INTRODUCTION TO BREATHING FOR FREEDIVING BY MARCO VALLARINO   A lot has already been said and written about breathing, as it has always been the
PHYSIOLOGY AND BIOMECHANICS  BY MARCO VALLARINO   PHYSIOLOGY In order to keep living our cells need the oxygen, available in the air we breath a
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 In regards to safety we have to talk about two techniques in particular that are potentially dangerous: hyperventilation and glosso-farinx breathing.

The first one is fortunately no longer practiced while the second ne is still used among athlete to get a little more oxygen.

Hyperventilation, is a sequence of deep and fast respiratory acts that has frequently been used in the past especially by the great Enzo Maiorca. After several studies this technique has been progressively abandoned as divers understood it was dangerous for health.

Hyperventilation, in fact, does not allow more oxygen in but it drastically reduces the levels of carbon oxide in our body.

The CO2, as we know, is the component that affects the regulation of our breathing:  an increased level of it stimulates the respiratory centre to give an impulse for a new respiratory act. Then it’s the CO2 that stimulates the diaphragm contractions once we hold our breath longer. At the beginning of an apnea we have a sensation of wellness as we have a good level of oxygen and a low quantity of CO2, the body is fine. As the apnea goes on the CO2 increases while the oxygen decreases, the body realizes then something is going wrong. The respiratory centre gives the impulse to exhale the exceeding CO2: contractions of the diaphragm start taking place (some feel them at the larynx). At this stage the diver can choose to ignore them and to endure the painful sensation.

What is the risk?

The danger is represented by the fact that the contractions are the signal of a CO2 level growth while the oxygen decreases with no signals at all. So when the O2 level gets to the minimum the brain, the organ that more than the others need it to survive, protects itself by disconnecting from all the rest of the body, with well-known consequences called “samba”: moments of no neuro-muscle coordination shortly preceding the total black-out. For this reason the diaphragm contractions, being connected to the level of CO2, are the most important signal to pay attention to. They allow us to understand our limits.

By hyperventilating we lower the level of CO2, then the contractions are delayed and in the meantime the oxygen goes rapidly down to a critical level with no perceptible signal. It is so evident how hyperventilating is a technique to discourage and by consequence it has been abandoned by everyone. This is in part due to Jacques Mayol, who has been the first to introduce the use of relaxation and breathing yoga techniques in freediving.

In regards to the glosso-farynx breathing it undoubtedly has a great value in rehabilitation, but according to the most famous doctors and researchers in the under water domain has several contraindications. By using this technique, in fact, we passively introduce air in our lungs through a particular movement of the pharynx in coordination with the glottis, after a maximum inspiration. This entails the risk of a pulmonary over distension.


In the several pure freediving specialties, in spearfishing and in other underwater sports, according to the type of performance requested, different types of breathing can be adopted together with specific tricks in the performance of the respiratory acts.

In the static apnea for example it is important to choose a breathing that best enhance the body and mental relaxation and the last breath will not be a forced one to avoid muscle tension. Some very trained athletes are used to fill their lungs at the maximum capacity, but they are trained to do this and they have gained a great elasticity of the ribcage that cause no excessive tensions.

In the linear dynamic apnea, with or without fins, it usually suggested to fill the lungs at 70-80%, in order to avoid the so called explosion reflex. It is different instead the case of constant and variable ballast dives, where a greater stock of air will be useful to better manage the compensation during the way down to the bottom, a maximum inspiration will conclude the ventilation before the dive. Spearfishing instead is a different matter as we need to dive repeatedly and manage at best the recovery periods on the surface.

We should always prefer the abdominal phase during the surface breathing and make just 3 or 4 complete diaphragm breathing acts before going down. This is due to avoid the risk of hyperventilation and to incur in the of Taravana if we dive over a certain depth. In every single specialty it is important that the first expiration act after emersion is brief and controlled, as it has to be used to expel just a small part of air in order to avoid a rapid decrease of the partial pressure of the oxygen and the risk of a black-out. Only after this partial expiration we will be allowed to breath deeply to recover. This is the fundamental safety procedure.


Breathing is at the basis of our life, improving its functionality and quality will lead to many benefits: reduces the stress, increases the energetic level of the body, relaxes the mind, helps to focus the attention, makes a massage through the diaphragm to all the inner organs, helps to balance the neurovegetative system.

If we add on top of that the passion for the sea, by learning how to hold the breath we will have the chance to discover a new world not only outside but also inside ourselves. The 75% of our body is made of water, before being born we spend few month in a liquid and being able to get back to it even for a short period with a new awareness is an experience that can enrich us a lot.

Breathing, holding the breath and dive in the blue ….

Let’s learn to listen to our breath, to take it inside and outside us, to hold it in a simple and pleasing way, then we are surrounded by the blue we will be able to listen to a greater breath, maybe the sea breath, maybe other…



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