July 08, 2022 8 min read

Whether you need to decompress when freediving depends on how long you plan to stay at depth. Decompression sickness can be dangerous and even lead to hospitalization. While decompression sickness is rare in freediving, if the surface interval rule is violated, it can be deadly. When freediving, avoid too many dives in a day. Never dive too deep without proper training. Instead, build up to your target depth overtime to prepare your body for the dive and to minimize the risk of decompression sickness.

Breathing Compressed Air

Scuba divers breathe 79% nitrogen air in the water. That air enters the lungs and other tissues and the pressure equalizes everywhere. When a scuba diver comes up from a dive, the pressure of the air has reached saturation. This can cause symptoms like bends or DCS. Breathing compressed air when freediving is also not as beneficial as it is for scuba divers.

A single dive using compressed air should last at least 20 minutes. A diving speed of thirty feet per minute would result in a dive time of 17 minutes.

If we round that up to 20 minutes, the average depth would be 15 meters. The air pressure in the air is approximately 2,5 bar, and it would take about 750 liters of air to fill a three-liter pony bottle. This would be enough to last an entire dive.

cool freediving

Another technique to use when freediving is lung packing. Lung packing involves inhaling more air than one's resting lung capacity. This practice allows freedivers to dive for longer periods and deeper. It is also known as carpa, air packing, and buccal pumping. This technique has been researched for freediving in people with debilitated breathing muscles and low lung volumes. While there is no definitive proof of its effectiveness, it can make a dive much deeper than usual.

When freediving, it is important to keep in mind that the amount of air in the lungs is very different from what you're used to. This is because when you dive, the air in your lungs is compressed. It is smaller than it was at surface level, but this means that the volume of your lung is still the same size as when you're on the surface. A deeper dive is much more pressure-intensive, and this increased pressure causes tightness in the thoracic cavity. In addition, excessive lung compression can cause the delicate tissue surrounding the lungs to rupture. Furthermore, fluids in the tissue can enter the lung tubules and enter the spaces between the lungs.

Time Spent at Depth

During your first few sessions of freediving, try to spend at least five to six meters (15 to 20 feet) at a time. This gives you the opportunity to orient yourself and your gear to the surface, while also identifying any hazards that may be lurking on your final ascent. In addition, you can secure your equipment before exiting the water. It's not a good idea to drop expensive equipment, so practice making sure it's secure.

The time spent at depth is based on the maximum dive time and includes the time spent at the safety stop. When you're on the surface, you'll be able to determine the amount of nitrogen left in your body. You'll use the residual nitrogen time to determine your new end-of-dive letter group. Time spent at depth is also used to calculate your oxygen consumption during a dive.

freediving person

Another exercise that requires you to focus on your body sensations is called the "weight walk." This requires you to hold a heavyweight and slowly move across the bottom. Then, try the slow crawl, which requires you to crawl slowly. While the distance traveled is important, the time spent at depth is more important than the distance covered. Finally, try the "frog flow" exercise, where you focus on your sensations instead of your heart rate. In addition to learning to stay at depth, you'll also learn about your body's adaptation to the environment. As you dive deeper into the ocean, the partial pressure of nitrogen increases. When you're at the surface, the nitrogen levels in your body are normal.

However, as you descend deeper, you'll find yourself deprived of oxygen and gasping for breath. As a result, your body may adapt to the water better over time.

Efficacy of Decompression

A diver may have different options for decompression. It may be continuous or staged, with stops at regular depths. While no-decompression and no-stop decompression rely on limiting the ascent rate, omitting decompression can lead to serious injury or even decompression sickness. A diver can use a computer to set the decompression computer to the least conservative setting, allowing him to surface earlier.

An individual who has had a long time decompressing after scuba diving should not perform such activity after the first dive. Exhaling decreases the amount of air in the lungs, which results in a reduced ability to equalize pressure in the ears and face mask. As a result, decompression sickness can affect both the diver's performance and the performance of the muscles. In severe cases, DCS can even lead to cardiac arrest.

Although the effectiveness of decompression is highly questionable, most studies are based on theoretical arguments and their combined value is still unknown. Most freedivers perform their dives in low-risk environments with no recognised symptoms. It is extremely rare to experience unexplained decompression sickness. The lack of evidence regarding the value of hyperbaric treatment in freediving is troubling, but it should not be ruled out.

An additional reason to pause after a dive is to allow for physiological adaptation. Pushing the limits too early will result in barotrauma and breathing disorders. The first dive after an intense freediving session should be at least 50 meters. After the second dive, it is wise to go back to the surface for a day or two. After the last dive, avoid flying within 24 hours of extensive freediving. It is best to practice economy of movement as a warm-up. In freediving, a 30-second hang at 15 meters can prove beneficial as a "recompression" release.

