Freediving The Myths 2.0 – “The Packing Truth”

 FREEDIVING the Myths! 2.0 – The Packing Truth –


This subject is a great one, the subject matter is as funny as it is serious & will be sure to fire up the emotive Freediving reader, and that is very welcome, as this is for the Freedivers, The recreational, the spearo, the competitive, the .com freedivers, the face book athlete Freedivers, the instructors, the agencies and the internet freedivers alike.

First of all the main intention here is to give some simple and good advice, if you are packing for Freediving, or teaching / recommending packing for Freediving, you are doing it wrong.

the author Attempting packing!!

the author Attempting packing!!

You can be an amazing successful freediver without it!

Change is a good thing, it usually results in the evolution of something more successful, I feel it’s almost a responsibility to challenge the Myth about packing, personally I find it comical that many still believe the current and future success to freediving is based on who can vigorously pack the most air into their lungs. I always wondered how packing even got to the point of conformity, but if we look at humans and natural behavior, we see that in many sports and activities, if people do not have a good understanding in the first place, then they will start to imitate each other, hence the monkey see monkey do epidemic of packing that we currently see in Freediving, in fact many freedivers out there still hold the opinion that packing is a good thing.

Bertrand Russell was quoted-

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatsoever that it is not utterly absurd.

I am certain for some this will be enlightening and possibly for a few it could even be insulting, but lets be honest and talk directly, out there in the real world some freediving Instructors really are still teaching it to their students, many a Freediver and YouTube Freediver is seen packing before their glory dive so it’s a widespread very visible practice.

claude verlind the over inflated man

The over inflated man by Claude Verlind

If you happen to be a packer please do not take this as an attack, as humans we tend to take advice with a degree of defiance and hey that’s ok, let me start from the beginning and fill the gaps.

My objectives are straightforward and unsophisticated, To empower as many Freedivers as possible to be able to remember the laundry list of disadvantages of packing, to bust the many myths associated, and for Freedivers to be able to understand that its not just my opinion here, there is science backing me up, we can relate Boyles law in relation to unnecessary packing for Equalization.

A simple message, that yes you can ultimately become the awesome freediver you always were without packing, this is important for newcomers who are receiving incorrect information from sources that may end up putting them in a confusing mindset, and or learning incorrect practices and forming bad / dangerous habits where they may end up just doing the easiest thing which is to mimic what they see.

Packing – what is it?

Packing is an old school Freediving technique and thought process, there was a time when Freedivers believed the more air they inhale and pack into the lungs the deeper and further they can go.

Shortly after taking a natural full breath the packing freediver then starts the secondary process of packing more air into the lungs using a technique of sucking the air into the mouth then forcing it into the lungs via a swallowing type movement, thereby overinflating the lungs past the natural total lung capacity.

Girl packed

Packing has become an almost ubiquitous freediving epidemic, a barrage of air gulping carpomaniacs litter the Worlds Freediving hotspots, some I have observed first hand to pack air for up to and over a minute or more before holding their breath, and some are doing it before relatively shallow dives.

The most common reason / excuse for packing = Equalization / more time and depth, myself and many others share the opinion this is simply incorrect. As we have seen from other Freedivers who do not use it and still mange great depths of 100 mtrs depth, distances over 200 mtrs and times over 8 + mins in the pool, in fact some have found success with the complete opposite and exhale before they Freedive.

As an example and story tie in – many other mammals on planet earth who freedive are found to exhale before they descend with great success, that’s right, the seals and whales breathe out then descend, now we humans are a totally different species so lets not get carried away with a whale of a freediving fantasy just yet, the physiology of seals & whales is very different from our own, our lungs do not collapse then expand very well at all, in fact we still know very little about what exactly happens within the lungs when we Freedive Deep, what we do know is there is very dire consequences for the person who is doing it wrong, therefore there exists a responsibility for those of us within the industry to make sure everybody gets the right advice and is doing it right and having a good time, as safely as possible!

Could it be very simple? That packing is completely unnecessary? have any of the packers actually tried to train without it? For long enough to acquire a result? Unfortunately most likely not, you see, a very normal human characteristic is to lack the patience to start again and refine the skills, going back to the drawing board requires a big commitment, theoretically to some the easy option is to pack more air and cheat the EQ skills to some degree, but in reality what actually happen is the complete opposite, instead of gains the packer can unintentionally be putting up barriers to success, limiting potential and maximizing danger, these barriers create risks of Lung expansion injury, DCS, Cerebral Arterial Gas Embolism, collapsed lung, and lung squeeze at depth, which now days armed with more information and knowledge we have seen common links between these maladies and packing.

