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How to improve your air consumption while Scuba?

perfect your buoyancyAfter how to improve my buoyancy, the second most commonly asked question by novice divers to instructors and Divemasters, is how come you are so good on air? and What do I need to do to improve my air consumption? Luckily there are quite a few things you can do to improve your air consumption, but like everything else in diving there are no quick fixes or shortcuts, everything takes time and practice to develop and improve. The first thing to do when trying to improve your air consumption is to manage your expectations.

Achievable goals

The first thing to establish is to have realistic expectations on how efficient you can become on air. Every person has a natural optimal ability based predominately on size, muscle mass, and lung size. The bigger you are the more air you will breathe, since you have more tissue and muscle that need to be kept supplied with Oxygen; a large muscular person will never be as good on air as a petite individual with the same level of experience. Most petite female scuba instructors are the best on air, since they are blessed with experience, practice as well as genetic potential. So if you are a large man comparing yourself to a petite female instructor, you should forget about it, and look for someone your own size to be able to visualize achievable goals.

What makes us want to breathe?

normal breathingContrarily to what most people think, the urge to breathe is not controlled by a lack of Oxygen, instead it is controlled by an elevated level of Carbon Dioxide. The lower the level of Carbon Dioxide in your body, the weaker the urge to breathe. This is the reason why, before most breath-hold exercises individuals will hyperventilate for a few seconds, since this allows them to flush out as much CO2 from their body as possible, which will prolong their breath-hold.

Since CO2 is the main culprit in making us want to breathe, the question is how to reduce or control the level of CO2 in our body, so that we can have a controlled breathing rate. CO2 is a by-product of activity, the more you use your muscles the more CO2 you will produce. So, the first step in controlling your CO2 levels is to reduce unnecessary activity as much as possible, to reduce the production of CO2. And the first step to reducing your activity is to master your buoyancy.

Perfect your buoyancy

Perfecting your buoyancy will go a long way towards improving your air consumption, not only will it reduce the amount of air your waste constantly making small tweaks, it will also let you relax and move less, which reduces CO2 levels in your body. In addition, you will be free to focus on mastering your breathing technique, which is the second step to improving your air consumption.
Read our full article about: How to achieve Perfect Buoyancy?

Master your breathing technique

master breathing By far the biggest factor in improving your air consumption is your breathing technique. The average human breathes about 20 times per minute while on land at a state of rest, but by utilizing proper breathing techniques you can significantly reduce your breathing cycles while diving. They key is to slow everything down while diving, breathe in slowly, purposely, and in a controlled manner. And make sure to breathe deeply and fill your lungs. When it is time to exhale do not just push the air out of your lungs, but again breathe out in a slow, controlled manner. The slower you can inhale and exhale the more you will improve your air consumption.

While slowing your breathing down will take time and practice to master, you need to remember that the process is just slowing down your breathing, you are not holding your breath at any time during your breathing cycle. As you learned on your open water course, the golden rule of diving is “Never hold your breath”, so don’t do it in the hope it will improve your air consumption. With practice, you can reduce your breathing cycles per minute to half or less than on land.

Master your propulsion

The final step to improve your air consumption is to master your propulsion technique. Propelling yourself is the single biggest consumer of energy on a dive since you use your biggest muscle groups. By mastering the various propulsion techniques, you will be able to perform them more efficiently and reducing the amount of activity your body is performing. This will reduce your CO2 levels, which in turn will make it easier to control your breathing.
Read our full article about: Fin Kicks and Propulsion Techniques

Stay Fit!

Staying fit and healthy can play a big part in your air consumption.
Read our full article about: How to Getting Fit for Diving?

What is the optimum breathing pattern?

There is no specific optimal breathing pattern and it will all depend on the individual’s size, sex, muscle mass, and general cardiovascular fitness. The only thing for certain is that the optimum breathing strategy when scuba diving is deep slow breathing. You need to inhale slowly and then also exhale slowly without holding your breath. Develop a pattern that you are comfortable with and that works for your current work load. Learn to adapt your breathing underwater, so that if you are starting to work hard when facing a current for example, you can increase your breathing rate to compensate for the rise of CO2 in your body.

What is skip breathing?

Skip breathing is basically when you interrupt your normal breathing pattern for too long by holding your breath for a few seconds, in between inhaling and exhaling. It is never recommended that you get into the habit of skip breathing since it can be very dangerous and counterproductive. By holding your breath for a few seconds, you are breaking the golden rule of scuba to always breathe. Secondly, you are actually causing CO2 to build up in your body, which will ultimately increase your breathing reflex, meaning you will breathe more and not develop an efficient-breathing technique. Finally, skip breathing and CO2 build-up will more than likely give you a post dive headache and lethargy, and in extreme cases you could even suffer a deep-water blackout, which could be fatal.

What is the best propulsion technique to help improve your air consumption?

The best technique to use is the frog kick, it is by far the most efficient and least energy-consuming of all techniques, although it is arguably the hardest to master. Once you have mastered frog kicks you will be able to kick and glide effortlessly, and reduce the number of strokes per minute you need to swim around. The reduced number of strokes will result in your body needing less energy which means less CO2 in your body, which in turns leads to a reduced urge to breathe and more efficient air consumption.

Will my regulator make any difference to my air consumption?

Simply put yes; if you have a regulator that is not well maintained and not functioning at full capacity then the increased breathing resistance, and reduced airflow will have a negative impact on your air consumption. A fully functioning regulator, regardless of its price range, will work perfectly well and supply you with more than enough air for any recreational dive. For technical deep dives, you will need a regulator that is optimized for breathing at greater depths.
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