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Women in Freediving - advantages?

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New Member
Nov 5, 2002

A question about women who freedive was raised on another forum I frequent.

If women have a smaller lung capacity than men in general, how do some of them manage to match and beat the men at no limits freediving?

Looking at the AIDA site, the men are ahead in every discipline, although the site doesn’t reflect Tanya Steeter's 160m no limits dive as yet.

I assume that Tanya can't match the elite male no limits competitors in terms of lung capacity, so where does she hold an advantage?

Could it be that she has a lower metabolic rate? If so, surely she could match the men in static apnea?

Thanks for your help

Just a quick thought

Perhaps it is a combination of a lower metabolic rate and (generally speaking) a lower muscle mass as a proportion of body mass.

So less muscle means less oxygen used at rest.

I think that in an age where the best in all sports have to be driven, train hard and have the genetic makeup to excel (like big endomorph rugby players and ectomorph marathon runners), women have the opportunity to become pioneers in freediving.

Although i do remember hearing an opinion from a female poster on another board about female freedivers having less of a competitive streak and this could have an impact. But then again i think that opinion lies dangerously close to being sexist (whilst i feel comfortable making generalisations about the physical makeup of men and women, i refuse to transpose this onto psychological differences).
Up until Audrey Mestre's death in October of last year, she had done a training dive in the no-limits category that unofficially had surpassed both men and womens records.

It's a shame that she passed away attempting to try and make the sport as equal as possible - who knows, women may very well have an advantage that has yet to be fully tapped into.

I personally hope to see the day when men and women compete together in the same disciplines of freediving and that it is a close competition - no matter who the eventual winner is.
The reason Tanya can 'beat' men in no-limits is because no-limits has nothing to do with breath-holding ability. She, like Loic Leferme and Mandy Cruickshank, could have reached the surface after her 'record' dive and held her breath for another few minutes with no problem. No-limits is about having enough money/sponsors, surviving the pressure, the lung squeeze, the narcosis, and equalizing the ears. And, by the way, certain men have gone to at least 180m in training, so Tanya still hasn't surpassed them in the purest sense.

Tanya's other records (i.e. 70m constant weight, 70m free immersion), DO require a good breath-holding ability, which is why these records are more than 20m less than the men's records of 90m & 93m.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada

No limits is a bit of a waste of time then, if its more about money and sponsorship etc. NO limits cannot compare in athletic ability to constant and its far more dangerous. Not freediving in my book.


I think Eric's view is pretty accurate. Nature dealt men and women different hands. That women were the deepest no - limits divers for a while tells us more about no - limits than it does about male and female sports physiology.

It should be plain to any reasonable observer that men, on the average, are endowed with more of the physical assets that determine freediving performance than are women, on the average. It seems highly unlikely to me that the population differences (male vs. female) for freediving would differ much from those we observe for all other sports. Why would freediving be different from, say, marathoning in this regard ?
i always find it quite ironic that the deepest discipline is the one that requires the least breath holding ability. i've been lucky enough to have done some no-limits dives, and to the depths that i've done them (~70) they're no harder than doing a static for the same length of time- about 1'40".
to be honest, i think there must be literally dozens of freedivers in the world who could pass 150, if they had the financial backing and time to train in a suitable location.
as for the differences in ability between men and women. there seems to be a difference in standard right now, but then, there are many more men competing in freediving than women. if there was an equal number of women, then the standard may be that much higher. women may be able to store less oxygen, but they also tend to have a lower body mass. it's not clear to me whether men should automatically make better freedivers.

hi Alun

You said one of the advantages that women have is a lower body mass. I never thought that body mass had anything to do with diving can you explain how it does. Thanks.

well, my simplistic (and non-expert!) view is that O2 per unit mass is probably a better indicator of breath holding ability that just pure O2 storage (with other factors being equal).

analogy with cars... the bigger your engine (body mass), the more fuel (O2) it will consume. that's how i see it anyway...


Well im in luck then at 180cm, 65kgs my ribs will poke you when I walk past

That's skinny - but my Mate Gez is 58kg and 180cm. He looks unhealthy, mind....

