Do you find yourself wanting more from your exercise routine? Is a jog round the block just not enough? Maybe you are in training for a marathon you keep putting off or you just want to lose those pounds and don’t know what you will do with your new found fitness, why not trying one of the most exhilarating extreme sports out there; free diving.
What is free diving?
Cast your mind back to your school days, I know it was a while ago for some people but nearly everyone took part in swimming lessons at school. Now ignore the nostalgia of the swimming teacher shouting at you or any of the bad things that happened and think about that first time you got into the water and felt really comfortable. There is a good chance that following on from that you tried to test your new found skills, finding out what strokes you could do and, most importantly, how long you could hold your breath under the water.
Essentially free diving is exactly what it says on the tin. Participants hold their breath and dive without breathing apparatus into pools of water, be them swimming pools or open sea. The sport can also be called apnea and has different competitive forms which include straight diving, then swimming a specified distance underwater and diving with and without aids like fins or weights.
Competitively the sport is governed by two international bodies, the International Association for Development of Apnea, or AIDA International, and the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques, otherwise known as CMAS or World Underwater Federation. Non-competitive branches of free diving are said to include underwater hockey and rugby, mermaid shows and free diving photography.
The AIDA free diving world championships were held last week in Kalamata, Greece with over 100 athletes turning up for the event. Free diving champions can often hold their breath for a long time, the current world champion can manage a very impressive 11 minutes underwater, and there are competitors out there who can manage to swim over four lengths of an Olympic-sized pool whilst holding their breath. So how do they do this you ask? Well they train, and they train hard.
What training is involved?
The training connected to free diving is different to most other sports. In most sports your breathing is very important you are trying to get more oxygen into your body and burn it. With free diving you take in all the oxygen you can before the activity and hold it without letting go. This produces a lot of carbon dioxide, or CO2, which your body wants to get rid of, when holding your breathe it is not lack of oxygen which gives the urge to breathe but the weight of the CO2 in your body making you feel uncomfortable, eventually pressing on your diaphragm, forcing it to contract and making you exhale.
Dealing with this CO2 pressure and learning how to relax your body are the most important factors when training for free diving. This will take you out of your comfort zone and transport you into a world you will never have been part of. It is hard but the results are exhilarating and the harshness of training is all part of the challenge to find out if you can achieve greatness when free diving.
In addition to this there are a number of physical activities to undergo. Cardiovascular training is needed to a high intensity level; helping you tolerate lactic acid and making use of the anaerobic energy system, during this training you may see free divers using apparatus which restrict their breathing in order to condition their lung capacity. Weight training building muscles up to a moderate level concentrating on the specific parts of your body which will make your movements more efficient underwater and it is important to concentrate on activities like yoga which will help improve flexibility.
How does free diving effect your body?
Like with many more extreme sports, free diving is for the already physically fit, physical training can be done without the help of a professional trainer but practice should be carried out with the aid of others who know what they are doing and who know your action plan.
The general effect of the training on your body will be positive if done right. As with any exercise moderation is the key and you need to learn your limits, as long as you stick to those you will have a happier healthy body from the training. The free diving itself can cause problems if again you don’t stick to your limits, don’t expect to be able to dive 30m from the start and go at a rate that your body is happy with, pushing its boundaries a little but not too much.
There are strict safety measures that should be taken into account when free diving but when adhered too, it’s a challenging activity which, once results are achieved, will give you a great adrenaline rush and allow you to see more of the world than ever before.
by Kath Webb
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