6 Tips for Conserving Your Breathing Gas
by Dr. Thomas Powell:
New divers often get into the sport of scuba diving thinking that the more breathing gas they carry, the longer they can stay underwater. Similarly, many new divers compare themselves to friends who have been diving for longer periods and feel like they are “Air Hogs” in comparison. The truth of the matter is that gas consumption is something that we get better at managing over time. There are many factors that can help a diver at any level conserve their breathing gas. The following are six basic suggestions that may help you reduce your gas consumption.
More than anything else, time in the water can help a diver conserve his or her gas. The more time you spend diving, the more comfortable you may become. Essentially, you get used to the gear you carry and you get more comfortable moving about in a three dimensional world. To become better at most things, you must practice. The same goes for diving. The more you dive, the more likely you are to adjust minor issues, become more proficient, and more than anything, become more comfortable.
Work on Buoyancy, Relax, and Breathe Normally
Second, try to relax underwater. To achieve true comfort, any diver can take time to work on neutral buoyancy. Once you find that sweet spot that allows you to hang motionless in the water column, you will find that there exists a reduced need to flounder about. Simple motions allow you to change direction and move within the water column. Your breathing can be used to alter depth, and normal methodical breathing will allow you to remain stabilized. This focus on calm and relaxed breathing is a great step toward conserving gas through proper use.
Reduce Excess Movement
From day one with most open water classes, instructors like to harp on the idea that you as a student should not “skull” your hands. This idea is based on very sensible reasoning. Every time a person moves an arm or a leg, muscles have to work to cause this movement. Working muscles require oxygen to function in a proper fashion. Therefore, the more we move about, the more oxygen our muscles need. Essentially, extra movement requires us to consume extra breathing gas to compensate for the needs of our muscles. As a diver, you should focus on only using the muscles you need to achieve a goal. Essentially, use your feet and legs, not your arms, to swim and do so only as needed. There is no reason to race during a relaxing dive.
Work on Trim and Reduce Excess Weight
Once we are happily moving around in the underwater realm, our trim can help to determine overall comfort. If we are laid out in a horizontal fashion, it is easy to glide forward with minimal movement. Once we have figured out how to become neutral in a comfortable fashion, the next step is to achieve proper trim. This action may mean that we have to shift weight around on our equipment, or even reduce the total quantity of weight we carry. One easy step for any diver to take is to start with a certain known poundage and reduce weight while practicing in the water until you find a comfortable place where buoyancy and trim can be managed in an easy fashion. Over time, you may discover that as your comfort level grows, you can further reduce the amount of weight you need to carry. Similarly, a diver can work on using different kick styles such as frog kicks or modified frog kicks to simplify movements and maintain a comfortable trim positon while moving about in the water.
Work on Fitness and Stay Warm
Fitness is another factor that is essential in any sport. You do not have to be an underwear model to go scuba diving, but we all had to sign off on a medical form to participate in a scuba diving class at some point in life. There are lots of medical factors that can preclude a diver from safely entering the water. For this reason, staying fit and healthy can help you in the underwater realm. If a diver is in good shape, he or she will be more comfortable moving about, carrying equipment, and performing underwater activities. We do burn calories while we dive! For this reason, it is also smart to pay attention to warmth. No one likes being too cold and our bodies burn more calories when they have to keep core systems warm. If you wear the right thermal protection, your body will have to work less to maintain physical warmth. Remember, when our bodies work they require oxygen. The more your body works, the more you may need to breathe!
Finally, remember that we consume gas volumes faster at depth. Unless going deep is your goal, remember that you may have a longer bottom time at shallower depths. In many cases, the things many people wish to see on reef systems and other pretty places can be found in that first 60 feet of water. If you find you are consuming gas too fast, reduce your depth and enjoy shallower water while working on some of the other factors we have mentioned. Over time, your gas consumption may improve to the point where you can dive in a comfortable fashion and with a reasonable breathing rate at deeper depths.
Gas consumption is a factor that worries many new divers. The subject often comes up in conversation; and eventually divers who continue with training will work hard to reduce air consumption rates. The reality is that reduced gas consumption and proper breathing comes with experience, time, and effort. The more comfortable you get in the water, the more your breathing becomes relaxed and second nature. Just remember that you first have to dive to become a better diver.
– Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC