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Stretching for freediving

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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New Member
Mar 3, 2004
What kind of stretching exercises should a freediver do before maximum effort and during training period? I don't have a background in swimming, so I am working currently on my shoulders to get a relaxed and hydrodynamic position for dynamic apnea. What other muscles are important? How do you stretch them? What is sufficient level of elasticity for freediving? I don't like stretching that much, so knowing that I'm doing something useful helps keep the motivation afloat...
Ashtanga yoga is always good - a few Suryana Maskars (salute to the sun) will provide an all over stretch; select asanas for isolated stretches.
Remember to hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds (otherwise it may be detrimental).

Some other examples:
- Stand in a wide doorway and hold the edges of the frame with the palms of your hands. Fall forwards until you can feel the stretch across your chest, and possibly even the cracking of cartilage realigning in the sternum.
- Push your elbows together, entwining your wrists as much as possible. Then push the locked elbows forwards.
- Hamstring flexibility is critical as is mobility of the ankle. Make sure to stretch the achilles and the long extensors and flexors of the toes.
- To stretch intercostal muscles and increase ribcage mobility (so that you can handle high hydrostatic pressure) you will need to do countless carpa inhales (packing) and forced negative exhales (reverse packing, which simultaneously practices the Fattah mouthfill technique).
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It’s about time we talked about stretching. Off all the possible aids we have talked about, stretching to me is the most definite improvement to static times I have experience. The difference between stretching will add at least 15 seconds to my static, and this is not based just on feeling, but actually differences in a pulse/oximeter readings.

The idea behind stretching before diving is not just for muscle performance, which in static is no existent anyway, but stretching, if done properly, will relax the muscles which in turn will use less O2 at rest. Martin Stepanek and Kirk Krack really stress stretching and myself and another member put together a word document with some of the stretches they showed us at the PFD clinic. It’s not all the stretches, because its kind of hard to remember them when you’re so focused on relaxation like we were in the clinic, but it’s a good start. Besides if you want all the stretches and knowledge of the clinic, you have to take it. Those guys are doing an awesome service, but they need the financial support from attendees to continue with the clinics.

Anyone who would like to get the word document, PM me with your e-mail address and I will send it to you. Martin said we should do each stretch three times and hold each one for at least 20 seconds. When a muscle is stretched it tries to resist the stretch before it gives in and relaxes, so if you don’t hold the stretch long enough you might actually be tightening the muscle rather than relaxing it.

The idea is to stretch the muscles you need loose to perform the dive, like EeroS is doing, but also to stretch all the major muscles in your body so they will relax and consume less O2.
This got my interest as well. I too have lately given more attention to stretching and while I haven't recorded any changes with max attempts, I have noticed my dynamic workouts to go with more ease. I have done some track&field (mostly sprints) in the past and my stretching mostly just involves stretching my legs, so my upper/mid body stretching could certainly use some improvement. Will and don, thanks for the interesting info.
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I have also experienced increases in static times resulting from either stretching, or similar activities which relax the muscles without actually stretching (i.e. gentle isometrics such as chi-gong standing exercises).

I think this is one of the greatest unexplored and undeveloped areas for freediving. The fact that doing pretty much any stretches seems to help a bit, implies that dramatic improvement must be possible if the stretching program is elaborate.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
stretching training must be extreamly good for free diving .when you consider that all of loic leferms training is stretching exercises . he must be doing something right considering his great achivments.

Guys very interesting. I have never done any stretching before statics and was suprised to see that Don added an extra 15sec by stretching.

Don would you elaborate on what sort of stretches you did too add that 15secs. I do pack stretches sometimes are these the stretches you do before a static ??

Eric what stretches do you think would be most beneficial before statics, pack stretching is the only stretching I do.

Eeros, practice either yoga or chi kung stretches for enhanced diaphragmic capacity.

I personally recommend chi-kung exercises since this is the form I practise. If you purchse a good book about this subject you'll find a variety of exercises that will help you to obtain this goal.

Never thought of that...
Perhaps it will help me to reach the 6+ sooner. I'm on 5'45" at the moment. Can't wait! I'm not following any tables or training at the moment, only every other day I do 5' static and try a PB on the weekends.
Should these stretches be done just before the static trials for relaxation purposes only or as a training program in separate days for improvements in lets say rib cage expansion or anything like that?
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Originally posted by Fabio Toyama
Should these stretches be done just before the static trials for relaxation purposes only or as a training program in separate days for improvements in lets say rib cage expansion or anything like that?

Every day once or twice a day.

Take care, Gerard.
Hello everybody, I know that this post is quite old, but I was looking for exercices for intercostal muscles stretching, I have watched some on youtube, but are performed without holding the breath for at least 20 seconds while the maximun stretch is done. I can read above that William Trubidge and Martin Stepanek recommend holding the breath for at least 20 seconds, should I do that also for intercostal muscles stretching or they refer to other kind of exercices, I ask that because other freediving instructors perform stretchings, as I watched on youtube, without holding the breath.
Thank you very much in advance!!
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Fun to re-read an old post. I wish more of those posters were still around.

