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While it can seem like apnea training starts at the beginning of an inhale and ends at the exhale, our overall physical and mental health plays a huge role in our breath-holding capabilities.
At The Salt Sirens, we’ve caught up with Lena who can be found @lena.surf on the strategies she uses to stay healthy in between apnea trainings. Please note that this advice is anecdotal only and not to be used in lieu of professional or medical advice.
While freediving is all about being calm and preparing for each breath hold by slowing the heart rate and focusing on mental relaxation, I train for open-ocean situations with big waves–where you won’t get the opportunity to relax before inhaling and holding your breath.
When surfing, it’s common to have a surprising and sudden breath-hold in challenging conditions. For example, when you surf and wipe out, you can often lose all of the air in your lungs through the impact of falling. Training for these scenarios can be different to training for traditional ‘freediving,’ while still using traditional freedive training techniques.
To train for an unplanned breath-hold while surfing it’s important to focus on staying calm, holding your breath and swimming to the surface, taking a quick breath at the surface before the next wave comes. It’s important to become a strong swimmer under normal and difficult conditions, in terms of muscle strength, and in terms of making that one breath or that short breathing interval really count.
As a disclaimer, the health impacts of apnea are unclear. However, surfers should prepare for critical situations where they may be forced to hold their breath for longer than what they’re typically comfortable with. As with everything, it is important to evaluate the pros and cons and find a balance of intensity.
Therefore, it is even more important to be conscious of what you do before, after and around that training. For me, without taking scientific credit, these are the strategies I use to stay healthy in between surf and apnea training sessions.
Before apnea training:
- Cut off alcohol 24-hours prior to training: I hardly drink alcohol in general, but at least 24 h before training, I’d say it’s a no-go. The same goes for any other substances that can destroy the body.
- Limit how much you eat beforehand: If I train at 13:00, I often do not eat anything beforehand. My last meal would have been dinner the night before. If I do feel hungry, I have a small snack two-hours before training at the latest. I avoid dairy. It’s a common experience in apnea training that dairy makes you feel horrible when doing breath-holding. Your digestion will stop anyway during the training, and you may suffer from a full stomach and could even throw up. I do the same when surfing in bigger waves. If your stomach is busy processing a big meal, you are missing that energy in your arms. A big wipe-out is worse with a full stomach.
- Stretch: Right before starting the warm-up of swimming laps in the pool, I have a good stretch.
- Focus on relaxation: Do not stress, neither before nor during nor after. This includes leaving enough time to get somewhere after your training, so that you’re not stressed about it during the training itself. This training is intense but precious. I need to be fully there to be able to push my limits in the safe environment of the pool, to make the most of this situation for my surfing in the ocean.
After apnea training:
- Breathe well: After training–even extending for the next few hours–make sure to breathe well; calmly and deeply. If I do not do this, I tend to get headaches which can last for a few days.
- Have a healthy meal: I like to eat something soon after the training to nourish the body. Usually vegetables or beans–something healthy that your body can use.
- A little caffeine is okay: I like to have a coffee around two hours after training for two reasons. Firstly, I’d be too exhausted the rest of the day otherwise Secondly, . First, I feel it helps relieve and prevent apnea headaches.
- Rest: I do not exercise for the rest of the day. If I have a big day of surfing the next day, I usually don’t train the day before. You need to give your body time to rest. It’s better to train less often but be consistent over the months and years.
- Sleep: Especially the first few weeks of doing pool apnea training, I slept much longer than usual after training–around nine or even 10 hours per night. I’ve talked to many athletes and learned that most sleep much more than the recommended 7-8 hours.