- Harry Chamas
Rest and Recovery | Freedivings most under rated training principle
Rest and recovery must be the most under rated aspects of training in freediving. Utilising Proper rest could be the piece of the puzzle which, if put in place, allows you to perform at a higher level – whatever your current depth may be. Living in Dahab I see people come to train for anywhere between 1 week and 1 year. I like to keep an eye on everyone; there is always something to learn. What I see is almost everyone over training to the point of burn out. Usually the result is performance dropping off and total loss of motivation. A classic example would be someone coming for 4 weeks, diving 6 days a week for 3 weeks and not diving for the last week. Even if there is only 1 week to train, 6 days is too much for most people. As fatigue builds, concentration diminishes and performance drops. I coach people for a minimum of 1 week, most of the time it is more than that, but occasionally people only have the time for 1 week due to life commitments. No matter what, we always dive at a 2:1 ratio, this is sometimes hard for them to accept as it means only 5 diving days out of 7. So I explain that they have come to me because they have accepted that I have a higher level of knowledge and experience, and that if they truly want to perform, they need to have full levels of energy and focus.
It is well known in other sports that adequate rest in needed to repair and build muscle and recover neurologically and psychologically. So why not in freediving? It is true that in freediving the demands on the skeletal muscular system are low (unless you do some high intensity pool training). So muscle damage is minimal. This means that there is less feedback (soreness/weakness) to tell you that you need to rest. So what are the reasons that rest and recovery is needed? 1. The mental focus necessary to perform a dive or work on a skill Training – Whether being coached, taught or practicing yourself – maintaining the awareness necessary to notice old habits and put new more affective ones in place is cognitively taxing. It is true that focus is a skill which can become stronger, but it is a skill that is becoming very rare in these days of instant gratification and social media. Most people spend the majority of their day on autopilot, so when it's time to train, their focus is not adequate. It’s like never running then deciding to do a cross country running holiday for a week. When coaching I understand this, and that is the reason that I only focus on one thing at a time with my students. We only move on once that one thing has sunk in and no longer requires much focus. It is important to realise that the focus required while freediving is much more challenging than any other activity due to the overwhelming nature of being underwater (unless highly trained). Performance – When it is time to perform and start to do your deep diving and PB’s there is also a high level of focus necessary. You must perform you skills correctly, manage stress and perform to your full potential. 2. The dive response We as freedivers like to think of the dive response as our friendly little helper. But using this adaptation comes at a price. The Mammalian dive response is a survival mechanism, meaning our unconscious believes we may die and does whatever it can to keep us alive. The central nervous system (which is responsible for most mental and physical activities) sets in motion the DR. These responses tax the limited stores within our CNS and when these stores become low, we experience CNS fatigue (CNS fatigue shares many symptoms of overtraining but is harder to recover from). I remember when I was a profession safety diver in Freedive Club Greece, doing many deep safety dives per day. Each time I felt the DR kick in I knew I would suffer once I got out of the water, and I inevitably did. 3. Stress management When you are nearing or surpassing your personal best depths, there will be a degree or stress surrounding this. You have to be aware that you must act a certain way to ensure you are ready for a maximum performance. This state of readiness must be maintained for the entire period that you are “peaking”. Each decision you make needs to run through the filter – “will this affect my dive”. The dive is always lurking around in your consciousness and with it a level of stress. After a certain period of this residual stress you become worn out by it and loose motivation. Avoiding this is the essence of “peaking” or periodization. The Peaking period needs to be long enough to reach your target and no longer. I personally got caught out by this recently. Due to corona virus restrictions, I could only dive once every 10 days on average, this lead to a VERY long period of peaking. The long gaps between dives had me believe that I could maintain this as there was plenty of time to recover from the dive itself. But it was this residual stress over about 8 weeks of dives at 90% or more of my max depth that lead to a solid burn out.
For these reasons I have certain guidelines for my training and the people that I coach - 1. Maximum of 160m-200m total depth per dive session. 2. 1 Session per day. 3. Maximum of 2 dive days between a rest day. 4. Dives closer to your true max (hypoxia) require more rest. 5. 4-7 solid days off from apnea every 4 weeks (for longer depth training periods). 6. No more than 2-3 weeks of “peaking” without a "deload" week (depending on fitness). Obviously these guidelines will vary according to the individuals personal circumstances, health, level of performance, and training intensity. But the average Joe will do much better following these standards than diving themselves to burn out each chance they get. I hope this helps some of you out there, let me know your own experience in the comments and share this link if you would like to help make a community of smarter freedivers out there.