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Fitness and Freediving – Insights from Martin Stepanek

Okay, so lets look at the incredible depths the world’s top freediver’s can achieve on a single breath of air-without any other artificial help but their fins (some without) or let’s consider the seemingly never ending breath-holds these guys perform… it is nearly impossible to believe they are human.

These top athletes dedicate their lives to the sport they love and most likely were pre-disposed to excel in it to be able to dive the equivalent of a 40 story building (that’s over 400’ feet) or cease their respiration for nearly three songs on the radio (the World Record breath hold time is 11minutes and 35 seconds). This may just trigger our admiration, or simply distant appreciation of their hard work and training, but it also leads many to the conclusion that to be a freediver one has to be super human.

While it certainly helps to be in top physical and mental condition to freedive, and for the competitors this is an absolute necessity, at the beginning of your freediving learning curve it really doesn’t make much difference. So you may ask: Why is it then that every freediver I know is in great shape?! When you take a closer look at the physiological demands of breath-hold diving you will realize that freediver’s are in shape because they freedive, not because they have to be. To have fun on a 80’ foot reef you need to know how to effectively use your physiology and learn the proper technique, that’s it!

Now, lets clarify something, there’s no need to run 10 miles every day and look like a Calvin Klein underwear model – however, when you start regularly freediving you may just end up looking like one. Well, not exactly, but you sure will see some pounds shed off! Six packs, sure! They’re around.

How’s that? Well, freediving is an activity that takes place in water, and water is a much better conductor of heat than air, therefore draining the heat out of the freediver much quicker than it would be drained out during the same amount of time on land. Naturally, our body has to compensate for it by increasing our metabolic rate and by burning more calories. “OK then” a skeptical scuba diver might add “I’m in the water too and certainly don’t look like the average freediver.” On average the actual time spent in the water during a freediving session is much longer than during SCUBA – but that’s not the only key.

When you go to the gym nowadays and tell your trainer that you want to loose a few pounds, or just quickly get in shape, unlike the good old days they don’t simply throw you on a treadmill for an hour everyday. The most effective modern fitness training schedules that are sweeping not only all health clubs, but also professional training centers and professional athletic facilities, are based on interval training sessions. Your trainer will more than likely put you on the treadmill, but only for couple of minutes and with a high incline, then he may give you a rest, but only for few minutes,  then you’ll be back doing squats, and then after few minutes of break you might be off lifting light weights for several repetitions and so forth. These are high intensity work out’s designed to put your muscles into oxygen deficit and then followed up with short recovery times. This type of workout burns more calories and it can all be done in a fraction of the time than the old fashion cardio sessions lasted.

When we look at freediving, the body goes into various degrees of oxygen deficit on every single dive. These are usually separated by a short break to recover. Does this sound familiar? Let me remind you that this happens for a much longer time that you would spend in the gym and most certainly at lower temperatures, minus the impact and joint and muscle stress that usually comes with dry land workouts. I guess there is no surprise that the only activity known to man that burns more calories per hour than freediving is: fast axe chopping. So, unless you are lumberjack in the middle of the season, freediving might just be the easiest and most fun to lose some weight…Calvin Klein ad here you come!!

Keep in mind though, you must get properly trained and certified before you begin freediving. Freediving can be dangerous when not done properly. Taking a class will not only speed up your progress (and fat burning potential!), but most importantly will make you a safer (free)diver.

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