The subject of equalizing is one of the most debated topics among freedivers and the diving community in general. The matter is analysed thoroughly both in advanced training schools, and at seminars that take place from time to time by renowned instructors in this specific area.
How many of us (including myself) didn’t get nightmares suddenly about missing the coveted depth or having left behind fish trophies because equalizing was impossible on that day?
I think that most of us, if not all of us, emit in the same wavelength, so let’s take things from the beginning.
Factors affecting equalisation
Empirically I could classify the equalisation problems by dividing them into different categories according to their importance.
If there are no anatomical type of problems, we can classify them as primary and secondary factors.
Regardless of which category each of the factors above belong to, ultimately all of them are well connected with each other.
For example, poor posture may be affected by the morphology of the seabed (environment), while inadequate fluid intake (diet) is the main cause for dehydration and therefore it affects both the equalization and psychology.
One of the biggest mistakes most divers make is that they are in a hurry to draw conclusions.
''I have been to the sea twice and couldn’t manage to equalize under X depth- Call the doctor''
''I have enough air to equalize but my ears won’t open - Bring me my pills You can hear these sayings and many more during the first summer months when our desire and our eagerness to dive is unbeatable.''
Of course we do not carry the responsibility for all the negative things that happen to us.
The weak moment is always beyond our imagination as something that is there by magic just to spoil our plans. Few are willing to look for the actual problem without attributing their own responsibilities to others, even blaming their grandmother who added a little extra cheese on the pasta the previous night...
Approaching the problem
Below I will try through my personal experience to provide some tips in order to overcome the problem of equalization.
Let me remind you that since there are problems such as a deviated septum, chronic sinusitis, etc.
which affect the equalization, it would be of benefit to discuss them with a specialist. The tips and instructions below are for people who are perfectly healthy and are not taking any medication.
# 1. One step back - Two steps forward
No matter how many meters the goal is that we have set, it would be beneficial to redefine the maximum depth we can dive on the same day.
The unpredictable scenarios can definitely affect us and it is difficult to forecast them.
An effective way to be able to achieve our goal is to approach a depth not close to the maximum, but rather shallower so the stress is not the cause for equalization failure.
This approach would greatly help with the “bad psychology” factor which is one of the most difficult factors to be resolved. For example the 'barrier of 30 meters'' does not start at 30, but at 20 meters and perhaps a little shallower.
Three of the main reasons that may be responsible:
Poor air management since the first few meters of the dive
Poor technique throughout the dive
Bad psychology during most of the dive
Rather than wasting attempts by trying to overcome the barrier of equalization in the marginal meters, it would be more effective to stick to a shallower and more comfortable zone.
# 2. Proper warm-up - the unknown ally
For some, the word warm-up seems like a luxury, especially for the 'hasty & veterans' who consider that performing one to three dives for a warm-up has nothing to offer them, while for the majority of spearfishermen warm-up is automatically put in the blacklist.
A simple warm-up that we and our partner can perform is progressively increasing depth dives with breaks that are twice the duration of our dives, however, if we want to achieve something more specific we can still perform 1-3 statics with passive exhale.
How will a good warm-up benefit us?
Generally, it's good to perform a typical warm-up before diving in the base band-depth desired.
Some will say:
''I feel just fine even during the first few dives, why dive shallower wasting my energy and my time unnecessarily?''
Τhe answer I like to give is a great: IT DEPENDS .
Some of the reasons to perform a good warm-up are:
• Increase of elasticity of the intercostal muscles and the diaphragm
• Increase of relaxation and adjustment to the sharp change of hydrostatic pressure (fast diving)
• Mild contractions due to hydrostatic pressure change
• Reduced chance of pulmonary barotrauma (lung squeeze)
I consider the last of the four reasons to be the most important of all to convince even the most sceptical ones to start introducing the warm-up before the main dives. Some may never experience any of these problems and have great attempts every time.
Every rule has its exception, but I would still recommend even to them to try the warm-up before diving deep…
What kind of warm-up should I perform?
Before a deep dive, I prepare my body to be as relaxed as possible to face less discomfort because of diaphragm spasms that happen due to a sharp increase: in hydrostatic pressure (1) and the progressive increase of CO2 concentration (2)
The result will be less chance for injury and loss of valuable air for equalization. A warm-up that could provide the above adjustments in five simple steps is:
1. Static apnea on the water surface (or land) with full inhalation, 45-60'' rest.
2. Static apnea on the water surface (or land) with passive exhale, 45-60’’ rest.
3. Static apnea on the water surface (or land) with full exhalation, 4-5’ rest.
4. 1-2 dives at mid depth zone with full inhalation, with an interval duration equal to the dive time (depending on depth).
5. Long breaks in the range of 8-10’ to restore the CO2 to normal levels.
Static apnea should be from easy to moderate difficulty.
Our purpose is to warm-up the diaphragm by progressively decreasing air intake through a simulation of deep diving, while short breaks will smooth the contractions making them softer under normal levels.
# 3. Physical condition
To have good physical condition it is required to have a combination of properties that will allow us to reach our full potential in performing physical activities, always making sure to have the required energy.
But this is something very general.
As we specialize in one activity our body obtains what we call specificity. It is an ability of the body to be able to maintain homeostasis, a regulative mechanism of protection / survival of the human body.
Cardio and muscular endurance are the first general adjustments made from the first days of a training program. Thereafter anaerobic adjustments to be made by the apnea training will give an extra impulse to the body which would not happen with the aerobic training.
Such a stimulus / stress is considered specific.
Generally, good fitness (general and specialized) will help us to gain greater resistance in and out of the water. More specifically:
Increase of vital capacity
Increase of cardio-respiratory endurance
Decreased resting heart rate
• Tolerance to high concentrations of CO2 (hypercapnia)
• Tolerance to low concentrations of O2 (hypoxia)
Although we are interested in specialized adjustments, they won’t be of good quality if we don’t build a good base of general fitness first.
Think of it as a pyramid with all the general adjustments on its base. The larger the base we create, the higher and more securely we will build our pyramid. So specialized adaptations in case of a larger base would be more effective.
How can lack of fitness affect the equalization?
This is an issue that will be discussed in detail in the second part of this section, while at the end I will show you a series of specialized dilated exercises which can be performed at home (with or without equipment) and will serve to increase the elasticity (general and specific) and to learn proper equalization.
Stay tuned and...
As always willing to answer any questions.