Great air consumption – everyone wants it…but how do you get it?
In my opinion, it comes with time, but there are things you can do to help get you there faster whilst avoiding dangerous tactics like skip breathing.
I hope my five tips below will help you in your pursuit of great air consumption but I would also like to remind everyone that it’s not the be all and end all of being a good diver. If you can comfortably dive for 45 – 60 minutes, enjoy yourself and see some cool stuff while you’re there – then you’ve had a successful dive! There is no glory in coming up with 100 bar in your tank and no one is going to give you an award for having mouse lungs.
Some divers like to talk about their minimal SAC rates and ability to conserve air but don’t let this make you feel in any way inferior or less skilled than them. Great air consumption comes with time and practice.
(And if you find yourself still chewing through your air then most resorts will be able to offer you a 15L tank or perhaps consider doing your Intro to Technical Diving and learn how to dive on a twinset! Then you’ll never run out).
So…onto the tips:
Weight yourself correctly
Too often people carry more weight than they actually need. When you’re learning, it can be safer for the instructor to have you slightly overweighted so that you don’t ‘pop’ aka, perform an uncontrolled ascent. The hangover from this is that people continue using that same weight, even as their buoyancy and technique improve.
If you’re over-weighted then you will be putting more air into your BCD, working harder to maintain your buoyancy and expending more energy to move around underwater.
So how much weight do you actually need? That depends on a lot of factors including what kind of exposure suit you are wearing and your body fat percentage. For example:
- When I was diving in Asia 5 years ago with my rash vest and board shorts on I was carrying 1.6 kilos, now in the same conditions, I carry 3.2 because my body composition has changed.
- When I’m diving in a drysuit with Deep Blue Scuba I wear 8 kilos and when I used a different suit in Scapa Flow just a few months later I needed 14 kilos because the suit was much thicker and more buoyant than what I had used previously.
So it can be a little bit of a guessing game, but one that you will soon learn the rules to as you dive in different conditions. If you have the opportunity to do some repetitive dives then this is a good chance to experiment with your weights and their configuration. Start by incrementally taking a small amount of weight off and see how it changes your dive. If you are still comfortably completing your safety stop with a tank that is around 70 bar then you know that you can remove this permanently.
The most common way to test your weighting is to perform a weight check on the surface. This is the most reliable and foolproof way to check if you’re over or underweighted. You can read the post all about it in my scuba skills section.
Nail your buoyancy and trim
Any extraneous movement underwater is going to mean that you use more air. This includes using your arms to constantly correct your body position. When we dive we don’t want to have flailing arms as this makes it more difficult to maintain a consistent body position and will, in turn, hurt our air consumption.
Once you can dive with your arms crossed or hands clasped you will see a great improvement in your air. Holding your arms together also means you can use them to counter-balance your feet in case they are floaty or sinky and causing you trouble. While you swim try holding your hands further out in front of you and seeing what effect this has on your trim. You can play around with your arm placement and weight distribution to help you achieve the ideal body position. Once you find it you will be more streamlined, drag will be minimised and you will get longer dives which means more time to look at cool fish.
Ideally, you want to be horizontal with your back slightly arched, bum clenched, hands clasped in front and your legs bent at the knee with your calves at right angles to your back.
Image courtesy of ThoughtCo.
Learn to Frog Kick
Finning with a conventional front crawl kick is how you will normally learn to dive because it’s a familiar movement for most people. Though effective when swimming into a current, it uses a lot of energy when you’re in still waters. The motion will also disrupt your body position and make it more likely that you will want to use your arms to right yourself.
Learning to frog kick is an easy way to conserve your air because you are using less energy to propel yourself. Here is a good Youtube video showing the different styles, the basic one is the very first one demonstrated.
If you need any more convincing…it will also help you slow down and smell the roses, that’s when you really start to see cool things like nudibranchs and scorpion fish.
We always say, plan your dive and dive your plan. So take the conditions into account before you get in the water and plan a route that isn’t going to over-exert you. Think about things like how far you want to swim and whether there is a surge or current. Working around things like this will help you conserve your air.
Depending on where you are you may or may not be able to grab hold of something in a current. In Asia the reef is so delicate I wouldn’t touch it unless it was an emergency. In NZ you have lots of igneous rock with nothing on it besides some kelp, you’re going to want to hold onto that before you get swept off to Chile.
So if you can…hold on to a rock and wait for a lull to swim forward, there’s no sense sitting up in mid-water fighting against a current. If you can’t hold onto something then hide behind a pinnacle or use another underwater feature to protect you.
If you have a boat that can pick you up, consider a drift dive or maybe just reconsider the dive altogether. If the current is too strong you’re going to over-exert yourself and not enjoy your dive anyway!
This is something that comes with time. The more you dive, the more comfortable you will be and the less air you’re going to use.
You can expedite the process by practising meditation, yoga and just breathing in your everyday life. You don’t have to take big lungfuls of air when you dive, an even regular breath is all you need so when you’re watching Netflix or sitting on public transport dreaming about diving, try practising taking long slow breaths.
Got any other ideas that work for you that don’t involve skip breathing? Share them in the comments!