Predive Visualisation – Part 1


Can we successfully influence the outcome of a dive just by visually rehearsing it on our minds before we do it? I definitely believe so, and this technique of “Visualization” has helped me a lot during my career, the same way it has helped many other athletes from other sports as well as those who perform cutting-edge activities, from pilots to surgeons.

yas05In understanding how this works, we need to realize that just “seeing” a dive before you do it is not enough. This must be an Active process rather than a Passive one. What I do is divide my dive into different stages, and I see myself following all the actions and procedures that apply to that specific stage one after the other, from surface to bottom and then to surface again. One thing that still surprises me a lot when I talk to other divers is that the majority of them do not have a “plan of action” for their dives. Yes, they know that as we go deeper the equalization techniques must change, or that after the break point there is no need to kick anymore since you can free fall and conserve energy, etc, etc. But they deal with these situations as they appear, rather than anticipating them and being prepared to do what must be done even before it needs to be done.

One thing that Rudi (my trainer) taught me since the first day we started working together back in 1999 is that deep freediving is not a “getting lost in yourself, journey into the blue” experience, but rather an activity that requires a lot of carefully planned actions. It is serious work, not enjoyment anymore, and this is a big difference from the way I was diving before and the way many people still dive. We review everything that I need to do throughout the whole dive for many months before I do it, so that by the time the record dive comes, these actions have been ingrained in my mind and there’s no way I can forget them. And that is the first step for a successful pre-dive visualization: to know very well what you need to visualize, not to improvise it before the dive itself. So, even if there are a lot of things I need to do underwater, I am so accustomed to them and have performed them so many times, that they don’t feel like a burden anymore.

Then, rather that focusing on the whole dive, I visualize each of the stages one at a time, and I see myself making all of the mistakes that can commonly be expected at that stage, and how I will react to it. Only once I have pictured myself dealing with all these problems in one stage do I allow myself to start visualizing the next one, and I repeat the same process again. I call this “Problem Solving Visualization” and it is not a negative visualization technique, as many who use positive visualization would have you believe. Positive Visualizers see themselves performing their activity to perfection and being triumphant at the end of it, and they don’t allow for any negative thoughts such as making a mistake. While this may be very reassuring, I believe that when it comes to freediving, a sport so delicate and where so many small (and big) things can go wrong even if the diver does everything to perfection, this is a mistake. So, although I never have a doubt that I will succeed in my dive (otherwise I would not dive) I actually see myself dealing with all foreseeable problems and solving them rather than just dreaming of a perfect dive. And this is the second step for a successful pre-dive visualization: to use it as tool to help us overcome problems instead of just a positive reassurance technique. If you are not certain that you can complete a dive, then don’t even attempt it and go back to training. Here now are examples of how I implement my Problem Solving Visualization before a dive, stage by stage:

1- The Positive Buoyancy Zone.
From 0 to 20 meters. My goal here is to cover those first 20 meters focusing on using as little energy as possible rather than doing it quickly, so proper technique is essential here. Therefore, I visualize myself taking my usual 7 kicks with a monofin, or 9 pulls for line assisted, or 12-13 strokes for unassisted.
Problem Solving: I imagine myself making more strokes than needed, in which case I will make it a point to rest more during the following phase, to compensate for that extra energy lost. Or I see myself getting there in less strokes, in which case I either slow down or realize that this may be due to the fact that my last breath was not as big as usual and I will have less oxygen available to me during the dive, which will influence all my actions from that point on, as I will be on “energy conservation” mode. It will also mean that during the last part of the ascent, I will be less buoyant than I would prefer so I need to streamline myself to the maximum and perhaps use more strokes on the ascent than planned. Indeed, I am already making changes to my whole dive plan only after the first 20 meters.

yas032- The Free-Fall Zone. From 20 to Bottom – 10 meters. After 20 meters I will be free falling. This is my time to rest and bring my heart-beat down after the initial effort. This slowing down is essential for the diving reflex to kick in and for oxygen conservation, so I try to really rest during this part. I see myself relaxing all my muscles (on some of my videos you can even see me shaking my legs and arms) and achieving perfect streamlining. In line assisted or unassisted, for example, I see my legs being together, my feet pointed, my arms by the side of my body with my hands pressed against the legs like a torpedo. In this ideal position, I can fall very fast and rest my whole body, so all I need to concentrate on now is equalization.
Problem Solving: Most problems will be related to speed or hydrodynamics. So I picture myself loosing vertical alignment, in which case I gently steer my body with my head or extremities back into position, all done without rush. Or I can see my ears hurting a bit much, in which case I may need to slow down to allow for easier equalization, and this I will achieve by flaring my arms outwards a bit, or bending my fins against the water flow slightly, like airplane ailerons. I see myself solving these problems calmly and with a minimum of movements. Did I mention I really want to rest during this phase of the dive?

yas043- Bottom Arrival. From -10 meters to Goal Depth. At 10 meters from the goal depth, I will receive a signal from a diver, and I will then awake from my “hibernation” mode and prepare for the important maneuver of reaching the bottom. I will need to slow down, come close to the line and find the bottom plate with the confirmation tags. Then comes the maneuver of grabbing the line to stop myself, which must be perfect, not to stop too far from the plate or too close to it. After grabbing the confirmation tag I will then start the ascent. There are many tasks to be performed here, so my goal is to do everything in exactly the order I have planned to do it, since this familiarity will bring me relaxation and speed. And, with FREE positioning a judge right at the bottom to check me out, I can’t afford to commit a deep water violation and have the record invalidated (which already happened to me once), so extreme alertness and slow, controlled motions are key here.
Problem Solving: This is the part where more things can go wrong in a dive, so I review it in my mind several times. What if I can’t find a tag, or I drop the tag as I’m grabbing it? I will see myself dedicating another 3-5 seconds to find a second tag, which is the maximum time I am prepared to spend at the bottom. If I can’t find it, then I will purposely and in an exaggerated manner touch the bottom plate (an accepted substitution) so the judge can see me. Or I may stop too far from the plate, in which case I can slide my hand down the line, or stop too close to the plate, where I must take care not to hit it with my body as I’m turning around. So I see myself dealing with these quickly (I don’t want to be there too long, remember?) but gently, as I don’t want to build up more C02 than needed here, where narcosis can be a factor.

This article continues on Part 2.

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