By Ted Harty
Competitive freedivers and spearfishermen both operate in the same environment. Both groups, in essence, hold their breath underwater. Competitive freedivers are good at diving very deep and staying down a very long time. Spearfishermen dive underwater to put fish on their plate, as opposed to buying it at the store.
Is spearfishing the same as competitive freediving? No, but as a spearfishermen, you should be extremely interested in how we do what we do, learn the methods we use, steal them, and apply them to your spearfishing.
There is one thing that almost every single freediving instructor regardless of experience and agency will do with their students that help them dive deeper, stay longer and feel more comfortable at depth. Warm up dives done via pull-downs.
Every spearfishermen is familiar with the dive reflex. You all know the first dive of the day sucks, you can’t stay long at all and feel uncomfortable. After an hour or two, you start to feel great underwater and have longer dive times.
Why is this? I’ve heard people say things like it’s because you are more relaxed, or you have to stretch out your lungs. It’s because after an hour or two of diving you have finally kicked in your dive reflex.
During a freediving class, we do pull-downs. Pull-downs are designed to kick in your dive reflex as strong as possible. There are two main ways to kick in your dive reflex. One way is to hold your breath. Ever noticed that if you try to hold your breath 3-4 times in a row, you always hold your breath longer on the next attempt? Its because you are kicking in your dive reflex.
The second way to kick in your dive reflex is to get to depth, the pressure helps kick in the dive reflex. So a pull-down does two things, it gets you to depth, and you are holding your breath.
You might be thinking, kicking down to depth like I do when I spearfish does the same thing, so what’s the difference?
Let’s talk about things that make the dive reflex weaker. Increasing your heart rate, adrenaline, the chaos at the surface trying to subdue a cobia, swimming the fish back to a boat, yelling in excitement as you get your first wahoo. So yes, diving makes your dive reflex come out, but all the things that happen while spearfishing makes it weaker. Ever notice that when you swim back to the boat climb on board, move to a new spot, that next dive is harder than the previous one? Now you know why.
This is why we do pull-downs. This allows us to get to depth slowly, and while keeping our heart rate low, as we are using only our arms and getting to depth in a super calm and relaxed manner. This allows the dive reflex to kick into its maximum level.
The next time you are on the boat, bring a 25-pound weight belt. Tie the belt to a line, and tie the line to a cleat. Spend 5-10 minutes doing 2-3 pull-downs. First one to 15ft, next one to 30ft, third one a bit deeper. Pull down super slow and relaxed. Hang out for a bit and come up super slow and relaxed, these should not feel difficult; they should feel relaxing.
This will take 7-10 minutes. Now every dive you do afterward will feel better, you will have fewer contractions, and longer dive times. How could that not improve your spearfishing?
You can also try breathing up on the surface with your mask on your forehead exposing your eyes to the water for 3-5 minutes to help kick in your dive reflex.
Try pull-downs on your next trip. I would be completely shocked if you didn’t notice it helped your dives.
Longer dives, more comfortable dives, more fish in the cooler
Dive safe out there, it’s not that hard!