71% of the Earth is covered by water. Throughout history our oceans have been the subject of mystery, intrigue and adventure. Despite this, 95% still remains unexplored and even unseen to human eyes.

The art of Freediving has developed over thousands of years as both a way to find food and more recently for sport, recreation and adventure.

Freedivers have developed an extraordinary ability to remain under water without oxygen for extended periods of time. They push the limits of what is believed possible and can swim freely among the sea life, accepted as just another inhabitant rather than the typical curious and noisy creatures followed by a stream of bubbles (no offence scuba divers…you’ll have your time to shine in a future post)


Liv Philip

I was keen to find out more about Freediving: to understand what is possible, why they do it and what I could learn from an activity that required such a high level of both mental and physical conditioning.

To get the answers I was looking for, I needed not just a fan or a recreational spear fisherman but one of the best – someone whose goals often ventured beyond what had been achieved by anyone before. This is when I found Liv.

Liv Philip broke the UK dynamic (swimming), no fins (bare feet) record in 2011 by swimming 111m underwater in a pool on a single breath. Liv has been the British Freediving champion 8 times and was a Depth World Championship medalist in 2013. She competes regularly and – despite her collection of gold medals – seems to take the winning as part of her journey rather than an ultimate goal.


The Dive

Before a dive, Liv likes to take in her surroundings, being totally in the moment and observing the smallest of details: like the air pocket that has collected under the platform of the boat . This helps move her focus from her surroundings, competitors, officials and supporters, towards visualizing the dive and each step in the smallest of details.

She is about to take a single dive. She has one chance to perform. This is the culmination of months of training and preparation. In a moment that would cause the average person to perspire, their heart to race and mind to go into overdrive, Liv’s heart rate must be low, her mind focused and body relaxed.

When it comes time to take that all important breath, Liv’s lungs have space to expand due to her years of practice increasing the flexibility and strength of her ribs, chest and diaphragm.

A few strong kicks will take her down to 10m below the surface. At13m her movements glide with slower swishes of her monofin. For the first 20m she is fighting against buoyancy, but once she is past that point she becomes neutrally buoyant and begins to freefall into the deep blue expanse below with no movement. This is the time when the mind really comes into play.

This far under the surface it is silent. Her heart rate has dropped drastically, often to as low as 10 beats per minute. The air in her lungs has compressed under the pressure, shrinking the lungs to the size of a lemon.

Once she reaches her designated depth, she must unclip a marker tag and bring it back to the surface. This requires her to concentrate, relax and achieve the task with minimal use of oxygen.

The journey back up to the surface is the most dangerous. Her body’s last oxygen saving technique is to pass out, and passing out underwater is never a good idea.


5 things we can learn from a champion Freediver:

  1. “It’s not about achieving your goal but building a character you can be proud of while you do it”

One of the things that struck me when I met Liv was – despite her strong desire to compete and push her boundaries – there was a much lower emphasis on the actual winning. What is important to her is that she performs at her best, meets her personal goals and that she enjoys doing it.


  1. Find all of the reasons why you can do something, because your mind will automatically feed you all the reasons you can’t

It is easy to put up barriers and find reasons why we can’t. Think about your goals long enough, and your mind will eventually start listing the reasons why you can’t do it.

It is important to balance out that negativity by consciously setting aside the time to think of all of the reasons why you can do it. Think about the tools available to you right now; think about the attributes that you have that will help and about what you have already done to get yourself this far. Break down the task into smaller steps until you eventually find a ‘first step’ that your mind’s only response can be “I can do that”.


  1. Remind yourself how prepared you really are. Remember how far you have come and all of the hard work you have put in

When that moment comes, the moment you have been working towards, it is easy to feel unprepared. The event has become so big that you do not feel you are up to it. This is the time to step back and remember the journey. Remember the hours of preparation, remember the sacrifices you made and who you were before you started. If you have truly put the work in, you will start to see that – although ‘being you’ still feels the same – you are not the person you used to be. You are ready!


  1. “Be Here Now”: be in the moment, do what is necessary right now. View your surroundings in an objective manner. Know your surroundings

When the importance or size of the task starts to overshadow your confidence, you need to focus on the present and be in the current moment. Focus on each individual step and notice the details in everything. You are not about to take your one chance at a gold medal dive, instead you are just getting into the water or simply running through your breathing exercises. Your monster task is made up of many smaller and less scary tasks: focus on these and enjoy each one.


  1. Having just one shot can either be stressful or it can be a beautiful opportunity to do something just this once

When faced with opportunities – whether that’s a job interview, business pitch or a world championship dive – we can often be hit with a fear that we will not capitalize on it. When Liv competes, she has just one attempt to reach her target depth; one mistake can ruin months of training. Her way of handling this is to look at it from an entirely different angle: she is grateful for the chance to do something just once. Every so often in life we are presented with a crossroad, a chance to do something that will change the course of our future. We should be excited and thankful that we have brought ourselves to this situation: a chance to stand up and show what you can do.

So take a deep breath, focus, thrive on the heightened sense of awareness and give that moment or chance your best shot. Remember, fear and excitement have the same physical symptoms… the rest is just interpretation in your mind.

Finally, here is artist Emma Critchley’s interpretation of what it feels like during a freedive (featuring Liv Philip):

How do you ensure that you perform at your best when under pressure? Let me know in the comments below…

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