Dynamic Apnea for Developing Self-Control
PHOTOS BY JEAN CLAUDE VENTURI
The best training for apnea is apnea itself. -Umberto Pelizzari & Stefano Tovaglieri, Manual of Freediving
Today is day seven, I’m to do dynamic apnea tonight with the Saint Raphael Apnee Club :)
My hamstrings and shoulders are sore morning from yesterday’s yoga workout, but I’m getting accustomed to soreness. No pain, no gain right? But after getting out of bed, I overestimate the pep in my step and need to hang onto the wall for a few seconds to find my balance.
I spend the day doing computer work and mis-calculate the time to get ready, arriving late at Stade Nautique.
Although I missed the French freediving social and warm-up apnea walking, I’m just in time for Jean-Baptiste’s briefing :) After about five minutes of trying to decipher the schedule written and the French being spoken, the briefing ends. The bustling group disperses to the pool, while Jean-Baptist kindly goes over the schedule for dynamic apnea to me in English.
I’m instructed to follow the “Experts” schedule on the left side which breaks down as follows:
100M x 15
-25m dynamic apnea > 2 breaths (3 max) > 25M dynamic apnea
-50M dynamic apnea
-1 minute recovery
1500 meters of dynamic, whoa! It’s going to be a long night! Nevertheless, I’m excited to use my monofin in the stunning Olympic-size pool (it’s not allowed any other time). Also, with my near-term goal focused on constant weight freediving, I know this is definitely THE training to work on apnea and monofin technique. A fitting quote: If you don’t practice, you don’t deserve to dream – Andre Agassi I’m ready to give it everything I have.
I put on my game-face, finish gearing up and head over to the pool where I’m to share a lane with two other mermaids, I mean freedivers ;) Gaelle also with monofin and Isabelle with bi-fins. By now the pool is alive and restless, with 30+ freedivers, some in wetsuits, some in speedos, swimming laps of crawl, breastroke, etc to warm-up.
I prefer more relaxed warm-ups, to keep the heart rate low and refrain from engaging unnecessary muscles in oxygen metabolism (I read that somewhere but not sure where), so I swim slow lengths of monofin technique on the surface, while doing short increasing breath-holds, face-up and face-down in the water. Basically working on technique and speed before I take it underwater.
The Main Attraction
About ten minutes later, we’re summoned by Jean-Baptiste to one end of the pool to begin the ‘main attraction’, as I like to call it, which, little did I know would last about 50 minutes. More instructions are given in French, I understand not a word. I’m grateful for Gaelle’s clarification. The three of us; Gaelle, Isabelle and I, were to do the dynamic apneas one after another, about a minute apart. Isabelle goes first, since Gaelle and I were procrastinating, I mean putting on our weight belts.
I’m up second. I hear counting down in French and try to make-out the numbers, then Jean-Baptist’s whistle, so I take a big breath and dive down. While mermaiding underwater along the center line, I try not to bump my knees on the bottom (I hit it once). My thought is Yeah!! Let’s do this! I stop at the 25 meter line, take a few breaths and down I went, pretending to be a mermaid again. Weee! Ok, don’t overdue it, you’re still warming up.
Arriving in good shape at the opposite end of the pool, I recover for one minute before the first 50 meter dynamic apnea. My initial thought as I dive down: Okay, I’ve recovered for a minute, so maybe this won’t be so bad. My next thought 30 seconds later ‘Man, this is hard!’ It isn’t pretty either, feels like I’m gliding all over left and right, and can’t stay straight, I look ahead to avoid collision with someone or something. I imagine I look like a squirming, dying goldfish.
The hardest part is the final stretch, I’m anxious and craving air. Should I be seeing black dots? I think I am dying so I speed-up to arrive sooner.
Good fighters never show their pain. -Professor Sawang Siripile
You would think the following rounds would get easier, but no. With increasing levels of CO2 in the body, it just gets harder and harder. And hotter and hotter, the CO2 was raising the temperature of the body. I’m burning-up and cursing my wetsuit, face feels like it’s burning and about to melt off.
Coach Steps In
In the third lap while taking my three allotted breaths, Jean-Baptist says “Renee, if you need to make it harder you can take just one breath instead of three and go.” Thanks, either I’m making it look too easy or he wants me to suffer more. I stick with my the three breaths (okay maybe four occasionally) and continue on, snapping my monofin with a vengeance to prove some kind of ‘I can conquer this’ point.
