One of the biggest concerns almost every diver has is the air consumption . Many times, already in the Open water course we can see students comparing their final pressure at the end of the dive. It seems that one of the few competitions that may exist in the world of diving is to see who needs less air. Generally we tend to admire to that diver that is able to return to surface with the tank above the 100 bars (1500psi) after a dive.
What factors are involved in our air consumption? Are we all on an equal footing? Is there any secret that professionals do not want to tell us? In order not to despair in your fight against high air consumption it is important that you understand what factors are variable and therefore can be improved, and which ones you will not be able to change.
What are these invariable factors?
Gender: In this case men are at a disadvantage compared to women. As a general rule women have a slower metabolism, which means that their breathing rate and oxygen demand is also slower. The size of their lungs is also smaller. All this favors women in terms of air consumption. That is, on an equal basis between man and woman, it will be the woman who consumes less air.
Age: . Over the years our metabolism is slowing down. Under water this means less air consumption. So a 25-year-old diver will generally require more air than a 55-year-old diver. Age makes us wiser. So with the age we become wiser and we improve our air consumption. Is there any other sport where ageing is a benefit?
Physiology: Our physiology also affects our air consumption. If we are big, small, fat, skinny, body builder... All this affects our air consumption. While a small and skinny diver will require much less air than a 2m height/100kg weight diver. It's pure logic. In fact, we can modify our physiology in small measures since we can diet or exercise. But there will be general features of physiology that will be unalterable such as height, lung size, etc ...
Before we start with our advice to reduce your air consumption, we want to remind you that there is no bigger mistake than comparing yourself with other divers. The only one you should compare or compete with is yourself. It is quite useless if you despair because in the same immersion your instructor has consumed 70 bars less than you. Obviously he has invested many more hours underwater than you. When you admire another diver, don't do it to feel less than him. Use that diver as a reference. Use that diver as a goal to achieve and as your personal purpose of improvement.
Here are 9 tips that will dramatically improve your air consumption:
1. Visualise: Before jumping into the water, close your eyes for a minute, visualise yourself on the surface deflating the vest. Feel the sensation of your head submerging into the water. Imagine the reef, the fish, your safety stop and your return to the surface. The fact of having visualised the dive before it happens will relax your brain while actually diving for real.
2. Calm down your breathing pattern: If you feel that you are breathing rapidly already at the surface before the dive, ask your buddy or guide to give you a minute to relax. It is vital to begin the dive with a relaxed breath. When you start a dive breathing heavily it is very difficult to slow it down underwater.
Achieving optimal air consumption is a process that requires practice and patience. Don't be disappointed if you fail sometimes. It is part of the process, failing is how we learn.
3. Experience: As in the case of visualisation, the more you dive the less your brain will feel stressed underwater. The consequent benefit for a relaxed mind is a well controlled respiratory rhythm. There is not much to discuss here. The more you dive, the less air you will need.
4. Check your equipment: Small leaks or equipment in poor condition affect your air consumption. Get your gear serviced regularly.
5. Stay warm: To feel cold underwater guarantees a high consumption of air. If you are cold, your body drastically increases your metabolism. The fight is tough. Your body must consume as many calories as necessary to maintain its temperature. Therefore, your air consumption will dramatically increase.
6. Slow movements: Everything under water should be done slow. You must focus on reducing your energy costs only to move forward. Any other movement is a waste of energy. Swim slowly, do not use your arms except to communicate, avoid useless efforts... Remember, if you doubt, slow down!
7. Control your breathing : Work out your breathing pattern. You have to feel it natural, calm and automatic. A good start is to count. If you are not sure about how to breathe correctly, count the seconds you take to inhale and the ones you take to exhale. A good starting point would be to inhale in 4 seconds and exhale in 6second. From this you must find your own rhythm. When you inhale imagine you were breathing from a straw. Take a little break (do not hold your breath, it's a minimal pause, almost unnoticed) between exhalation and inhalation. Make sure you empty your lungs from used air so the new fresh air can fulfil your lungs.
8. Buoyancy: It is the most important when reducing your air consumption:
- Adjust your weight: Diving overweighted is one of your worsts enemies while achieving optimal air consumption. Read about The bad habit of over-weighting and How to do a buoyancy check'.
- Work on your trim: Try to position yourself while swimming as hydrodynamic and streamlined as possible. That way it will cost you less effort to move. Every effort underwater will cause a higher air consumption. Click here to learn about the trim.
- Distribute your gear efficiently: Apply the same principle to your gear. When your gear is resisting the water, it will cost you more effort to move.
9. Dive only within your comfort zone: Whenever you cross your limits, you might get stressed and this will rise your air consumption. And always remember: to assure your own safety, never cross your personal training limits!
Achieving optimal air consumption is a process that requires practice and patience. Do not feel disappointed when you fail and waste a huge amount of air. It is normal, it is part of the process, failing is how we learn. Keep diving and you will see that with time and experience all these techniques become good habits. The good news are, practising in this case means diving. Could you imagine any better way to learn?