Anyway, back to the point - Men should be able to store more O2 per kg because they have a lower body fat percentage.

women in freediving

don't think any women have replied to this thread yet so maybe I should put a word in..

first point - NOT COMPETITIVE? you gotta be kidding, we probably have more subtlety about it but underneath the polite exterior we are scratching each others eye's out to get the prizes..

ability - I don't pretend to have any understanding of how the differences in physiology might come into play but ok maybe our lung capacity is generally less but as one of the other postings says - shouldn't this be balanced out by smaller body size? And the same theory would apply to skinny, narrow shouldered men (Guillaume's not exactly huge) and doesn't seem to stop them. If this really was the case then all the best women freedivers would be the err.... chunkier... ones and while there are a few most of the real achievers are tiny (Mandy, Tanya, the o'ama divers)

so why are we generally doing less? well I reckon it's just because women haven't been doing it as long. Therefore the confidence in breaking new barriers is not the same. Freediving is so much to do with what's in your head and (sisters - I'm sorry) maybe we are just not as gutsy - or put more politely - maybe we are just more sensible! stronger instinct for self preservation/mother instinct and all that.

sponsorship - yes its easier to get if you are a reasonable looking woman but come on there have got to be some perks in this male orientated world!! plus most women don't really WANT to play on their looks rather than their ability - but would you resist the opportunities this sponsorship gives you?

and a classic quote from a deeper blue writer who shall rename nameless "I just want to dive deeper than the worst woman" - he nearly got hit for that!!!

can of worms - opened...

I vote for women being more sensible.:eek:


Samdive is too kind - what I actually said is that my personal performance goal in freediving is "always to be better than the worst girl", which is, if anything, rather more provocative in certain quarters.

This is, indeed, my personal performance goal. I think it is a fine one, a motivating one, and one which will soon be beyond my reach and will remain so until that day ( one which will be celebrated in those same certain quarters, I'm sure) when I take my leave of this world.

My goal, thus stated, is a frank acknowledgement that the most likely state of affairs now, and in the years to come, is that all of the female competitors will surpass me. It is, after all, a salute to all of the splendid competitors on the scene today. At 52 years of age ( and the astonishing abilities of my dear friends Annabel, Aharon and Bill notwithstanding ) I am simply waving a fond farewell to the field as it leaves me behind. Perhaps, I think wistfully to myself, if I work at it I'll be able at least to keep the stragglers in view, and wouldn't it be a fine thing if on occasion I weren't the one at the very bottom of the results list ?

Some may take offense at the word "girl". This sensibility seems to be something left over from the early days of what was then called the "Women's Liberation" movement, circa 1965. I remember it well. I think, though, that we can all relax a bit now and enjoy one another's company. Boy and girls, after all, are youthful, fit, exuberant, tireless and graceful. Men and women, well, may be those things but are sometimes creased, decrepit, depressed, consumed and clumsy. Look at me, for example. I'd rather be thought of as one of the "boys" than as one of the men. When it comes to athletes, dancers, acrobats, and entertainers, it seems to me that "boy" and "girl" are the terms in general use inside those professions. Can we be at peace with this ?

Others take offense at the implication that the bottom of the results list will always be a female preserve. Several contributors to this forum have described a perfected world in which sex does not predict performance, an idealization with which this implication is, of course, inconsistent.

Eric Fattah has explained, and no doubt can be induced to explain again, the numerous well-documented differences between the population means (male and female) of variables
thought to determine athletic performance, and why this makes it likely that male athletes will continue to dominate the top of the lists in almost all sports, as currently configured, for the foreseeable future.

Males are, on the average, bigger/stronger/faster/longer/higher/deeper/etc. and etc. than are females. What of it ? This is biology, not sociology or politics.

Where things like politics and culture come into it is in the way we attach VALUES to performance.

It is by no means clear that genes compel us to most highly value the absolute depth to which an athlete dives over the grace with which she dives. That seems to me to be a cultural artifact rather than a genetic imperative. While I have great difficulty imagining a future world in which women hold the absolute world records for constant ballast, static and dynamic, I am easily able to imagine a world in which new freediving disciplines, emphasizing grace, finesse and other esthetic values are totally dominated by the girls. Think of gymnastics.

Which brings us to sponsorship. Samdive's characterization of the sponsorship market viz. the boys and the girls is quite accurate. I spend a lot of time, in the water and in the living room, with top female freedivers ( and windsurfers, and pros in a few other sports as well) and am well acquainted with this situation.

