Equalizing for Freediving and Scuba

By Kirk Krack

aPinch your nose and blowa is not the full storyaa better understand of equalization may make you a safer and more capable freediver or scuba diver. Photo: Eiko Jones/ PFI

If youave taken a diving course, be it scuba or freediving, you would have been taught the process of equalization. You equalize to ensure that your ears, sinuses, and mask are equal to the water or ambient pressure surrounding you at your depth. Most scuba courses begins with: aPinch your snout and blow as if blowing your snout through a tissue until you feel your ears pop. If this doesnat work then also wiggle your jaw and tilt your head side to side.a Then itas straight into the pool to give it a try. If you did a proper freediving course you likely expend 90 minutes of classroom hypothesi and workshop practice followed by a slower progression of developing the aarta of equalizing. Itas an art for freedivers because freedivers merely have the volume of one set of lungs-worth of air to allow equalizing to happen, and that lungful is being compressed( i.e. made smaller) as we descend. Also, the speed at which a freediver descends and a freediveras head position can complicate the process.

BasicA Physiology

As divers, we have three types of airspaces in our bodiesathis includes both the natural spaces and the artificial that come from our equipment: ridged( ears, sinuses, mask ); semi-ridged( trachea, bronchus and bronchi ); and flexible( alveoli, bronchioles and gastrointestinal ). For this article weall focus on the ridged airspaces of ears, sinuses, and mask, as the others tend to take care of themselves or deserve their own article.A

As we descend, the increasing water pressure apushesa on these airspaces, aflexinga them. A minor degree of flex and we feel it without any pain or discomfort, signalling us itas hour equalize once again( should be completed every three to five feet( 1-1. 5m) and before any discomfort happens ). If we dismiss the flexing sensation or donat equalize successfully then we may feel a inconvenience and/ or our ears may asqueala( big air volume being forced through a small opening ), which is a good indication weave waited too long. If we continue to ignore the aflexinga and the inconvenience or squeal then we start
to experience pain and by this phase any equalizing is likely to cause minor to major barotraumas( pressure related traumata ). So itas important to equalize early and often, and before needed( pre-equalizations) to avoid any problems.

ValsalveA vsA FrenzelA vsA VTO

There are a myriad of equalizing techniques, some of which are suitable for scuba( but still not the best) but genuinely donat work for freedivers; some are the bread a butter for freedivers. Very few divers have the gift of being able to enjoy the Holy Grail of equalizing.A

Typically a scuba course teaches the Valsalva manoeuver( apinching your snout and blowa) because itas a quick and easy method to describe and can be somewhat adequate. It involves taking a volume of air in your lungs and blowing that out gently against pinched nostrils, thereby( hopefully) directing the air into the ears. However, Valsalva becomes ineffective for a freediver below 33 feet( 10 m) because at this depth the freediveras lungs are now half their surface volume. At 66 feet( 20 m) they are a third of their surface volumea | and so on. Give this one a try: breath everything( simulating 133 feet/ 40 m or having 1/5 th the lung volume) and try using Valsalva. Itall be difficult for some and impossible for most to equalize effectively.A

From the start, freedivers are typically taught the process of Frenzel technique, in which the throat becomes a piston to push air into the airspaces. Itas more effective, employing a smaller amount of air, generating higher pressures and using much less energy, while also bypassing the compressing lungs. So, if as a freediver you equalize fine in shallow depths but find it hard to equalize effectively past 33 feet( 10 m ), you may need switch techniques.A

So how do you know which one your use already? Simple, put your hand on your belly and equalize your ears. If your belly moves or tenses then youare likely using Valsalva. Now put your hand on your throat. Does it move? If so then youare likely employing Frenzel.

A The Holy Grail for freedivers is VTO or Voluntary Tubular Opening. You know these divers, bragging all the time how they donat have to pinch their noses as they just aswallowa or ado somethinga. That something their do is activating their palatini muscle to open the eustachian tube( connecting sinus to middle ear ). With VTO you are no longer aforcinga the air into the middle ear, but are simply opening the door for it to equalize itself. My wife, Mandy-Rae Krack, can attribute part of her seven world freediving records to this ability and I am more then jealous. Although it can be learned, most of the people who equalize via VTO have an innate ability to manipulate this muscle somewhat already. For those of us who canat, itas better to perfect Frenzel.