General advice on stretching to improve flexibility(not specificly freediving related) is hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

I've found intercostal stretches, combined with full exhale reverse pack U. banda, 4-6 times a week helps a whole lot in improving my depth ability (something like 15-20 feet diving half lung, diving full lung should be more). The intercostals seem to help the most.

How: (1) I sit cross legged on the floor, full inhale, hands and arms straight overhead, bend as far as possible to the right, hold as long comfortable, repeat on the left side.
(2) still cross legged on the floor, bend to the right, place right elbow and forearm on the floor, left arm grabs the head, stretch. Repeat on the left. I don't hold breath for this one. Stretch time about 30 seconds.

For both of these, you can bend in different ways while you are doing them, finding more muscles, especially in the back of the ribs, to stretch.

Finally bend forward and grab something that won't move, pull back to stretch the back intercostals, repeat both sides

This works for me. There are probably better ways to do it.
Thank you very much cdavis for your advice!! I am glad to hear that this kind of exercices help to improve depth ability.

Some years ago I took a freediving course here in Spain during several months but we didn´t practice intercostal stretching or U. banda. I am interested in these exercices mainly to avoid the sensation of pressure in my chest when I reach certain deep, 21-22 m in spearfishing. Some years ago, when I had more time and I went more often to the sea (three times per week) I could go a little bit deeper without feeling this pressure, sadly, nowadays, even living in an island, I just can go to the sea once a week ore every five or 6 days (I hope that in the near future it will improve), so maybe this dry training helps.

I started two days ago to do the stretchings that recommends Emma Farrell, after having read this post, I tried today to do the same exercices but holding the breath for 20 seconds, they feel well too, but not so pleasant as without holding the breath, but I feel well. Also I do U. banda three times after the stretchings.

Is interesting how at 20 m I can be totally comfortable and just adding one meter more the situation changes totally, and this fact affects the bottom time too.

Thank you again and I will post something if I see some improvements in my diving hability after some time performing stretches!
I'm assuming you are diving full lung. Given that, uncomfortable pressure at 20 m is probably mostly psychological. Do a bunch of dives near and just beyond that depth and that should disappear. Intercostal stretching will help that process.

A story: I line dive sometimes with a guy who has a depth limit of 53 ft, going below that makes him very uncomfortable. Come to find out he is doing recreational dives in a sink hold where the limit is 53 ft.
Yes, totally full lung, I just dive half lung when I dive very shallow to avoid excessive positive bouyancy. I don´t like using too much weigh because in a single session I use to go to different dephts, so I prefer to play with lung volume instead of playing with the weighbelt.

Probably if your friend never went deeper, a little bit more of pressure affects him too, maybe in his case is psychological. I don´t think that in my case is psychological, since I dived deeper before feeling comfortable, I think that it has to be with elasticity, and therefore get use to pressure, probably the more I dive the more elastic I become, if I go several days in a row dives are much more comfortable. Anyway, yesterday, after having been stretching several days I went to the sea, and I felt very good, I did several dives below 20 m, one of them around 26, and I felt much better than last week diving at 21, I think that maybe these stretchings are helping. I didn´t catch anything but at least I enjoyed the sea!!
Just my two cents opinion or experience,
Spend some times before the dive for meditation and stretching then you guys will be good!
Stretching here means lung and other kind of stretch. They’re all benifit us somehow physically and mentally.
Always do depth adaptation and nothing will be wrong!
Dive safe, Toufiq ;)
Interesting discussion. I studied French Osteopath Guy Voyer's system of stretching called myofascial stretching, which stretches not just the muscles but also, very importantly, the connective tissue or fascia that surrounds the muscles. I'd like to clear up a couple of concepts.

First of all the most basic principle of stretching is that you want to reverse a muscles physiological action in order to stretch it. What that means is if the biceps flexes the arm to close the elbow joint then stretching the muscle involves opening the elbow joint to its maximum extent. Many muscles are more complex than the bicep and involve multiple actions when the muscle is contracted and so a full stretch will reverse all of those contracted actions.

With that said the diaphragm muscle stretches when fully exhaled and contracts when fully inhaled. While there are stretches for the diaphragm those emphasize the exhale position since it is the natural stretched position, what freedivers want is to maximize the contraction of the diaphragm, which is almost certainly maximized during a trained freediving full inhale.