My view is that in a free market, supply finds demand. Sponsors are people who want to purchase attention to their products or services. They do this by attracting attention with athletic spectacle. Greed makes people very, very good at figuring out how to get the most bang for the buck, and I am confident that athletics sponsors are quite right when they place their bets on male athletes - male athletes doing things males are good at attract more attention than do female athletes doing things males are good at. Experiments with asserting government control over the flow of money into sport, aimed at forcing an arbitrarily-defined "equality" of outcomes by sex ( e.g, the infamous Title IX experiment in the USA) have all failed miserably.

The strategy I've proposed is an entrepeneurial effort to develop events that emphasize and leverage the things in which female performers excel. I'm certain that this can be done.

Gymnastics, again, took a step down this conceptual road. There were probably few people on this planet who did not know who Nadia was in her heyday, but who could have named the top male gymnast ?

In our world, no-limits has been probing in this direction. Tanya, Mandy and Audrey were building a media space dominated by women, and had that awful day (October 12, 2002, lest anyone forget) turned out differently, I think we'd have been well on the way to the Girl Power regime of dreams. No-limits may yet
take us there, but there are problems there which numerous forum contributors have commented on most astutely and at great length.

Samdive ought to work on this idea - she, for example, may not be the deepest or longest diver in the tank, but in a recent session at HMS Dolphin her power and style left all of the men in her dust. If there were a freestyle discipline in our sport, I have little doubt that a) it would be dominated by the girls, like Samdive, and that b) the media and the general public would be more interested in this discipline than in CB, static, dynamic or NL. I know I would be. Let's make this happen.

Got to go - back to the Stairmaster. Cyprus approaches, and that worst girl is now only a tiny dot on the distant horizon. Lots of catching up to do. It is quite hopeless, of course, but the value is in the trying. God willing, I'll be there next year, too, and the year after and the year after until I'm no longer able to fill out the application or until the committee rejects it.


Paul Kotik
Plantation, FL USA
Girls are better than boys?

My wife is a better freediver than I am - in all disciplines!


Ah....life in the centre of the bell curve....

At least she thinks I'm a :king
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Re: Girls are better than boys?

Originally posted by Ben Gowland
My wife is a better freediver than I am - in all disciplines!



I'm not sure why you put the frown face down. I envy your situation to the greatest extent. I've been trying (with some success) to get my girlfriend into diving. It would make vacations ('holidays' in your parts ;)) so much better. In fact, if she was a BETTER diver than I, I think that would be about the biggest sexual turn-on ever :hmm :chatup. After a few months of patient training, she is now able to wear a mask and breath through a snorkle without having an anxiety attack. Alas, she still has yet to achieve a comfort level that would allow her to start diving deeper than 10 feet. Trust me friend, the grass is not greener on this side of the hill :( .

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If the argument was that women are more sensible, afraid to break barriers, and have more self preservation, then it doesn't explain all the female blackouts that happen. Blacking out means you have gone past the limit of fear or self preservation or sensibility.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
well yes you have a point eric - and my self preservation instinct hasn't stopped me blacking out (or at least it didn't at first, maybe now I am more careful!)

but don't lots of guys black out too? they just tend to lie about it more I reckon - "swooning" is quite a girl thing, not really macho!

and while we are on the boy/girl thing I totally agree with Paul. Much more fun to be boys and girls than men and women (I particularly hate "lady" if you really want to wind me up!).

Thanks for the compliment Paul, one thing about living in such a cold place as we have loads of opportunity to work on style and not much to work on depth so that's what I've been doing for the last six month. Plus I am a firm believer that thinking about "am I doing this gracefully?" "is everything moving the right way?" (and even "does my bum look big like this?") is far more fruitful than "***** how the h*** am I gonna get all the way back to the top without breathing!). Did some NLP training on shifting focus away from the scary stuff on a dive - and always ended up tuning into style to get away from any panic.

any other girls got a view on this they want to share? I'm intrigued. Personally I don't think of freediving as boys vs girls or even as anyone vs anyone.

For me it's just - me vs me or me today vs me tomorrow... you can only do what you can do regardless of what everyone else is up to. If you try and override that you just end up with a samba or B/0 and lose all the points anyway... (

this could be a long topic I guess!

For me it's just - me vs me or me today vs me tomorrow...

and i know I said earlier that I WAS competitive... but I like to think I've refined that to being competitive with myself!!:girlie
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Me & Myself - Uh-oh !

Only trouble is, when I compete with myself, both players make a back-room deal to throw the game and collect at Ladbroke's.....
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