Freediving ...what a drag! Errol Putigna

by Errol Putigna - July 19th

Freediving ...what a drag!

I’ve been reading a lot about elite Olympic swim athletes such as Michael Phelps and Dara Torres. Even at their elite levels,their coaches are constantly focusing on technique and their movement through the water. Well, we as freedivers also move through the water and need to be concerned about being efficient and creating less drag. Drag is the freediver’s enemy. It makes us work harder resulting in more oxygen consumption and ultimately, shorter dive times.

We as freedivers/spearfishermen often worry about bottom time and breath-hold capacity. We are constantly working on CO2/O2 tables and increasing our ability to hold our breath. Perhaps we need to address an even more important issue that is often overlookedand will without a doubt increase our bottom times and breath-hold ability…. efficiency in the water!

In my  time as a freediver, I have been lucky enough to train with some of the world’s elite freedivers, Martin Stepanek and Niki Roderick (now NikiStepanek), and they have taught me to work efficiently in the water with just a few simple but extremely important techniques. They may not have the longest breath-holds but most certainly are machines of efficiency in their respective freediving disciplines due to their impeccable techniques. This results in faster dive times, working less during the dive and ultimately burning less O2. This also will apply to spearfisherman; faster decent time to the bottom, less energy expended and more bottom time (and hopefully more fish!)

I was listening to an elite swim coach and he said, “Drag always trumps power”. It’s about balance of power for the stroke or kick with the amount of drag it will create. So, more power will not necessarily make you swim faster, it most likely will create more drag and make for a more difficult swim therefore burning more oxygen.

We ultimately want to be hydrodynamic, streamlined. Some simple tips that will help us achieve this are shoulder flexibility, head position (which will also help us equalize better) and proper kicking with long blade fins.

Shoulder flexibility is HUGE!!! It will put your arms in the most hydrodynamic position and allow your head to be positioned properly (neutral head position, not looking at the bottom of the ocean), basically your biceps touching your ears. This will allow you to cut through the water like a knife… again, exerting less energy and using less O2. When I spearfish, I have one arm extended over my head holding my speargun/polespear and the other hand over my nose to equalize with my elbow tucked into my chest. This provides me a very hydrodynamic body position for spearfishing.

Your kicking is your engine. It is what will give you the propulsion necessary. With long blade fins, the fin only works when the blade is bent. It’s not about doing a fast kick. The faster you kick the more drag you will create (remember, drag is not good). It’s about doing a nice wide kick, originating from the hip, with the right amount of power to keep the blade bent.

In freediving, besides the ability to equalize,there has to be a happy marriage between three things to make you an efficient freediver; Comfort/relaxation, your technique and your breath hold. If one is weaker than the other, the stronger one will have to compensate for the lack in the other one. Example, if you have insufficient technique (most likely will also make the dive less comfortable) than you’ll have to have a better breath-hold to make up for the lack in technique. If you have a better technique you can afford to not have as long of a breath hold. Both breath hold and technique will ultimately have to balance with comfort and relaxation… the mental game of freediving.

Of course, there are other factors that will help your freediving such as equalization, having a good freediving gear, diet and physical conditioning but the efficiency in the water can be corrected easily and give you immediate results.

I hope with this little bit of advice it will motivate you to focus more on your technique which in turn will give you a better overall dive…….and make freediving less of a “drag”!

Safe diving! Errol

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