The only things I knew before my first freediving course were that I would go down using a line and that a professional instructor would keep me safe.
I did not know about free immersion ( check Thibault Guignes talking about free immersion here: The Complete Guide | Progress In Free Immersion) or constant weight (Here Thibault explaining constant weight bi-fins: The Complete Guide | Progress In Constant Weight BiFins | CWTB | Freediving). Alexey Molchanov, Guillaume Nery and Umberto Pellizari were complete strangers to me. I had no clue about fins, low-volume masks, or wetsuits. I was a blank page, untouched by the internet and the frenzy this incredible sport would trigger a few years later.
Freediving was not popular then. Of course, I had seen The Big Blue. Like every Frenchman above 30 years old, I knew about Jacques Mayol. But that was it. I did not think about joining a Facebook group to gather information, and even less starting to train one month before my first dive. It just did not cross my mind. I was going to do the course and learn on the spot. It was, in my mind, a one-shot kind of experience. I was unaware that these few hours spent trying to dive a few meters deep would change my life forever.
I did not give any importance to the certification. That was ranked last on my motivation list. I learned about the different levels during my first theory class. All for the better, because this removed a lot of pressure. My first course was scary enough, and adding the stress of passing the requirements would not have made things easier. Believe me, I was anxious enough. My motivation beforehand was to learn how to dive to at least ten meters without feeling excruciating pain in my ears. Of course, that changed drastically after, and it became all about going deep.
It was another time, and even if now the ocean is still blue, things are different.
Now, freediving is very popular. You can access much helpful information, advice, and tips straight from the Google search bar. You can start training with your friends, following a training program found on the internet, developed by one freediving superstar.
As a result, the course became an exam to pass, more than a place to learn. I even see students coming to do their first level with carbon fins and a brand new smooth-skin wetsuit. Seriously; sometimes they have gear better than me.
This new approach to the first freediving course creates a lot of issues. It is easy to stick to bad habits when mistakes are repeated without a coach’s supervision. It often results in more difficulties during the course. Unlearning something is way more difficult than learning it correctly in the first place.
Keep in mind that you are here to learn and not to perform. You are here to enjoy and to be guided. No, you do not need to hold your breath for four minutes before your AIDA 2 / WAVE 1 course. Just come with your soul, your heart, and, of course, your lungs.
I promise you we will teach you everything you need to know, and we will be here long after the class to answer any questions you might have.
However, at VD Freediving, we understand that you might want to feel ready for your first course, so we have selected three things you can practice before your first dip into the deep. Let’s go!
You cannot imagine how many times people contact us and ask if they should know how to swim before starting freediving. The answer should be obvious, but it seems that many want to learn how to run before even knowing how to crawl.
Let me be clear. Going into the ocean without knowing how to swim is a huge mistake that can put not only you but also your dive buddies in danger. What if you got a leg cramp, and you could not rely on these shiny, brand new carbon fins you just bought? What if the waves become bigger and you start panicking? What if the current takes the buoy away and your snorkel is in it? And what if all this happens 200m from the shore?
Accidents happen because mistakes are made which could often have been easily avoided. Attempting to be a freediver who does not know how to swim sounds like a massive mistake to me.
For your first course, It doesn’t really matter if you swim frog style or freestyle. But you should be able to swim without fins and without a snorkel for at least 200m nonstop.
The reasons are:
-A good swimmer has excellent body awareness. Body awareness will help you to correct your technique and to progress faster on your freediving journey.
-A good swimmer has developed the muscles required for good and efficient finning. Freediving uses special movements connected to specific muscles. Swimming will develop these muscles and will help you to have power and to control your fins.
-A good swimmer knows how to float and is not afraid of deep water. The ocean is not an aquarium. A lot of times, you will not see the bottom floor because of bad visibility. It is important to be confident where you cannot touch the ground.
