Welcome to Part Ten of The Beginner’s Guide to Freediving, the best place to start your freediving journey. If you’re planning to start freediving, this chapter is about the importance of stretching for freediving – including stretches for the whole body and specific stretches for diaphragm flexibility.
The importance of Stretching for Freediving
The more flexible, open and relaxed your body is, the easier it will be to move through the water, equalize and avoid cramp. Stretching the body can help facilitate this. Stretching for freediving also helps to rid the muscles of lactic acid and move lymph. Many freedivers have a specific stretching routine they perform before and after a dive session; some practice yoga, and some do not do any stretching at all. Stretching for freediving is a very personal thing that should be based on your body, the conditions you find yourself in, and personal choice.
We are born with an innate flexibility that, as we grow older, can either be sustained or neglected. Some people are naturally more flexible than others, some have hyper-mobile joints, while taller people often have tighter hamstring muscles. In my teaching career, I have seen many people, mainly men, who have spent a lot of time in the gym, bulking up their muscles. In doing so, they find it very difficult for their body to move freely. Their chest does not have the flexibility to cope with compression and depth, their arms cannot be positioned above their head in a streamlined position for free immersion or using a monofin, and they are more likely to suffer from cramp in the water. If you look at gymnasts, you can see that it is possible to have both muscle strength and flexibility. One does not preclude the other.
A practice that I find to be an enormously beneficial part of stretching for freediving, is yoga. Some people are wary about the idea of yoga, believing erroneously that it means they are performing a religious act. Hatha yoga is the branch of yoga concerned with physicality of the body, strengthening and loosening it, and you do not have to subscribe to the other, more spiritual tenets of yoga to reap the benefits. The stretching exercises found in Hatha Yoga are often the same stretches found in in gyms, exercise classes and physiotherapy sessions across the world. In this article we will look at some stretches that can help prepare your body for freediving and loosen it afterwards.
Before you begin stretching for freediving, it is important that you are warm and comfortable and take it gently. Aggressive stretching on a cold wet day in a dive site car park can cause more problems than it seeks to prevent, so be sure to adapt your stretches to the environment. Again, you do not want to be lying on the floor if the floor is dirty or you are lying in a cold draft. Take into consideration the time of day and the current condition of your body. Your body will be less flexible first thing in the morning, for instance, while diaphragm stretches are best performed on a completely empty stomach. If your muscles are be sore from exercise, you have an injury or you’re recovering from illness, you must take your body’s condition into consideration.
When stretching for freediving, ensure that you listen to your body and do not try and match the teacher or the person next to you. Every body is different and stretching should benefit the body, not cause further problems. A foam mat is a cheap investment for stretching on, however you may find that you need other props such as a wall, a chair, blocks and cushions so that you can stretch in comfort. Stretches should always be done when the body is warm and, preferably, when warmed up.