One of my own many opinions on this subject is that packing can be a sign of nerves, a lack of confidence, & there is nothing wrong with that, when we challenge something new we use many techniques to overcome nerves, I notice a similar behavior in beginners to Freediving, Some will try and inhale to forcefully until they almost shudder, convinced they will succeed and survive with more air, I guess its only human, but this is far from the reality.

If you were to just relax and take a breath you will find far more success, so it brings us back to the packing.

Delicate lung tissue

Delicate lung tissue

If you are very confident with a depth or time or distance then do you really need to pack air? Why do you do it? Ask yourself, lack of confidence can be the first answer to pop up with many people, is it that packers are essentially taking what they perceive as an insurance policy with them? a little extra air for when they can no longer equalize properly, was it that they never put in the time to correct their EQ mistakes in the first place?, could it be they pack more air as they really don’t feel confidence with their depth or time as they are way beyond their limits of self-assurance, or simply packing as they have been doing it for so long that they cannot feel the same confidence without it, an addiction of sorts. Many questions! So lets look at some answers

One fellow recently stated to me “I only pack a small amount”, my reply was a question “ then why bother at all”? The answer was, “I just feel more confident with more air”, this strengthens my opinion that packers can carry a Lack of confidence, which really is a root problem that needs addressing when we talk about freediving success.

My simple advice to overcome this is to never progress in Freediving until your past efforts felt easy, that’s right, EASY, If your past effort was difficult, resulted in lung Squeeze, Equalizing Trouble, Felt uncomfortable, was on the edge of 02 limit, then any further attempt at progress would be Folly! Using this “Easy” approach all Freedivers will develop real world Confidence and perfect the correct skills first, not forming bad habits with the wrong ones.

Unfortunately I have personally seen and observed incorrect behavior within many of the Freediving scenes, although largely confined to the smaller competitive scene.

Lets be honest and come clean, ask yourself again, do you really need to pack for Freediving success?

I firmly believe that non Freedivers, beginner or intermediate or even the experienced Freediving people really do not need to be exposed to it, its old fashioned and redundant, it is proven to be very harmful and has caused serious injuries to many people.

Ok to the science! If while reading this you thought, “I need to pack so I can equalize”. Lets bust that myth – Boyles Law –

Fill your mouth with Air at 25 mtrs = 3.5 Atm (The amount can vary from person to person – lets say 300- 400 ml total)

So take that back to the surface for ease of calculation and magically it turns into 1.4 Ltrs,

Now take your 1.4 ltrs down to 100 Mtrs = 11 Atm……….

WOW there is still air left, in fact plenty, at 100 mtrs Boyle states that your mouth would contain around 127 ml of air, Now do not make the mistake of thinking that any of that precious air is “used” on the descent, the EQ process is simply a pressurization strategy, we keep pressure within the inner side of the e-tube which counteracts the adverse pressure on the other side, so the air does not go anywhere, the only place it could possibly go is either back to the lungs, the stomach, out the nose or out the mouth (in very rare cases out of the tear duct), the idea and correct technique is to keep the pressurization strategy constant, therefore no air escapes. If it does this would constitute a “failure in technique” and bring the freediver back to more practice.

Note: still contained in some Freediving course materials out there (there is text in circulation about larger Total lung capacity from packing and / deeper Residual Volume – But It fails to mention that any faux gains will be swiftly eclipsed by the laundry list of negative effects and hindrance to Freediving and overall relaxation.

So armed with this knowledge we can see that packing is non essential for Equalization success, we do not need to pack, in fact as you become more flexible naturally you can inhale more air with less effort, remaining relaxed and with an added bonus of being able to mouth fill deeper if you wish.

Enjoying the depths

Enjoying the depths

As you naturally become more flexible, the packing is un important to success, a far better plan to work on perfecting the mouth fill frenzel technique in the first place, adaptation and flexibility are far more important than making a big mistake like starting to use Packing to overcome imaginary barriers in the first place, then pushing yourself deeper than your own confidence and skill level, this is a shortcut to disaster.

I heard someone say more oxygen? Ok Lets consider the obvious- that a packer will spend time on the surface packing, so from time of Final breath and end of packing and subsequent immersion there can be from 20 seconds up to and over 1 minute of 02 Debt created, an example of this during CWT -this time on the surface could have been far better spent on the descent process, aside from the elevated heart rate, added stress and added buoyancy from the packing in the first place another interesting fact is that within that wasted minute that was spent packing at the surface (during a relaxed Freedive any non packing Freediver can expect to be down around the 40-60 mtr mark within 1.00 min mark, have completed a turn at the 50 mtr mark in the pool, or be at the .20-1.00 min mark in static), so that is a huge 02 debt that is created by the packing in the first place.