Therefore to maximize the inhale capascity then you want to stretch the intercostals primarily, but other muscles that attach to the rib cage as well. There are actually three layers of intercostal muscles, the external, internal, and what are known as innermost. the internal and innermost are responsible for assisting with exhalation and therefore are stretched in the inhale position. The best way to stretch those muscles is similar to what cdavis described though with some differences. But the basic movement is, to stretch the right side, to side bend to the left, reach overhead maximally with your right arm to stretch the connective tissue, and breath into the right side fully. Hold for 30 seconds or even better do 3 rounds of 30 second holds.

As I mentioned you also want to stretch other muscles that attach to the rib cage. On the front of the body the most important of those would be the internal and external oblique muscles. those muscles assist with trunk rotation and trunk flexsion but more importantly for our purposes they assist with forced exhalation. Because they are in the contracted position during forced exhalation, meaning either strong exhalation like in bastrika breathing or when breathing out below the residual volume, then they are stretched in a big inhalation. However to maximally stretch them you want to do a big inhale while extending the trunk backwards and side bending away from beside your stretching. To do this sit on your knees and reach you're right arm back to your left ankle which will naturally cause your trunk to extend and side bend, put the left hand on your head and maximally extend the elbow above your head similar to the oblique stretches. Inhale big and same hole times as before.

There a lot of muscles that attach the ribs on the back of the body but the most important you're probably the spinal erectors such as the spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis muscles. To stretch these generally sit on the floor with legs in front of you but bent at the knees 90 degrees and lean forward strongly while reaching forward with the arms. It's like a seated forward fold but because you've got the hips anchored to the floor you're really stretching the back muscles not just folding at the hips.

I understand it can be difficult to follow descriptions like these and there are some subtle points that make a big difference so if any of you have any interest in learning these stretches more precisely maybe we can set up a Skype session to walk you through them. I could also consider taking some photos and writing up a description but I'm really not supposed to give these away for free and the material is technically copyrighted Etc. But I didn't really learn them to make a lot of money at this stage of my life so we could probably work out something reasonable.

There are other things we could do as well such as exercises from Guy Voyer known as ELDOA that improve the flexibility of the rib cage joints both in the front where the ribs meet the sternum and in the back where they meet the spine. But those are much more complicated and I would have to show you in a Skype session.

Long-term it might be interesting to get Guy Voyer to teach a seminar for free divers but the logistics of that get complicated because he's very busy and the freediver are spread all over the world. Still something to think about.
Hello Robwynge,

Thank you for the information. I wish I could participate in a stretching session with you, but since my last post in this discussion I injured myself doing this kind of stretches. Probably I pushed too much, and I teared some of the internal intercostal muscles that you described or just damaged the cartilage of the ribs attaching to the sternum, I have been in the hospital because the symtoms are similar to those ocurring with lung or heart problems: pain and constant chest tightness. After many tests (x-rays, blood tests, electrocardiogram, etc), everything appears fine, so doctors told me that maybe is an intercostal muscle damage or costochondritis, anyway I am waiting an appoinmet with a traumatologist.

The problem with this injury is that is related with the respiratory muscles so it takes a lot of time to heal, since you can not stop breathing, and also I can not do any kind of exercise that involves an increase of the respiratory rhythm, and of course this includes freediving ( the other day I just went to the sea to refresh a bit thinking that fresh water would be good for recovering and the pressure and chest tightness just increased), I can just walk and not very fast. Now after more than 2 months of constant suffering (the symptoms have been constant, doesn´t matter if I am sitting, liying down or moving) it seems that I am improving, so the pain and chest tihghtness (the worst symptom since it doesn´t allow me to breath properly, and sometimes it was just unbearable) are dissapearing, I hope that within a month or two I will be able to practice sport again.

With this message I don´t want to discourage anyone from doing the stretchings that we have discussed, the reason of my injury probably comes from a bad technique (I advice begginers to do this stretchings with supervision), and mainly from an old injury that never really cured, a weak spot in my sternum, or ribcage that I got many years ago while I used to do a lot of up push ups and pull ups, I had to stop to do this kind of exercices because after several years of training I started to have aches in my chest in the mornings just before waking up, but they dissapeared once I started moving, anyway I associated this morning pains with the pull and push ups and I decided to stop doing this kind of exercices, after several weeks of resting the chest pains disspeared.

After this event I never had problems again practicing running, cycling or spearfishing, or doing hard works, that involved carrying heavy weighs, but I have tried to do pull ups or push ups and after some sessions I have started to feel this chest sensationg that something is wrong, so I think that repetitive exercises that involve the use of the sternum or surrounding muscles are that bother me the most. The chest stretchings that I was doing I though that were fine, but after serveral days of stretches I finally broke my "weak point" again, maybe I should have rest some days between stretches or just not having pushed too much, maybe the stretches at full lung pushed too much pressure in my weak spot.

Anyone has gone through a similar situation as mine?
Any advice? I am scared of doing stretches again when I recover from this, and if I do I won´t do them at full lung. Or just I won´t do stretched anymore, I have been very happy without doing them, jeje.

Best regards!
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