When I think it can’t get any more hellish, Jean-Baptist points out that after the first 50 meter length, I’m supposed to recover for 30 seconds, not one minute. “Ah ok, I thought it was one minute here and 30 seconds at the other end. Thanks!” Kill me now.
At the Halfway Point
After doing laps of dynamic apnea for what seems like forever, I completely loose count. Thankfully, Isabelle, was keeping track. Really we’re only halfway?!! I realized I’m still going to be here a while.
To help pass the time underwater, I decide to try counting. At first I’m just counting sort-of aimlessly, but eventually, I develop a routine. I begin counting my undulations until I arrive at a mark, then I’d start at 1 again. The pool is 50 meters in length, so there is a mark every 12.5 meters. Sometimes I’d arrive at the mark in 6 undulations, sometimes 8. It just depended on my technique and how hydrodynamic I was.
Dynamic Apnea, More Fun When it’s a Game
Eventually I gamify the counting routine, and find myself trying to arrive at the marks with the least number of undulations. (I’m a genius, I know.) Dynamic apnea is a lot more fun when it’s a game. During the game I focus on three main things; 1) I remind myself to be as hydrodynamic as possible – trying to be like a bullet underwater. 2) I try to maintain a good speed, one that provides the greatest forward momentum but uses the least amount of oxygen and 3) I focus on having good monofin technique, while flexing the ankles as much as possible, this way the monofin has maximum movement. More flex of ankles = more work for the monofin and less work for me :D
Developing Rhythm & Self Control
I also notice that the counting has me maintain a consistent rhythm throughout the dynamic apnea. As most things in life, dynamic apnea, is best with rhythm. Having a consistent rhythm keeps my mind in a somewhat meditative ‘flow state’ and it helps performance by keeping a consistent speed. Both go hand-in-hand. I notice that when I loose control of the rhythm, I loose control of the entire situation. For example, if I speed-up at the end of a dynamic, my position, technique and mental relaxation, all go out the window. And all my attention goes to a single thought: arriving. That’s when I lose all self-control.
Self-control is the keystone of freediving (Pelizzari & Tovaglieri, 2004 p.143). The same I’m sure applies to other sports as well. It’s written in the Manual of Freediving that in the last part of the dynamic apnea, it’s important to maintain total control. The moment that the mechanism occurs that would have you speed up, it’s necessary to intervene mentally and actually do the opposite and reduce your rhythm in finning (p.143). This is said to provide a general relaxation of the mind and lucidity of the body, which allows you to have complete control over the entire action (p.143). In this moment, only by reducing your rhythm is it possible to control every movement in the body (p.143)
I didn’t reduce my rhythm of finning (will try that next time) but I did prevent myself from speeding-up, which is a start. And although I was getting more and more tired, overheated and full of CO2, with every dynamic apnea, my mental control was improving ten-fold. So with mind over matter, I was finishing the 50 meter dynamics fresher, more relaxed and with eight fewer undulations than the first 50 meter dynamic. Go me.
At the End
My group is the last to complete the training but we finish every single lap (hallelujah!) The training had been much tougher than I anticipated but you know what they say, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. Overall an excellent training, and the feeling that forward progress has been made. A big thanks to Jean-Baptist.
We finish the night with a few 20 meter tandem and group dynamic apneas, which are fun and engaging. Afterward, I head to the shower for operation ‘wetsuit removal’. It’s incredibly difficult to get off a slick-skin wetsuit after swimming in a chlorinated pool. Surprisingly the suit comes off easy, but five seconds later I realize that one sleeve was still on me. It ripped off completely while I was removing the suit. Fail.
On the way out of the locker room I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror, my face is as red as a lobster, even though the training finished 20 minutes ago. I take it as a sign of satisfaction and hard work. Home I went for dinner, can’t remember what I ate, I was so famished it’s all a bit of a blur.
I hope everyone had a great Thursday!
Pelizzari, Umberto, and Stefano Tovaglieri. Manual of Freediving: Underwater on a Single Breath. Reddick, FL: Idelson-Gnochi, 2004. N. pag. Print.