Signs of Decompression Sickness

A diver's body is vulnerable to decompression sickness. Its symptoms may begin before or shortly after surfacing. The first symptoms usually appear within 15 minutes of surfacing, but severe cases may develop sooner. They may also develop up to 12 hours later, especially if the diver has to fly home before the recommended time at sea level. Symptoms may vary depending on the location of the sickness and the diver's individual circumstances, including the time spent in the water before or immediately after diving.

In the case of a recent case, a renowned diver with a personal best of 85m underwent a 2m30' dive. He surfaced at 80m and reported muscle weakness on one side and loss of feeling on the other. An MRI showed two important lesions in the patient's brain. He advised the diver to reduce the number of repetitions and to take 15 minutes of active rest each hour.

There are several common signs of decompression sickness, including joint pain and fatigue. Some of these symptoms can be mistaken for other problems, especially if the diver is not accustomed to experiencing them. Joint pain is one of the most common signs of decompression sickness and is often the first symptom divers notice after freediving. Joint pain is common when freediving due to exertion or heavy scuba equipment.

Symptoms of decompression sickness may include a rash. This skin reaction may look marbled or blotchy, and it may be accompanied by warmth. The skin rash is the result of gas bubbles obstructing the blood supply to the skin, demonstrating inadequate decompression. The most common affected areas are the shoulders, arms, chest, and stomach. In more severe cases, gas bubbles in the brain or spinal cord may cause partial paralysis, vertigo, and difficulty speaking.

Ways to Prevent It

A diver is not only subjected to decompression sickness during the dive but also to a high degree of risk upon ascent to the surface. This is due to the fact that the air at 20 meters is 79% nitrogen, and the partial pressure of gases is 3 times higher than at sea level. Thus, decompression sickness can occur in a diver when he or she is shooting fish in deep water. There are ways to prevent decompression sickness during the ascent to avoid this risk, but the most important step is to know when to ascend to the surface.

First, avoid performing repetitive breath-hold diving, which can lead to nitrogen narcosis. In addition, make sure that you are in good physical condition before you dive. In general, you should aim to dive between nine and eighteen meters per minute. If you're a recreational freediver, you shouldn't dive deeper than 85 feet, as you'll soon become bored and need to surface to recharge your tank.

decompress and freediving

Other ways to prevent decompression while freediving include learning how to use mixed gas and how to treat DCS if it does occur. While there are currently no validated decompression algorithms for freedivers, it's possible to avoid decompression sickness altogether by following conservative planning, a strong understanding of gas dynamics, and good mixed gas training. However, this method of prevention is still considered a necessary practice for the most common types of freediving.

In addition to the importance of staying safe and within your limits while freediving, there are several risk factors that may increase your chances of developing decompression sickness. For instance, limiting the duration of dives and boosting your surface intervals before ascending (at least three to four times the bottom time) will increase your chances of avoiding decompression sickness. Finally, divers should always make sure they are wearing appropriate thermal protection and drinking electrolyte solutions.

To Wrap It Up

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced freediver, you may have heard of the need to decompress when freediving. Decompression is a safety measure that allows your body to gradually adjust to the change in pressure when you ascend from a deep dive.

This process helps to prevent decompression sickness, which can be debilitating or even fatal. There are several ways to decompress when freediving, but the most common method is to use a decompression ladder. This device consists of a series of rungs that you can grab onto as you ascend, which helps to control your ascent rate and prevent you from rising too quickly.

Questions and Answers

Do free divers decompress?

Yes, freedivers do decompress. When they come up from a deep dive, they need to stop at certain depths for a certain amount of time to let their body recover from the pressure change. This is called decompression. If they don't do this, they can get sick or even die.

How do I decompress freediving?

In freediving, the goal is to hold your breath for as long as possible while diving underwater. This can take a toll on your body, so it's important to know how to decompress afterward. There are a few things you can do to help your body recover from a freediving session. First, make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. It's also a good idea to eat a balanced meal and get some rest. Finally, you can try some gentle stretching or light exercise to help your body feel better.

What happens if divers don't decompress?

When scuba diving, it is very important to decompress properly, or else a condition called decompression sickness (DCS) can occur. DCS happens when nitrogen bubbles form in the blood and tissues, and it can cause joint pain, paralysis, and even death. To avoid DCS, divers must ascend slowly and stop at certain depths to allow their bodies to adjust to the changing pressure.

Author - Olivia Poglianich
Olivia Poglianich          

Content Strategist

Olivia Poglianich is a nomadic brand strategist and copywriter in the surf, watersports and outdoor adventure space who has worked with brands such as Visa, Disney and Grey Goose. Her writing has taken her all over the world, from a Serbian music festival to a Malaysian art and culture event. Olivia is a graduate of Cornell University and is often writing or reading about travel, hospitality, the start-up ecosystem or career coaching. Her latest interests are at the intersection of web3 and communal living, both on and offline.

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