A Beginner's Guide to Freediving

October 23, 2017

Have you ever wanted to take a plunge beneath the waves without the heavy apparatus of scuba gear? Any time you dip your head under the water and swim, you are doing what is considered a freedive. But, as with everything, there are various methods in which to do so. Simply diving under the water is one way, but you can also take your freediving skills much farther!

Freediving lets you challenge yourself and explore the world underwater all on the power of your own breath—and it’s available to everyone with a little preparation. It can be done recreationally or competitively, with training in breathing and equalization techniques. Freedivers also use equipment specific to their discipline to optimize the depths they can achieve and lengthen the amount time they spend holding their breath.

How to Prepare

Like any physical activity, freediving demands some preparation. You’ll need to know how to breathe leading up to a dive, how to best manage air during a dive, and how to recover your breath afterwards. You will also need to learn to equalize. "Equalizing" occurs when you adjust the pressure within the open air pockets in your sinuses and ears. When underwater, the pressure can build on these areas, leading to headaches and discomfort. Because of this, if you plan to do a lengthy of deep free dive, it can be worth your while to prepare and do some physical conditioning. 


There are specific methods of breathing before and after a dive, as well as a method of taking a last breath.

  • Before--Take long, relaxed breaths with a longer exhalation than inhalation, pausing at the end of each breath.

  • Last Breath--Perform a complete exhalation to deplete your lungs of air, then inhale to maximum capacity with fresh air. Expand your stomach to fill the lower region of your lungs and open your mouth wide to fill the upper region.

  • After--Quickly exhale a small amount of air, then take a quick, deep breath in. Pause, then repeat the process until your breathing returns to normal.


When descending underwater, the air spaces in our body get smaller. We experience pain if we do not add air to those spaces to compensate for the difference, equalizing the pressure inside to have them retain surface-level volume and preventing injury. These areas include the sinuses and your ears.

  • Sinuses--Your sinuses are most affected by the open area within your mask. The amount of air available to equalize the space in the mask is limited by how much air is taken in upon diving.  To equalize the mask area (and prevent sinus injury and burst capillaries in the eyes) exhale a small amount of air from the nose into the mask.

  • Ears--There are two methods for equalizing ear pressure:

    • Valsalva Maneuver--Pinch your nose and try to exhale against the pinched nose.

    • Frenzel Maneuver--Use the back of your tongue to put pressure on the back of your throat, all the while pinching your nose.

Physical Condition

Freediving is easier to do when generally fit, as athleticism aids in respiratory strength. You can practice breathing techniques while doing other forms of exercise, or while lying down, stretching, or practicing yoga.  


While you can take a dive with only your swimsuit and held breath, you can get more out of freediving by incorporating equipment. Masks, fins, weights, and a variety of exposure suits all help make freediving more enjoyable, allow you to reach new depths, and endure different water conditions.


An ideal free diving mask features low volume for easier equalization, clear lenses, a nose pocket, and a comfortable silicone seal around the face. ScubaMax offers great masks for beginning freedivers.


A snorkel is optional, but good for preparing to dive. It should have a soft silicone mouthpiece, a simple bore (pipe), and the means to attach itself to the mask or a floatation device. The Cressi Supernova Dry Snorkel fits comfortably and attaches easily to most masks.


Fins make the process of diving easier, allowing you to cover more ground than solely relying on your own leg strength. Both monofins and bi-fins (a pair of fins) have a place in the free-diving world.

  • Bi Fins--Bi fins are best for recreational diving. They are easier for maneuvering in the water, with long lengths, enclosed feet holes, and fin retainers around ankles. The Cressi Frog Plus Adjustable Diving Fin provides an option that tailors to your foot size.

  • Monofins--Monofins, the ones that imitate mermaid tails, are best for depth, distance and speed. They demand more of the wearer physically, as they use the entire body to propel through the water. A monofin features foot pockets, varying stiffness designs, and often wings attached to the edges to keep water on the water during motion. FINIS provides several styles of monofins designed for speed or competition.


Weights are typically worn around the hips so as to not restrict breathing. They should always be flexible, but tight, and evenly spaced for hydrodynamics in the water. IST and HYDRO-FIT supplies adjustable, evenly spaced weight belts that fit securely around the waist.

Exposure Suits

Suits worn for freediving range in design from protection against cold water to defense against sun or jellyfish. Wetsuits, pool suits, and dive skins all help streamline the diver for better movement through the water. Cressi, IST and SlipIns all provide suits and skins designed for diving, but less cumbersome than wetsuits. Some freedivers will also use gloves to protect their fingers from cold and, when using a line, friction.\

Other Equipment

The following list of diving equipment is more specialized and dependant on involvement:

  • Lanyards--Lanyards are crucial to use with a line, both recreationally and competitively. It should have a quick-release mechanism that can be operated with one hand.

  • Computers--Essentially a dive watch, computers should display surface interval time, current depth, maximum depth, depth alarms, water temperature, current time, dive time, and a stopwatch/timer.

  • Buoy and Line--For beginners and professionals alike, a buoy and line system helps the diver achieve greater depths in relative safety. The line aids in diving down and the return trip—and should be bright and visible in the water, include depth markers, be easily adjustable, and have a weighted bottom to keep it vertical. A buoy should be able to hold a line and at least one diver, have hand holds for resting divers and equipment storage, and feature a notifying flag for passing boats.  

Competitive Freediving

As a sport, freediving can be done in open water or the pool. Open water diving includes:

  • Constant Weight Freediving (CWT/CNF)--A depth competition performed with or without fins, the diver descends and ascends using their own strength. Weight remains constant throughout the dive’s duration.

  • Free Immersion Freediving (FIM)--Often used as a warmup for for CWT/CNF to save leg strength, this form excludes the use of fins. The diver pulls themselves down a rope and back up.

  • Variable Weight Freediving (VWT)--Using weights to achieve a certain depth, the diver then uses his or her own power, finning, and a rope to return to the surface.

  • No Limits Freediving (NLT)--The most dangerous form, NLT uses a weight to take the diver as deep as possible, followed by use of buoyancy devices to come back up.

Pool disciplines are frequently used to train for open water competitions, but are also mapped on their own scale.

  • Static Apnea (STA)--While floating millimeters from the surface, this discipline has you holding your breath for as long as possible. It’s great preparation for long, deep dives in open water.

  • Dynamic Apnea--Done with or without fins, dynamic apnea helps challenge freedivers who struggle with equalizing, as it is performed horizontally in a pool. The diver holds his or her breath and attempts to achieve a maximum distance while swimming underwater.

Free Dive Safely

Freediving expands what you can experience beneath the surface of the water. It should never be attempted alone in case of an accident, whether done in the open water or a pool. It’s easily accessible to water enthusiasts of all levels with some conditioning on breath control, equalizing, and basic swimming ability. Anytime you hold your breath underwater, you are essentially freediving. Get into a sport that’s about both mental and physical fortitude, and lets you undertake some underwater exploration.

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