of my face and keeping my tongue completely relaxed and down on the ‘floor’ of my mouth. I focus on keeping everything around the mouth and throat as still as possible and this seems like the best place to keep my attention.

I’ve also noticed that on a few occasions my contractions have been coming a little later. I’ve always had very early contractions, starting around 1:10, but I’ve started to feel them coming later now ( I keep my smartphone with apnea app behind me during the table so I can’t fixate on the time!).

For those who say I must just not be relaxed enough to have such early contractions, go bite yourself. No matter how relaxed I am, and after 10 years of relaxation and meditation practice, I’m pretty good at getting relaxed, but I will still feel mild contractions start at around the 1:10 mark. In fact, I can even experience my contractions in a completely relaxed and peaceful state.

The exception to this early start is when the dive response has been strongly activated such as after a static session in the pool (where contractions might begin around the 2 minute mark) or when diving depth (when I may not have any contractions at all).

The fresh market on Xiaoliuqiu where I stock up with the day’s greens!

DRY EQ TRAINING

I have essentially done none of this, quite simply because my nose is often blocked and and is leaking down into my throat.

I kept at the BTV training for a week before I got sick. Then after watching Adam Stern’s (podcast guest #9) video on the subject I wondered if had been doing it wrong anyway. I definitely felt like I was building more awareness about what was going on in my head, and could create some kind of ‘pre-equalization‘ effect to some extent when I practiced. But Adam said the jaw shouldn’t be moving at all and I was definitely using the jaw to achieve this. I also noticed I could do it without moving the jaw, eventually, but only with my eyes closed! haha.

In any case, on the four dive sessions I’ve had in the last 4 weeks, I’ve just been too preoccupied with doing other things, like trying to enjoy my dives, to think about having a go at BTV.

RUNNING/HIIT SESSIONS

I had a few good runs before I got sick, but I just haven’t been able to fit any HIIT into my routine. Frankly, there aren’t enough hours in the day. I’m getting in bed at the earliest at 9pm and getting up at 5am and now I’m teaching extra night classes which is the space I had for those HIIT sessions so I’ll just have to wait a couple of weeks until I get my regular schedule back.

The gear drying out at the campground.

THE DIVING

So I did manage to get my two weekends in the water. Right now the water temperature is at it’s coldest here in southern Taiwan, at 22-23c. Luxury for some, I know, but since my friend was borrowing my hooded-wetsuit I was left with my 2/1.5mm Orca Freedive training suit and a swimming cap.

Basically, we all got pretty cold on that first weekend. It didn’t help that whoever had last daisy-chained the rope had done it wrongly. Although I had taken out the rope to check it, I hadn’t unravelled the daisy-chain to make 100% sure all was in order. Mr Anonymous had somehow managed to put a catching knot along every foot of the dive line for 40m. It took me 20 minutes to sort out the rope, hanging in the water and getting colder by the minute.

Eventually we also got to training a bit but my heart wasn’t really in it. In any case, I planned to be very conservative and dive no deeper than 20m, which is what I did. I was just beginning to come down with this latest bronchial problem and pretty blocked up, so I wasn’t feeling too hot.

For those who are wondering how I managed to equalise if I was so blocked up, well first of all, I didn’t equalise efficiently at all, but as a precaution I had taken a couple of sinus tablets containing 60mg of pseudoephedrine to ensure at least my front sinuses would be open and I wouldn’t get a sinus squeeze. This isn’t a practice I recommend doing regularly, but with such a tiny amount of time in my life where I can actually dive and already being so far away from home and at the dive site, I was hardly going to just rest it out.

On the second day of this weekend I tried wearing about 300 layers of regular clothes under my wetsuit, inspired by tales of Aharon Solomons spearfishing in the winter Mediterranean. It may have helped a little bit, but not enough.

On this day we were practicing our rescues when I experienced a severe cramp in my right leg while attempting to rescue my buddy from 10m. I have a lot to say about that but I’ll save it for another post.

I capped off this weekend with a maximum FIM dive to 25m and called it a day. Although the diving hadn’t been particularly inspiring, I was happy to be back in the water and starting this year’s diving in a sensible fashion.

Exploring a very tight space in a beautiful coral tunnel last year on the island.

The next weekend was much better, a logical progression from the first. This time I wore two wetsuits; my 1.7mm Mares Instinct on top and a 2mm sleeveless underneath. The first day we had good sun, so the water’s surface was pleasant to hang out on. I didn’t get cold this day.

My regular buddy Eric and I were welcoming a new friend Wallace into our little group so we focused on showing him the ropes. Despite having a PADI Freediver certification, Wallace didn’t know about hook-breathing, the different freediving disciplines, how to operate on a line-diving session and his safety was atrocious, to put it mildly, but we are gently educating him. It just goes to show that not all instructors are equally capable or interested in transferring the fundamentals to their students.

I think we kept the line at 20m this day and I had some nice slow dives where I really just enjoyed the hell out of it. I was finding it quite difficult to equalise and getting some very strange sounds in my throat deeper than 15m so I just relaxed, closed my eyes and enjoyed being in the underwater silence of the open ocean.

The next day I experienced that effect that I’m now used to but always forget about, which is the adaptation that comes from having had a good day or two in the water. After a very thorough yoga session that morning I got in the water feeling very nice. After a few dodgy warm-ups where I could feel some pressure in my front-sinus, everything just clicked and I had a few FIM dives to 30m, where I was in a state of bliss through the entire process, emerging at the buoy high as kite, laughing and splashing around like a kid (after my hook-breathing, of course :).

It was overcast that day so eventually I got cold again, but I felt pretty satisfied with the weekend’s diving, especially that I was able to reconnect with the sheer JOY of freediving. Something that is easy to forget about when you can’t dive very often and it becomes mainly an intellectual pursuit.

As much as I love creating the Freedive Cafe podcast, it hurts to spend so much time talking about being in the water and being so far away from it!

UPDATE

I’m finishing off this post on February 8th since I had a crazy busy week. This week my chest issues took a big turn for the worst so I submitted to a doctors attention and got the usual antibiotics in the hope of turning this around as quickly as possible.

A cold-front is blowing through Taiwan so temperatures are getting down to a thoroughly Baltic 13c. I must have been living in tropical countries for too long beacuse this just feels horrible, haha. And I use to live in Helsinki! I remember walking to work in -30c!

With another dive trip planned in 2 days and 30 days to go until I blast off for Indo, I’m mustering all the positive attitude I can and doubling down on how disciplined I can be to get myself in the best ever shape for this trip!

2017’s final CNF dive to 28m.

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