Static apnea can be divided in 4 phases: WARM-UP, BREATH-UP, RELAXATION and the CONTRACTIONS PHASE.
The idea behind a warmup is to kick in the Mammalian Diving Reflex (MDR) and Breath-hold Reflex. As you may have noticed during a dive session or while doing static tables, breath-hold times seem to increase with each breath-hold for the first half hour or so. This is due to the onset of numerous mechanisms: peripheral vasoconstriction (blood shift), bradycardia (slowing of the heart), splenic contraction (increasing red blood cell count) and increased bicarbonate buffers in the blood.
• The means of stimulating these reflexes is to induce hypoxia but more effectively, hypercapnia and its associated diaphragmatic contractions.
This is best done through series of 3 or 4 warmup breath-holds.
• Because the purpose is to induce contractions through elevated CO2, the recovery between the breath-holds can be shortened and the breath-up before each hold can also be shortened.
• Facial immersion in cool water during the warmup period is another effective way of triggering the MDR.
Example: during the warm-up, the breath-up time will not exceed 5 minutes.
|6 in, 6 out||diaphragmatic||2 minutes|
|5 in, 6 out|| diaphragmatic-chest ||1 minute|
| 5 in, 5 out || diaphragmatic-chest ||2 minutes|
| Total time warm-up: ||5 minutes|
During the warm-up breath-holds, you won't try to reach your max. One purpose can be to hold your breath a certain time after the first contraction (ex: 2 minutes).
2) BREATH UP
The breath-up (the length of, depth and frequency of breaths leading up to the breath-hold), although not very important during the warmup, becomes crucially important during the final breath-up, the 5 or 6 minutes leading up to the target breath-hold or dive.
Its purpose is to oxygenate the blood and deep tissues, slow the heart rate and even more importantly, slow down and concentrate the mind.
• Breath rate should be as slow as comfortably possible, typically 4 breaths/minute. Exhales should be twice as long as inhales (the heart tends to slow during exhales).
• A short hold can be included at the top of the inhale: inhale/hold/exhale ratio of 5/2/8.
• Breathing should be fairly deep and originate from the lower abdomen as in Yogic Pranayama breathing. To slow the exhale without keeping the diaphragmatic and intercostal muscles tensed, purse the lips or restrict the throat.
• To concentrate and still the mind (get the Alpha & Theta brain waves flowing), the eyes should be closed and the attention should be internalised and placed on the sensation of breathing (as in most forms of meditation). Intermittently shift the focus of attention to the other areas of the body to check that ALL muscles are TOTALLY relaxed.
• For the last minute or so of the breath-up, breathing can be sped up and deepened (purge breathing) e.g. 4/4 inhale/exhale. Packing can be incorporated (a useful trick if packing is to pack till just uncomfortable, then exhale into cheeks and then at about the time of first contraction inhale that air back into the lungs).
Note on breathups: breathups for statics will generally not be the same as for dives.
The reason is that although relatively high levels of CO2 helps in the retention of consciousness, the urge to breathe caused by the increasing CO2 levels will usually spell the end of a static before one has run out of O2.
When diving however, the urge to breathe caused by CO2 will be suppressed to such an extent that the diver can dive to the point of blackout without feeling much of an urge to breathe.
For this reason it's advised to start a dive with higher levels of CO2 than you would for a static.
When breathing up before a dive, as opposed to a static, it is often best not to purge but to rather slow the breathing in the final minute or two by incorporating holds of up to 10 seconds at the top of the inhale e.g. 4/10/10. The most deciding factor here is how much CO2 to start the dive with. This will also depend on each person's general blood acidity/alkalinity and their blood pH on that particular day, as this does vary not only between people but from one day to the next.
The importance of the right breath-up can't be overemphasised enough.
When the breath-hold begins, the main thing to do is to relax all your muscles.
• This includes the large and obvious groups (e.g. quadriceps and shoulders) as well as the minor muscles (e.g. neck, face).
• Go through the body systematically from head to toe. Often one only picks up on muscular tension minutes into the breath-hold. Try make the muscles ''heavy'', as if you were sinking into the bed/water.
The science of Deep Muscle Relaxation is a useful method of learning effective muscular relaxation.
With regard to the mind, there are various places you can put it during the static.
• While complete absence of discursive thought might be ideal (the brain when active uses 30-40% of all O2), it is difficult to achieve, especially as the static progresses.
