Training Season Begins! Day 1: Swimming

 In Renee's Journal, Swimming Training, Training for Freediving, Training for Freediving

After enjoying fine cheeses and delicious wines in the French Riviera, freediving in near freezing waters of Annecy Lake, seeing the beautiful green hillsides alongside snowcapped mountains in Switzerland, and an intensive five hour hike to San Fruttuoso in Italy, vacation is now over.

Today begins my freediving training regime. I’m at Stade Nautique in Saint Raphael, France and am rested, ready and excited. What better way to start than with a swimming session, one of the most effective ways to train for freediving.

Today’s training is part of my three month physical preparation period. I’ll use this period to train anaerobic capacity and aerobic power, also known as VO2MAX. Aerobic power is essential for freediving because it measures the quantity of oxygen that the muscles are able to turn into energy in a unit of time (Pelizzari & Tovaglieri, 2004 p. 331). With a good VO2MAX and with aerobic training, I’ll have a larger red blood cell count, a higher amount of hemoglobin, lower resting heart rate and an elevated vital capacity, all vital for apnea. Also, I’ll better develop my tolerance to the high levels of lactic acid, which occurs towards the end of a dynamic or constant weight dive when muscles, especially my thigh muscles, begin burning, that’s due to the high amount of lactic acid in the muscle.

So the plan is as follows:

– Stretch – 15 minutes
– 200 m warm-up
– 4 x 100 crawl, with 10 second rest between
– 3 x 200 crawl, with 15 second rest between
– Swim 1 length slow, 1 length quick – 700 m
– Fin swimming – 15 minutes
– Stretch – 15 minutes

The session consists of three main parts; 1) stretching (before and after), 2) swimming and 3) fin swimming.

1. Stretching – Before and After

First, stretching. Flexibility refers to not just muscular elasticity, but also joint mobility which is ideal for having an efficient and harmonious movement in the water. The Manual of Freediving states that in freediving, flexibility has a massive impact on the economy of performance, because the freediver must combat the resistance to movement in the water as well as with their equipment (p. 338).

Also, if stretching is not done regularly, the muscles are weaker and stiffer because they aren’t as elastic. Joints are also effected and don’t have great balance which can only be supplied by a properly functioning muscle. The result is that the smoothness and range of movement are negatively effected (Pelizzari & Tovaglieri, 2004 p.339).

If muscles are regularly stretched and elongated (which should occur gradually) they will respond more quickly and efficiently to any type of movement, for example the change from a passive breathing-up state to duckdiving, an active state, will be easier. Amplitude of movement will also increase, therefore risk of injury is much less. Pulled muscles and sprains are mainly derived from the lack of muscular elasticity (Pelizzari & Tovaglieri 2004 p.339).

I always make sure to do a brief (10-15 minute) stretching before and after a training sessions, and I advise my students the same. Stretching before training helps to avoid damage and helps to ensure maximum articulation. Stretching after a training session is also important to re-lengthen the fibres which have shortened and stiffened during muscular contraction. More information about stretching for freediving can be found in chapter 11 of the Manual of Freediving.

2. Swimming

The swimming part of the training schedule consists of the following:

– 200 m warm-up
– 4 x 100 crawl, with 10 second rest between
– 3 x 200 crawl, with 15 second rest between
– Swim 1 length slow, 1 length quick – 700 m

This comes from “Table A” in the the Manual for Freediving on page 334.

The table begins with a 200 m warm-up, to warm-up the muscles and the body, as well as to develop endurance (80%) and velocity (20%). The next two items, 4 x 100 crawl and 3 x 200 crawl – with different rest periods, is interval training and also works to develop endurance (80%) and velocity (20%). The last item, swim 1 length slow and 1 length quick, is speed play which works also endurance (85%) and velocity (15%).

3. Finswimming

I finish every swimming session with 20 minutes of fin swimming which was advised in the Manual of Freediving as well since fin swimming maintains the form of the muscles specifically involved in finning.

Short fins are great training for practicing monofin technique. I use short fins while swimming monofin technique on the surface of the water face-down, while breathing through a frontal snorkel. With arms overhead (typical monofinning position), I swim lengths while keeping my head, shoulders, arms and hands just grazing the surface. Preventing the upper chest, head and arms, from going underwater, requires the undulating wave movement to be controlled from muscles in the upper part of your back and then the mid-section, hips, legs, feet and toes. It’s excellent practice for gaining better control of all the necessary mermaiding muscles.

I also swim a few lengths monofin technique facing-up and a few lengths with arms by the side (face-up and face down), which means the undulating movement starts from lower, at the hips, since the center of gravity has shifted with the arms no longer overhead.

Final Thoughts / Reflection

I really enjoyed the training session and was fortunate to have some company! My friend, and diving buddy, Jean Claude Venturi, surprised me by showing-up at the pool to train with bi-fins. It’s always more fun to train alongside someone, rather than alone!

I found the training plan to be feasible, yet challenging, which I was glad for. I don’t like programs that are too easy or too difficult, the first makes me feel like I wasted time and the latter takes too much time to recover from. Also, I find it’s best to increase the difficulty in the training sessions gradually, not dramatically. This applies to the many areas of freediving training; constant weight, dynamic, static – gradual increases are often the best way to go versus big jumps.

I was quite tired at the end of the training but feeling great! Even though the session was about a half hour shorter than my previous swimming trainings, I felt that the itinerary was more effective. Previously I’d show up at the pool without any specific or well-thought-out plan and would do way too many warm-up laps, 800 meters of technical drills, etc which wasn’t really necessary. I don’t think it was a complete waste of time but it certainly wasn’t the most effective use of time or energy. I’m training to freedive, not to be an olympic swimmer!

All-in-all I’d say day 1 of training was a success, definitely stay tuned…



Pelizzari, Umberto, and Stefano Tovaglieri. Manual of Freediving: Underwater on a Single Breath. Reddick, FL: Idelson-Gnochi, 2004. N. pag. Print.

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    Good training

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