-A good swimmer will also be able to train in the pool. A lot of freediving pool exercises demand you to know how to freestyle. Even if it is not mandatory, I think it is a good idea to take some swimming classes if you do not know this swimming style. (A video to understand more the freestyle here: How To Swim Freestyle | Technique For Front Crawl Swimming)
-A good swimmer is ready for freediving, and a non-swimmer is not. Being in the water, weightless, floating, is one of the most amazing feelings ever. It takes a little time to adapt mentally to it. Being a swimmer will save you this adaptation time, allowing you to enjoy freediving faster.
How to practice swimming before your first freediving course?
One month before your first course, go at least once a week to the swimming pool. No special exercises are needed. Just swim and repeat, 25m or 50m in length.
The first week try to do at least 500m (20 x 25m or 10 x 50m), with breaks in between. The second week, go for 750m. The third and fourth week swim 1000m. There is no need to rush. I am not telling you to become a professional freestyler ready to compete. Just focus on the technique, on the sensation of being in the water, and on the movements.
If you do not know how to swim, then take a course and take the time to practice and to feel comfortable. It is a must-do.
One of the favorite things freediving instructors keep repeating is “Relax.”. I remember mine telling me that before each of my dives. I was trying to remember everything, and, honestly, I could not let go of my anxiety. How could I relax facing something I had never done before? And what does “relax” even mean? At one point, it made me angry. If it was so easy to relax, why couldn’t I?
Let’s be serious for two seconds. Relaxation is not controlled by a switch, and cannot be fully activated on demand. Deep relaxation will come with time, practice, and with self-confidence. Stress is a part of the freediver’s journey. Do not fight it, do not be ashamed because of it.
It is completely normal to be anxious.
But I have good news for you. Even if it is not possible to switch the “I am totally relaxed now” button, there is a way to put you on the path of “being less anxious.” It is not a magic pill but will definitely help you.
The way you breathe will trigger one of the two parts of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This ANS regulates certain body processes, such as blood pressure, digestion, heart rate, breathing, etc. To keep this explanation simple, just be aware that this ANS is divided into two parts:
-The sympathetic nervous system (the stress response)
-The parasympâthetic nervous system (the calm response). That is the one we want to trigger.
The best way to do that is to do what we call tidal breathing.
Tidal breathing will fulfill two missions:
-Safety by avoiding hyperventilation. We will explain this in detail during the course.
-Relaxation by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, which will help you to put a foot into the “Chill Zone.”
How to do tidal breathing?
- Lie on your back with your legs extended.
- Keep your head centered, not allowing it to fall to either side.
- Extend your arms to the sides.
- Close your eyes and relax the facial muscles, beginning with the forehead and eyelids.
Then relax the cheeks, lips, and tongue. Relaxing your tongue will release tension in the face, which has a direct effect on the brain and mind.
Relax the throat and neck. Continue to bring attention to each part of the body, consciously relaxing each part, starting with the head and traveling all the way down to your feet.
- Breathe gently through your nose. See the benefits of nasal breathing here
- Focus your entire attention on the air coming in and going out. Feel the slightly cold air coming in, and feel the slightly warm air going out.
- As you breathe in, inflate your belly upward. As you breathe out, deflate it. This way of breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing. Your upper chest stays still. You can put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest; it will help you gain awareness of which breathing muscle is moving.
- Keep breathing like this for as long as you want, but a minimum of five minutes.
Maybe you will fall asleep. And in this particular case, it is not wrong.
This is how you will breathe before your dive.
Equalizing my ears was, for me, the greatest difficulty to overcome when I started freediving.
For your first course, the most important thing is to be able to send air into your nasal cavities when you are head down. The soft palate, being the door between the nasal and oral cavity, plays a crucial role in your ability to equalize. If it is closed, then the air simply cannot pass. If the air cannot pass, you cannot equalize your ears. As simple as that. You need to train it; you need to gain awareness of this body part.
During your course with us, we will explain in detail the Frenzel equalization technique, and you will start practicing it.
But for now, do this exercise:
The soft palate awareness exercise
Freediving is an incredible experience and can be life-changing. It changed mine, and I hope you will come and practice with us. Do not overthink your first course. We are here to teach you everything you need to know to get maximum enjoyment and always stay safe.
Let us take your breath away