• The mind can be left to drift on its own accord or you can have a topic with which to occupy the mind as it begins to become active. Creative visualisations seem to be the most popular. Accessing distant (pleasant) memories has been shown to work well (e.g. memories of childhood holidays).
• It seems to work best when each internal scene is examined in as much detail as possible. Other common visualisations include counting heartbeats, thinking of members of the opposite sex, walking a journey, thinking down the heartbeat and thinking non-verbal feeling of benevolence.
• Try not to use effort to control the mind, better to leave it free to wonder on its own accord if it so chooses.
4) CONTRACTIONS PHASE
The "comfort stage" of relaxation will end with the onset of contractions.
• The contractions can either be ignored or used as a rhythm on which to focus. Counting them in sets of 5, 10, 20 or 30 (depending on your average total number) is also a useful technique. Apart from providing an easy focus of attention and a good indication of your progress, it breaks the contractions down into more manageable units and provides an easy goal to finish the set and then to do just one more set.
• Contractions can be left to their own accord of softened by ''relaxing into'' them.
The idea is to limit the muscular effort of the contraction and therefore save O2.
Most important is to be guarded against developing an aversion to their inevitable onset.
Contractions, by their stimulation of the vagus nerve, induce a profound bradycardia and slowing of metabolism and should therefore be welcomed. Their purpose after all is to force extra oxygen into the blood by circulating the air in the lungs and increasing its pressure, as well as increasing O2 availability to the brain by temporarily increasing cerebral blood pressure.
Towards the end of the struggle phase, the eyes should be opened and the rational mind ''switched back on''. This is because the brain is near to shutting down (in order to conserve O2) and so a deliberate effort is needed to wake it up and stay conscious (also important to do in CW). Try asking yourself questions in order to gauge how lucid the mind is. If you notice confusion it's time to pull up. Also, be aware of your vision, as it is usually the first think to fade. if you notice it starting to ''tunnel'' or become bright, it's definitely time to breathe!
The overarching principle in statics (in fact in all aspects of freediving) is EXPERIMENT.
Physiologically and psychologically, everyone is different: what works for one person might not work for another.
Try changing every aspect of the breath-up and static to see what works best for you.
Be methodical in your experiments and only change one variable at a time so you will easily isolate the cause of the success or failure. Stick with any changes for at least a week or two so as to be able to properly evaluate its effect. Very importantly, keep a diary of every static session. Record as much information as possible (e.g. general diet, food intake in the last 12 hours, time of day, temperature, blood pressure, warmup routine, breath-up duration, depth and frequency, visualisation technique, time of onset of contractions, number of contractions, etc.).
There is endless scope for experimentation and improvements in the art of static apnea.
TRAINING FOR STATIC
Good statics are very much about tweaking and fine tuning but if you want to be competitive in static apnea, the hard yards need to be done.
Hypercapnia (high CO2) and Hypoxia (low O2) are the two main areas of training for static apnea. They are more important to static training than to to any other apnea discipline.
Performing max statics is also a necessary part of training, especially as it provides an opportunity to experiment different breathups.
For the sake of getting the body and mind used to high levels of CO2 and low levels of O2, there are other effective and less time consuming training methods.
I) The Tables
Originally developed by Umberto Pelizzari's Apnea Academy, the ''Tables'' are nothing more than a serie of 8 consecutive breath-holds.
• The hypercapnia table ("table A") is designed to expose the diver to the highest level of CO2 as possible. For this reason the intervals between breath-holds are designed to be as short as possible. This is because it takes considerably longer for CO2 levels to normalise than for O2 levels.
Typically the diver will chose a fixed breath-hold time of roughly 50% of max and have intervals decrease by 15 seconds for each breath-hold starting from an interval of 2 or 3 minutes.
- Hold 1 = 2:00 , 2:00 rest period - Hold 1 = 3:00 , 3:00 rest period
- Hold 2 = 2:00 , 1:45 rest period - Hold 2 = 3:00 , 2:45 rest period
- Hold 3 = 2:00 , 1:30 rest period - Hold 3 = 3:00 , 2:30 rest period
- Hold 4 = 2:00 , 1:15 rest period - Hold 4 = 3:00 , 2:15 rest period
- Hold 5 = 2:00 , 1:00 rest period - Hold 5 = 3:00 , 2:00 rest period
- Hold 6 = 2:00 , 0:45 rest period - Hold 6 = 3:00 , 1:45 rest period
- Hold 7 = 2:00 , 0:30 rest period - Hold 7 = 3:00 , 1:30 rest period
- Hold 8 = 2:00 - Hold 8 = 3:00 , 1:15 rest period
• The O2 table ("table B") works the other way around, by keeping the intervals between breath-holds the same and increasing the actual breath-hold time.