TechniqueA vsA Physiology

A number of problems can arise when equalizing. These may be momentary or they may be chronic. They may be the result of lack of technique or something physiological. Regardless, perfecting and practising good technique with exerts can generally alleviate either. So what do “youve had”, a technique or a physiological problem? Break it down like this. Is the problem one ear or both ears? If you have one ear that gets stuck and wonat equalize but the other is fine then itas generally a physiological problem with that one ear. If both ears have problems then that is generally a technique issue.A

Regardless of which it is, learning a good Frenzel technique is important, along with daily exercising. The exercise is to equalize dry two-hundred times daily. This will perfect your technique, coordinate the free movement of persons and muscles involved, and make flexibility within the eustachian tube to allow an easier passage of air. I prefer to do it in blocks of ten constantly through the day.

ProblemsA& A Solutions

Problem : Ears get slower equalizing as I dive Solution : Snort after every diveaunlike scuba divers, an average freediver in 50 -1 00 feet( 15 m-3 0m) in an average day will equalize 1500 periods, whereas the scuba diver will equalize a couple hundred. Sinuses are also designed to move air inwards and are always producing mucus; however, the simple act of nasal breathing moves it awayauntil you put on a mask and donat breathe through your snout. So when you get to the surface, especially as a freediver, pull your nose pocket away and suck( snort) or jolt your snout to clear the mucus before your next diving or you risk slowly pushing it into your eustachian tubes and developing problems. Problem : The first 15 feet( 5m) is always a problem Solution : Pre-equalizeaas a freediver completing a proper entry, we can get to around ten feet( 3m) before weave even gotten our hands to our nose. So just before starting your entry, pre-equalize and get at least the first ten feet( 3m) out of the way. Problem : One ear is always slower and eventually aims up stopping Solution : This one is two-fold: develop Frenzel and practice dry two-hundred times daily; also push against the tear-duct on the eye that is the same side as the problem ear. Exam this one out: equalize dry and hold a sustained pressure, do you feel air escaping your tear duct? If so, then in the path of least resistance to equalize your ear, air is escaping via that tear duct. The solution is to block off the tear duct, thereby forcing the air to go through the eustachian tube and conditioning it over day. With practise it will become the path of least resistance.

Some people naturally have on ear thatas slower to equalize than the other. We tend to focus on the first ear that equalizes fully and stop trying to equalize when this ear clears. Instead, concentrate on getting a full equalization on the aslowa ear and donat stop until that one is equalized.

Problem : I can equalize fine head-up but canat when head down Solution : Work your soft palate( your soft palate is that fleshly flap at the upper back of the mouth that is the problem if you snore ). When you descend head-down, it falls to the back of the throat, closing off the air delivery to the sinuses and then the ears. You can work your soft palate by doing long and slow inhalations and exhalations while switching the air between the mouth and nose. This will engage the soft palate so you can feel it and gain control over it. Another thing you can try is to get into a head-down position( this can be dry hanging over a table ); if you are unable to equalize, suck your mask onto your face( this will break the soft palate) and then try to equalize. It may take some practise and guidance from a professional instructor to help you navigate this exercise. Problem : when equalizing at deeper depths I alock upa with both ears Solution : Practice equalizing two-hundred times a day and make sure youare releasing your snout between each equalization. If your ears are doing fine then suddenly lock up, likely you are forgetting to release the snout pocket, causing the mask to go negative and then when it releases it sucks the soft palate against the back roof of the mouth.

FinalA Thoughts

While we canat cover everything here, I hope you have a better appreciation of equalizing, both on scuba and freediving. Simply apinching your nose and blowing, and then wiggling your jawa is inefficient instruction. Take the time to learn proper technique. If youare a scuba diver, think of a freediving course as continuing education and cross-training that can help you to better your preferred method of underwater exploration.A

The post Equalizing for Freediving and Scuba appeared first on DIVER magazine.

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