Supplementing your freediving with other forms of training is essential to keep yourself progressing. In this article I’ll talk about what I personally do to aid my freediving and why I think it works. I’m no exercise scientist or physiologist and I’ll be able to provide no concrete scientific evidence for what I do besides the fact that it works for me.
For a long time strength and fitness weren’t seen as essential in diving but now more and more athletes are taking their physical conditioning, and not just their dive fitness, more seriously. My personal foundation or ‘base training’ is Crossfit.
I use it to train my aerobic system, anaerobic system, strength and my body’s recovery systems.
I’ll touch briefly on what I used to do before I started Crossfit and why it wasn’t as effective. I would split my training into weight sessions and cardio. For cardio I would typically run or swim at a low intensity for a greater distance. My weight training was split into low repetitions of heavy weights or high repetitions of light weights with movements like bench press, bicep curls, leg press etc. For me the main issue with this kind of training was that it didn’t reflect what I was doing when I would dive.
One of the simplest rules when training for a specific sport is that your training should reflect the demand of the activity. When I dive it is a maximal effort that lasts for just over three minutes. So how do long cardio sessions or lengthy weight sessions benefit me? Having extra strength is always good because I get more power out of my fin for each kick but there was definitely a smarter and more effective way for me to train. So I started Crossfit.
So much of Crossfit is very simply HIIT workouts (High Intensity Interval Training) though for me what sets it apart from other forms of HIIT workouts is the combination of functional movements, olympic lifting and gymnastic movements. ‘which all overlap into freediving more that you may think‘ Paul Knowles: Strength and Conditioning, Olympic Lifting and Crossfit Coach. Owner of CrossFit Active Kincumber
There are three main muscle groups that are most important for me to develop. More core. My legs/glutes. My respiratory muscles. My monofin kick starts with a rolling movement from my abdominals to my glutes and quadriceps, continuing all the way down to the blade of the fin. It’s a complex and functional movement that is best trained by movements of similar complexity with the same muscle groups.
Movements like the Clean and Jerk, Deadlift, Squat and Snatch use all these muscle groups in a complimentary way. With each lift I use each major muscle group, keeping tension in my core while also using the explosive power of my core muscles. It’s an extremely effective and holistic approach to strength building.
In general, core strength and stability are important for freediving but for monofinning having a strong core is absolutely essential. Because I’m training my core muscles with functional movements I’m not only trying to get my abs to pop but I’m building strength and manoeuvrability in all my stabilising muscles. I personally have never felt as strong in my core since I started Crossfit but that might also be because in Crossfit we train core and legs everyday. No one is top heavy in our gym!
The length and intensity of the HIIT workouts better reflect my dives. They are structured in a way that each person training can scale the exercises so that we’re all working to our maximum. A workout can range between 3 minutes or 30 minutes. Personally, I decide before the workout begins which movement I want to do to at maximum intensity and which movements I want to recover on, trying to mimic the 3 minute maximum output of one of my dives.
And it’s hard! We always work hard. ‘The single most important part is the ability to control the mind in times of stress. CrossFit gives a present and physical axis in which athletes feel those stresses and map new pathways to control and calm‘ Paul Knowles. It is definitely the kind of thing that builds mental toughness. It has helped me incredibly to deal with the stress and anxiety of my dives because no dive I’ve done is as tough as the average workout at Crossfit Active Kincumber.
There is so much about freediving physiology that hasn’t been researched or isn’t understood. A freediver’s heart rate will drop dramatically during a dive and then rise dramatically as they’re surfacing and start to breathe again. Which is more beneficial for freediving: training cardio in order to lower your resting heart rate or being able to work intensely for a short period with a high heart rate?
I honestly don’t know and I don’t think anyone really knows but for me personally I seem to perform better when I have been training strength movements with a high heart rate. For example, running intervals and clean and jerking a heavy weight. I can say for sure that all the overhead movements like the overhead squat do wonders for developing your respiratory muscles (intercostal muscles.)
I am just so lucky that I have a great coach and a fantastic community of people that motivate me and I hope I motivate them as well. If you’re not having fun then it’s hard to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and go to the gym or go at night when the air is cold and seems to bite your lungs when you breathe heavy. That is the thing I have found training with Crossfit Active Kincumber. I’m no longer going to a gym and working out on my own. We train together. We support each other. We don’t let each other give up and then we all head out for smoothies together!