Intervals should be long enough to blow off most of the excess C02 and breath-holds should be long enough that you become hypoxic ie near max.
- Hold 1 = 1:15 , 2:30 rest period
- Hold 2 = 1:30 , 2:30 rest period
- Hold 3 = 1:45 , 2:30 rest period
- Hold 4 = 2:00 , 2:30 rest period
- Hold 5 = 2:15 , 2:30 rest period
- Hold 6 = 2:30 , 2:30 rest period
- Hold 7 = 2:45 , 2:30 rest period
- Hold 8 = 3:00
II) Empty lungs tables
They are a very effective form of hypoxia training. Typically done (dry) with much hyperventilating, they make it easier for the diver to become hypoxic as hypercapnia is effectively eliminated from the equation.
Although hypoxia has its own particular feelings of discomfort (known as the Hypoxic Ventilatory Response), it is usually high pCO2 (partial pressure CO2) and resulting acidosis that causes the diver to terminate his static attempt.
With this method, the diver can in theory hold his breath to the point of samba with considerably less discomfort than with a full-lung breath-hold (sambas are not recommended).
The reason for hypoxia training is that it has been shown to result in the permanent growth of micro-capillaries, as well to result in an elevated haemoglobin/red blood cell count (as happens in athletes who train at altitudes where there is less oxygen in the air).
As it has just been said, it is typically high levels of CO2 that cause a diver to end a static attempt. This is particularly true with less experienced divers who have not yet developed much tolerance to CO2. For this reason hypercapnia exercises provide the best returns for novice and intermediate divers who want to improve their (CO2) bottom times and for divers of all levels who want to improve their static times.
III) Apnea walking
It is a very effective form of training. An advantage over the tables is that walking produces large amounts of CO2, thereby making the exercise more intense and shorter in duration. Walking up an incline has the added advantage of conditioning the quadriceps to work under conditions of excessive lactic acid.
Example: 6 series
Resting time between series: 1min. to 1.30 including recovery breathing.
Breath up: 5'' in, 5'' out stomach and chest (2 section breathing)
Walk slowly and as long as you can. Better to do it in the beach or on the grass in case you faint.
After your last breath, don't move for 5'' before you start to walk.
"Empty lungs tables'' and "apnea walking" are more effective and less time consuming than doing the traditional tables.
BASIC RULES FOR STATIC
• Static training should not be done every day. If however one is training for a competition, the last 3 weeks prior can include daily hypercapnia training. This will produce excessive free-radicals within the body and it then becomes very important to eat right and supplement with antioxidants, as well as get sufficient sleep.
• Food should not be taken within 4-6 hours of max static attempts.
If it's been much more than 6 hours since food, liquid carbohydrates in the form of a sports drink is recommended.
• It is generally not a good idea to go for personal bests (''PB's'') too often as the expectation and associated psychological stress (especially when one does not achieve near a PB) becomes counterproductive, i.e. leave the watch at home. As with all freediving disciples, it is better to be process than numbers orientated.
• Wet statics have their own particular character and some people find them easier than dry statics. The principle of specificity applies here as everywhere: if training for a competition, practice statics wet rather than dry.
• Temperature plays an important role in statics. It's generally found that late night is the most productive time for dry statics, the reason being that the body's core temperature is lowest at these times. With wet statics there is a danger of overheating if wearing too much neoprene in a heated pool. However, the most common mistake made in static competitions is people becoming too cold. A wetsuit of some sort should be worn, even in heated pools.
To maximise the Mammalian Diving Reflex it helps to to have as big a difference in temperature as possible between the face and the body. The body should be as cool as possible without in any way being so cold as to shiver or feel uncomfortable, and the face should be cooler if possible. Remove the wetsuit hood and choose swimming goggles over a mask to maximise facial contact with water (receptors around the eyes and upper lip trigger the MDR when in contact with cool or cold water).
Warning: Wet statics of any kind (including bathtub statics) must ALWAYS be done with a buddy. A prearranged set of signals, as in competition, should be agreed upon in advance e.g. a tap 30 seconds before target time and every 15 seconds after target time to which the diver must respond to by the raising of a finger.
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