Originally posted 2018-03-07 23:57:01.
The Secret To Improving Your Air Consumption
I encounter many novice divers who are dissatisfied, even frustrated, by their air consumption whilst scuba diving. High air consumption is often the controlling limit on dive time for novice-intermediate level divers. It really sucks to head to the surface because you’ve burned through your air quickly.
In searching for a solution to high air consumption, too many divers focus on altering their breathing. It’s a flawed approach and fails to acknowledge that our respiratory cycle is driven by two physiological factors:
- Oxygen Demand. Our bodies metabolize oxygen (O2) when muscles and organs unction. The more we use our muscles, the more oxygen we require. Reducing oxygen demand lowers our respiration rate. We can achieve this through two means; firstly, and most importantly, by lowering our level of exertion in the water. Secondly, by improving our cardiovascular fitness. However, you don’t need to be a super-athlete if you aren’t breaking a sweat in the first place.
- Carbon Dioxide Retention. The urge to breathe is actually dictated by the carbon dioxide ( CO2) level in our lungs (not the oxygen level, as many assume). CO2 is created as a product of respiratory metabolism in the body and we expel it whenever we exhale. A full, deep breathing pattern efficiently removes the CO2 from our airways and slows our respiratory cycle. Likewise, reducing our respiratory metabolism (lowering exertion) reduces CO2 production in our bodies.
Novice divers don’t understand the level of unnecessary exertion they experience on scuba dives. This is exertion caused by physically compensating for imperfect buoyancy, the profound effect of water resistance when trim isn’t optimal and superfluous body movements; such as sculling with the hands.
The BEST way to see immediate improvement in air consumption is to focus on perfecting your fundamental dive skills; neutral buoyancy, horizontal trim, effective propulsion and control. Sadly, these skills are rarely perfected in entry-level scuba training; so the individual diver needs to devote some time and attention to practicing these fundamentals once qualified.
Have a look at my Buoyancy Masterclass series of 9 articles that explain the things you probably didn’t learn on your Open Water course…
Many novice divers stress and struggle to reduce air consumption through artificially controlling their breathing patterns. It’s a lost cause approach. The respiratory metabolism demands sufficient oxygen and shallow or paused (skip) breathing only serves to increase CO2 retention and raises the respiratory rate.
The advice given to novice divers varies from breathing ‘shallow’, ‘lightly’ or ‘relaxed’, but rarely are these concepts fully explained.
I’d like to expand on this, as many novice divers misinterpret such advice – wasting time and spoiling dives in an obsession with finding the ‘magic method’ of breathing to lower their air consumption.
There is no magic and there is no secret formula.
Pay attention to your breathing demands in day-to-day life:
- How do you breath when you do a light jog?
- How do you breathe when you are walking around the shops?
- How do you breath when you are laying on the couch?
- How do you breath lying in bed, when you first wake up in the morning?
Relaxed, effortless, efficient breathing occurs when we are at rest… in a state of psychological and physical relaxation. This is exactly the breathing pattern we should aim to achieve when scuba diving. Like laying on the couch, or waking from sleep… a light, relaxed and thoughtless breathing cycle. The only way to do that is to lower exertion… to make our dives as effortless as possible.
This happens naturally as we gain experience, and this is why divers often notice improvements in their air consumption over time. But for the novice diver, the fast-track to those benefits is focus and commitment to perfecting their fundamental skills; buoyancy, trim, propulsion and control.
If you struggle to improve your fundamental diving skills, then do consider getting expert help to refine your diving techniques. There is an increasing range of such courses available to divers nowadays; ranging from basic and cheap ‘Peak Performance Buoyancy’ classes through to extensive and demanding courses like the GUE ‘Fundamentals’ class. In addition, many technical diving instructors offer developmental classes and clinics in core scuba skills – you don’t have to plan to do decompression diving in order to reap the benefits of learning technical-level fundamental skills from a tech instructor…
Sorry folks… no magic recipes… only some genuine advice to commit some time and practice to improve your fundamental diving skills.
About the Author
Andy Davis is a RAID, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC and SSI qualified independent technical diving instructor who specializes in teaching advanced sidemount, trimix and wreck exploration diving courses across South East Asia. Currently residing in ‘wreck diving heaven’ at Subic Bay, Philippines, he has amassed more than 9000 open circuit and CCR dives over 27 years of diving across the globe.
Andy has published many magazine articles on technical diving, has written course materials for dive training agency syllabus, tests and reviews diving gear for major manufacturers and consults with the Philippines Underwater Archaeology Society.
He is currently writing a series of books to be published on advanced diving topics. Prior to becoming a professional technical diving educator in 2006, Andy was a commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Belize and Cyprus.