This week we are focused on breathing. I’m going be giving you my single biggest instructor level tip to help you get your scuba diving breathing under control and make it the best it can be. But first I want to answer the three most common questions that I get as a dive instructor with regards to breathing as a diver.
Why is breath control so important to scuba divers?
I’m a big fan of breathing in general; I mean like I do it every day, all day. For as far back as I can really remember I’m a massive fan of breathing whilst some people would put their ability to fog a mirror on their resume I’ve never really considered breathing a skill until you get underwater. Now the reason that breathing is considered a skill when you’re scuba diving is there’s a right way to breathe and a wrong way to breathe. You need to bear in mind that breathing is interconnected with other core skills so you have breathing propulsion trim and buoyancy control and if one of those is off it’s going to affect the other three. If your breathing is off your buoyancy is instantly off. If your fitting is off that’s gonna affect your breathing which is going to affect your trim in your body position in the water. Everything is interconnected and on top of that the slower and more controlled your breathing is the longer and more enjoyable your dives are going to be.
How should I be breathing when I’m diving?
To answer it I’m going to draw my experience as a technical diving instructor and give you some kind of next level advice and hints and tips for techniques that we use to minimize our gas consumption. To master it I highly recommend that you develop diaphragmatic or breathing that means using your diaphragm muscles to draw air into your lungs rather than pumping it in with your chest muscles. This way you’re drawing air deep down into the bottom of your lungs and then emptying from the top using your chest muscles in a traditional way. What this does is it cycles the gas in your lungs as much as possible and gets as much CO2 which is the gas that actually drives your need to breathe out of your lungs and pumps fresh gas in there. In technical diving this is known as ideal breathing.
Now if diaphragmatic breathing just doesn’t seem to work for you there is something else you can do and that’s try to regulate the amount of time you spend breathing in with the amount of time you spend breathing out so breathe in for a four count and breathe out for a four count. When you can do that through your diving and you realize that your breathing has evened out, inhale and exhale and go to a five count. And when you can do that without having to count to five on each inhale and exhale and you find that that’s becoming your natural pattern, go to a six count and then you’re pretty much instructor level. Having that nice rhythmic breathing is going to help slow down your heart rate, make you more relaxed and it is going to cycle gas through your lungs as efficiently as possible.
How can I fix my breathing and gas consumption?
Aside from the obvious of do more cardio and get into a better physical condition there’s a lot of things you can do to reduce your gas consumption some of which are about breathing and some of which are about other gas uses. While you’re on a dive one of the things I recommend any scuba diver to do that’s looking to improve their gas consumption is refine their finning and trim. Needless to say if you get your finning and trim as efficient as possible you’re going to be expending less energy underwater. You’re going to be creating less drag and each kick is going to be more efficient so what that’s going to do is that your body isn’t working so hard. You’re not going to produce as much CO2 and CO2 buildup is the gas that actually triggers your desire to breathe in and that’s what’s causing you to consume more gas.
In addition to working on your finning and trim I also want you to work on your weighting. Essentially you always want to be diving with the least amount of weight you can get away with if you’re overweight. It means every kick you’re doing you’re propelling more mass through the water than you should have to which is going to mean that you’re going to have to breathe harder.
Another top tip that I tell my divers all the time is if you’re just down there breathing like a pissed-off dragon plan easy dives. Just stick with drift diving which is low energy and super relaxed. Manage your stress and make sure you’re not turning up late to the dive site or departure site. Make sure that you’ve got all your gear. Double-check everything. Remove anything that could cause you potential stress so that you’re as relaxed as you can be. Make sure you’re well hydrated and get a good night’s sleep the night before a dive. Remove as many of the psychological and physical stresses as possible and make sure you show up to the dive as relaxed as possible.
If you’re wondering why your diving instructor is so good at breathing it’s because we do this everyday. So there you go, that’s another top tip for you to do more diving. I know that might not be practical if you’ve got a day job, but it is what it is.
Now I’m going to give you my single biggest piece of advice that any diver can implement to improve their gas consumption, it is learning how to and keeping track of your SAC rate. SAC stands for surface air consumption and it’s basically a rate expressed in either cubic feet per minute or litres per minute for how much gas you used on the dive relative to your depth at the surface. It’s a very simple piece of math. I know it sounds scary but it’s actually very easy to work out and if you keep track of that number (liters per minute or cubic feet per minute) you can look for improvements over time.
Breathing is one area in the core skills of scuba diving that is actually mathematically measurable and if it’s mathematically measurable then over time as you get more data points you can look for a trend and make improvements accordingly.