Freediving 101: The Basics for Beginners

What do you think of when you hear the term “freediving”? Or perhaps, how do you feel when you think about freediving?

Does it give you the chills? Do you become anxious, excited, relaxed or indifferent? Freediving can mean and feel different for many people. It can be a competitive sport, a hobby, a meditation, or a way of life.

Blue Corner Freedive is here to explain what freediving is for beginners and why you should try it. Quotations and information provided by our very own freedive instructor and expert – Cam Cam the Freedive Man.

First and foremost let’s address the elephant in the room: “Am I being scammed into doing a snorkeling trip?”

No. Freediving is exceptionally different than snorkeling and it is a real thing. We promise. There’s even specialised freedive equipment - that’s how real it is.


So it’s legit. But what exactly is freediving? Well, according to Wikipedia:

“Freediving, free-diving, free diving, breath-hold diving, or skin diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on breath-holding until resurfacing rather than the use of breathing apparatus such as scuba gear.”

At its most basic, yes, that is freediving.

More intrinsically, freediving challenges your physical being and allows you to become “intimately aware” of your mind and body according to Cam. The end goal of freediving can vary from person to person, but in the end you are seeking your personal maximum depth with maximum comfortability for maximum amazingness. And for all you scuba divers, yes, it is different than scuba.

This goal may be achieved by following several theories.

Freediving Theories

One full breath

Breathe. Slowly and deeply.

Where do you feel your breath? What part of your body rises and falls, and what muscles do you use to breathe in fully? More than likely, it’ll be your chest, and your intercostal muscles, to be scientific. This is normal. Most humans breathe deeply  into their chest, utilizing only the top 1/3 of our lungs.

In freediving we aim to take: One. Full. Breath.

We do so by first filling our diaphragm, or the lower 2/3 of our lungs. Once this is comfortably full,our chest will naturally begin to rise, filling the rest.

So why do we do it? Contrary to popular belief, we’re doing it to give our lungs the maximum space to compress and expand. The bigger and longer the breath does not mean a longer dive time. In fact, you shouldn’t even think about your breath when freediving. It doesn’t matter.

“Physiologically speaking our body is saturated between  96 and 99 percent oxygen as we sit in a chair. We have enough O2 in our blood to sustain ourselves. It’s the CO2 tolerance that makes us want to exhale and breathe again.”

Prior to taking one full breath you will practise a relaxation stage. This allows your mind and body to relax and best prepare for the dive. This can be a few minutes or a few seconds, it all depends on how you like to relax. But more about that later.


Gases in our body
What’s really going on inside of our weird, gassy bodies?

As mentioned above the urge to breath does not come from a lack of oxygen. Rather, it is our ability to tolerate CO2 aka our ‘CO2 threshold’. If we didn’t have this threshold we wouldn’t have the natural urge to breathe. It’s something that we don’t think about nor train regularly. Usually, our tolerance is quite low, but this is something you can build upon by practicing safe, relaxed and repetitive breath holding (always with a buddy!)

Okay, so now let’s talk about the scary, but infrequent occurrence of blacking out. This is something that people tend to immediately fear when they hear ‘freediving’. It is very, very difficult to blackout while freediving. In our opinion, the ones to black out are professional divers pushing their maximum CO2 threshold or beginners that are not well-trained, and training incorrectly. Do not let this fear inhibit you from pushing your limits or attempting to freedive!

Mammalian Dive Reflex

This may be, hands down, THE most fascinating theory of freediving. The Mammalian Dive Reflex (MDR) is a physiological response triggered by water temperature, pressure and CO2 build up. When triggered, MDR slows our heartbeat and focuses blood flow to our lungs and other vital organs. The reflex is a leftover evolutionary trait that allows us to dive for extended periods of time under pressure.

The Mammalian Dive Reflex is in every single person and we must learn how to harness it. Once harnessed it becomes a “switch for your brain”, going from ‘I need to come up’ to something else happening in your body that’s telling you ‘you’re okay’. If our brain knows that MDR will keep us alive, we can push our limits.

Breathing cycle

It’s more than saying to yourself, “Okay, let’s do this,” holding your breath and going for it. To maximize your breathing and your dive there are three simple steps to follow:

  1. Relaxation Phase:

“How we relax ourselves in the water really depends on the person. It’s not about thinking about one thing. It’s about clearing your mind and allowing yourself to relax.”

Our job in freediving is to move our body and mind closer together. One common way is to practise mindfulness via a Body Scan. A Body Scan allows your mind - with intention - to focus on one body part, release any tension and move to the next body part. Other methods such as focusing on one area, reciting lyrics to a song, closing your eyes, etc. are more personalised approaches to relaxation.

2. One full breath: Explained above. We do so to maximize lung space.

3. Recovery breathing: Once you surface, you give three, big quick inhales and exhales to relieve any CO2 build-up.


Types of Freediving

Free Immersion

This is why you see so many ropes in freedive photos. Free immersion allows divers to better control their descent by pulling themselves down without kicking along a weighted line. Free immersion helps to warm up your body and mind as well as practising equalization and body positioning in a controlled environment. As a beginner, this is what you’ll start with.
Constant Weight

This is the most respected field. You utilise some weight while kicking down to get to your ideal depth.

Variable Weight

This is for more experienced freedivers. They utilise a lot of weight to bring them down quickly, maximising their at depth-time. When ready to surface they lose the weight.

No Limits

Not for beginners. This is 100% for professionals only. No limits freediving is for freedive pioneers testing their MDR and a person’s physical limits. They will use a weighted sled or platform to descend quickly, then once at the desired depth, they inflate a gas powered balloon help them and surface.

So, why should I do this freedive thing?

Freediving is the ultimate freedom. There is nothing comparable to existing underwater with only a mask and fins. We imagine it much like being an astronaut, weightless, enjoying the wonders of space without a bulky space suit. You become so intimately aware of yourself and your surroundings - nothing a terrestrial experience can give you. (It even gives scuba diving a run for its money!) Check out our “5 Reasons why you HAVE to learn to Freedive” to get more, quick insider tips!

Freediving is incredibly different and incredibly breathtaking. Quite literally.

If you’re interested in giving it a go - especially for all you beginners - contact us! Blue Corner Dive is the first PADI Freediving Centre on Nusa Lembongan, Bali. Our specialised freedive instructor, Cam, is one in a million.

Check out what we offer here.