An 02 debt is a serious Freediving hindrance.

As we take a closer look more interesting facts arise, I received Feedback from a Lung Specialist who performed many tests for a 60 minutes TV Segment I was involved in, they discussed that the Packing can reduces the blood shift significantly, Most savvy Freedivers will understand the importance of the blood shift.

Packing causing squeeze? If there was any evidence connecting packers and squeezers then we arrive there shortly, by stemming our blood shift we put the lungs at much greater elevated risk of Squeeze, by packing you elevate yourselves to an imaginary confidence level which is far removed from your actual level of Skill which creates added stress, and we see this evidenced by incredibly fast CWT Freedives from newcomers who start to pack.

packed Dragon

With time and patience the modern Freediver will far exceed the packing Freedivers depths distance and Times with far greater relaxation, adaptation, skill level, Flexibility, Confidence and most importantly MDR / blood shift and safety barrier.

The Perils and pitfalls continue – Packing more air increases risk of DCS related problems from carrying far more Nitrogen, this is a simple one, no need to elaborate.

Air embolism / Stoke? The packed lungs have started the dive over expanded (above normal pressure), so the Alveoli within are stretched to dangerous limits, and there are very real limits.

The packed freediver descends and their over expanded lungs slowly shrink and the pressure is reduced momentarily, but do not be fooled, as on ascent which is almost always carried out at over 1 mtr per second the packed stressed lung returns to the massively over expended form, this rapid expansion increases the lung volume until the elastic limit of the alveoli can be exceeded and can be damaged, it is at this point where air can pass into the blood stream where it can find its way to the brain/heart, or the lung can collapse, pneumothorax can occur, all sorts of complications and damage are a possibility, the scary fact is that Air embolism and lung expansion injuries have been increasingly common in Freediving as the misinformed start to pack for longer and larger, in my opinion these incidents have mostly been mis diagnosed or swept under the Freediving carpet.

Packing and Squeezing are serious issues, make no mistake, Lung damage is no joke and can elevate into a life threatening injury very quickly.

So now armed with more information, I hope all packers may consider to change habits, gain more confidence naturally and realize that all that extra air and stress is not needed, many people can perform 8 + minute static without packing, 200 + dynamics without packing, and 100 mtr+ Dives without packing, take a modern approach and Freedive Safely and enjoy your self more, don’t pack, Just have fun be relaxed and patient, smile, take time to develop sufficient adaptation, skills and confidence and I guarantee success will follow.

Einstein once quoted:

 To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advances.

Great Freediving to all! Keep it tropical and don’t forget the Rock n Roll!

Mike Wells

7 thoughts on “Freediving The Myths 2.0 – “The Packing Truth”

  1. Cool article. This bit I find very interesting:
    ” they discussed that the Packing can reduces the blood shift significantly”
    Could you share your source for this or explain the mechanism behind it?

    Thank you,

    • The Lung Specialists from the Concord Hospital in Sydney Australia – this is the 60’s segment here they do CT scans during breath-holds and asked me to pack to get different reference to full exhale and experiment etc, of course the result was far more blood shift during the hold on exhale, far less on packing – thanks for your comment 🙂

    • As stated, we are a different organism from seals and whales who achieve this marvel of exhale dives for 10+ minutes, it is reference to the example that maybe we are doing it wrong, as wehn we look at nature etc etc! the simple take home message is all a person needs is a full normal breath, the added packing creates stress and all the other drama listed – i personally know more people that do over 200 dyn without packing, than people who do 🙂 Thank you for your comment

      • That’s why I said “competitive”. If you want to win, you might need every meter that you can get.

        In nature there usually is no “do that or don’t do it at all” but there usually is some optimum in-between. So we need a study that tells us how much the extra oxygen gives you.

        For instance my normal lung capacity is 7.5 litres. If I pack I get an extra litre. I just can’t imagine that those 14% more air don’t give any advantage at all.

        I understand what you are saying about the extra stress, but you can get used to it. Too bad I was too lazy to try out how far I can go without packing when I was at my top performance a year ago (162 m DNF). After I stopped packing I haven’t reached the same performance again. But that might be due to bad training.

        As for Static I can say that I already did 7 Minutes dry with no packing at the same time as I did about 6:30 in water with packing. That got me thinking and I stopped packing. But Dynamic might be different because you don’t relax as much as in Static and use up Oxygen at higher rate.

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