Words by Isaac 'Shrek' Daly - Noob Spearo
These three tips are some of the biggest winners for improving your apnea or breath-hold performance. While they are not everything you can do by any means, they will give you a great foundation for spearfishing into the future.
1. Increase surface interval
There is lots of evidence and spearo proverbs around that will tell you to at least double our surface interval. Surface interval is the time spent on the top recovering and preparing for the next dive. When local diver Tim McDonald was starting out there were not very many resources around for learning so he picked up a copy of Umberto Pelizzaris 'Manual of Freediving'. Here is one of Tim's insights from the book.
"A major point I took away was that holding your breath is great but surface time is crucial".
One of the things I took into my spearfishing early was to spend three times the time on the surface as I spend on the bottom. Now that sounds crazy for every competition diver out there, but for me, I evolved my spearfishing early into hunting fish that are often a bit more difficult and are probably a little deeper, so this advice has served me really well. I've been diving 15 years and never had a blackout, never had a samba, I've never really been close to those things and yet I've seen a few others do these things. Probably the reason I have not is that I took these two bits of advice seriously from very early in my spearfishing. - Tim McDonald
Guessing your surface interval is difficult at best. This is why you should seriously consider a dive watch. It's not enough to 'be conservative', especially for new guys who think they have been on the surface for 3-4 minutes when it actual fact its more like 90 seconds. Buy a dive watch, but don't worry about depth or dive time so much, pay attention to surface interval. Depth happens with time and learning to stick to surface intervals will help you get there.
"Relax. It took me fifteen years to understand what that word meant. Relax. It's the key. That’s probably my best advice: relax" - Simon Trippe
Many spearo's will tell you this when you ask for some tips and it seems like you have to 'learn by doing'. While this is true, I have a few tips to help make this tip actionable.
- Relaxation starts before you start diving. Before you get to your spot, in the car or boat, do a couple of minutes of full breathing. Aim for at least 7 slow lung fillers with controlled exhale (purse your lips together so that you have some back pressure until you finish your exhale). Breathe all the way out. This seems to prepare your body for the day and I find it puts me in a good head space.
- Excitement is part of spearfishing, embrace it but be aware of your internal state and manage it.
- Start the dive day right. Have a rock-solid dive buddy agreement. By that I mean that one is following, one is diving (stay close to each other). The peace of mind that comes from someone having your back will increase your relaxation and therefore your dive performance.
- On the surface Manny Bova told me to concentrate on letting go of all muscle tension. In your mind, mentally check off every muscle in your body. Start with your head and move down through each part releasing tension as you go. If it's easier, make a muscle contraction in each part of your body before releasing the tension.
- When you duck dive it should be with economy of movement. All your movements in the water should be like this. From finning technique and streamlining your body there is a lot to learn and in tip no3 I have some advice for you to learn some more efficient techniques.
Freedive training squads are starting to gain increasing popularity. There are a host of reasons for this even for people who don't spearfish. For spearos though, this training is phenomenal.
Here are just a few benefits;
- Finning technique, critique and opportunity to improve. This is a huge oxygen consumer so any improvements you make here will increase your time on the bottom.
- Streamlining. While we use a lot of gear that effects our hydrodynamics, lots of it comes down to posture, correct weighting and head position. You will get feedback in a training crew about how to improve this.
- CO2 Tables and drills. Your body will learn to develop a greater tolerance to carbon dioxide. The urge to breathe is caused by CO2 and this training will help your body to adapt and relax in high CO2 situations.
- O2 Tables and Drills. Your body can adapt and learn to use less Oxygen with training. Both CO2 and O2 tables should be performed in a supervised environment (especially in water, in fact don't even attempt them unless you are supervised!)
The Brisbane Bullsharks is a great example of this and I have benefited from Wayne Judge's training personally. I know it works and will dramatically improve your breath hold. Find the Bullsharks here.
So there you have it, 3 highly practical tips to improve your breath-hold. I'd love to hear your thoughts and tips below. If you would like to connect with me, find me at www.noobspearo.com