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The Strain of Freediving 40 Feet Below the Ocean's Surface

August 15, 2017

You don’t often think of words like “strain,” “fatigue,” and “recovery” when trying to describe the events that take place during one’s vacation. But then again, holding your breath for 2-3 minutes at a time and freediving to the ocean floor isn’t exactly a typical vacation activity.

My brother Blaine and I, born and raised in south Louisiana, are no stranger to endurance sports and athletic competition. Blaine, a former NCAA catcher for Louisiana Lafayette’s own Ragin’ Cajuns, has participated in multiple marathons and triathlons since his baseball heyday. Considering that his wife has qualified for the Boston Marathon the past two years, he really doesn’t have a choice but to keep up.

I have my own share of fitness experience, having participated in everything from bodybuilding to triathlons as well.

The two of us currently own a Functional Medicine clinic in Lafayette. We also lead an annual Executive Health/Leadership group called HP3. Members sign on for the purpose of improving the mind, body, and spirit. Guiding our group really enlightens us to the power of tracking the rest, recovery, and performance of our “corporate athletes.”

Each one of our executives wears a WHOOP strap and I give them daily feedback based on their data. If one of our guys drinks too much the night before, I am on it. When one of them trains too hard the previous day and is seeking diet and recovery advice, I’m on it. And if one has a child who’s up all night with a virus and needs lifestyle tweaks to operate optimally the following day, I am on that too.

Most lifestyle performance coaches base their recommendations on excel spread sheets and “tested algorithms.” I like to think we know better. We understand that life and business are anything but predictable and recipes don’t exist. WHOOP allows us to guide our guys the most efficacious way possible–day by day.

Normally we utilize WHOOP to improve our performance in the workplace, but as it turns out, it was just as useful on our vacation to the Florida Keys.

With a Nursing degree and a background in exercise physiology and functional medicine, I understand how fast the Florida sun and fighting tides can turn on you if you underestimate them. Having already been to the Keys the past two years with my best friend, Captain Jacob Griffin, I knew that our previous experience would serve us well. Previously, I had allowed my ego to take over. Having a 400-pound bench press and 500-pound deadlift can make snorkeling seem like a walk around the block. I wouldn’t allow myself to be fooled again this year.

In preparation for the trip, both Blaine and I upped our endurance training eight weeks in advance. We also each partook in cyclic ketogenic diets, along with a good bit of hypoxic training and breath work. It took me three weeks to get my static breath hold from 2:01 minutes to 3:02. When you are 30-40 feet under water, 30 seconds can make all the difference between getting the perfect angle to spear a Mahi Mahi, or having to come back up and prepare another breath at the surface.

I know guys who train for months in preparation for Elk hunting trips in the mountains, yet so many people overlook the demand and energy requirements of freediving–without utilizing oxygen tanks, divers are forced to hold their breath as they descend in search of fish.  

After arriving in the Keys Saturday morning (somewhat sleep deprived from our early flight), Blaine and I joked about how we missed our workout for the day. Kayaks available at the rental house offered us an opportunity to break a quick sweat while scouting for lobster and hogfish:

Had I known what we’d be in for over the days that followed, I would’ve traded that time in the kayak for a restful nap on the couch. The next few days of WHOOP data were eye opening, to say the least. It’s just not part of one’s thought process to assume that you will effectively double your Strain while on vacation.

Sunday was spent all day on the water:

We headed out to 400 feet of water, then went deeper looking for grass lines (lines of seaweed that accumulate offshore and tend to hold large numbers of bait fish, which inevitably attract the larger fish). In this situation, once you find the fish, it is a matter of putting on your gear and executing. Freediving with a ripping tide is anything but easy. Static breath holds are one thing. Kicking three-foot long fins deep underwater is a whole different ball game.

The day passed with each of us taking turns fighting fish on the line, diving down to spear them, and keeping the camera over the shoulder of the person with the spear gun.

Monday brought with it a significant amount of nasty thunderstorms, so we were forced to stay dry and dock the boat. We took advantage of the rest. We needed it.

On Tuesday, we decided to head to Jupiter, FL to wrestle with the goliath grouper in that area. Jeff, our ship’s captain on this voyage, was the only one on the boat with any experience angling grouper in that area. You see pictures and videos of these fish on the internet, but until you encounter them up close and personal, you really can’t appreciate the sheer mass. Still, going toe-to-toe with one in a tug of war match was what we came for.


Surprisingly, as much of a fight that a fish of that size can put up, muscling the grouper didn’t create as much strain for me as freediving did. My heart rate only climbed into the 100-120 beats-per-minute range (a far cry from the 150-170 BPM that resulted from my deep free dives):

Wednesday, which happened to be opening day of lobster mini-season, we spent the majority of our time diving in shallow water (12-40 feet) for lobster, hogfish and grouper. Again, as you can see below, the constant diving, netting and getting in and out of the boat took its toll on me:

At the beginning of the trip, we made a decision to take it easy in the evenings. We knew how exhausted and poorly recovered we’d be if we stayed up late drinking. After cleaning the fish and boat and prepping for the next day, we barely managed to get 5-6 hours of sleep per night.

I was able to maintain decent Recovery levels throughout the week, until our early-morning flight home on Thursday:

Having utilized WHOOP for several months now, I realized right away that if I treated this adventure like a normal vacation, I could kiss my green Recoveries and three-minute breath holds goodbye. Without maximizing what little time I had for for sleep and recovery, I’m confident the trip wouldn’t have been the success it was.

I coach so many people that set their workout schedule for the week and stick to it relentlessly. If you aren’t tracking Recovery and Strain of your workouts and other activities, you’re guessing at best and asking for illness or injury. WHOOP provides the perfect display of lifestyle and exercise balance, while at work or at play.


RELATED: The Strain of Being a Serious Sports Fan


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