Is Packing for Freediving Good or Bad?
Do you pack for your deep dives, and if yes, why do you do it?
Is it to get more air to equalize? Or to get more oxygen?
Packing may have some advantages, but also many disadvantages, so before deciding to do it, take into consideration all pros and cons and make an informed decision.
At Freedive International we don’t endorse packing for freediving especially for the depth disciplines. We think that the advantages of having extra air in your lungs are fewer than its disadvantages. Let’s see why.
Having more air equals being more positively buoyant, which requires a bigger effort during the descent OR extra weight on your belt. Both these solutions have big downsides that are clearly undesired factors in deep diving.
Packing also affects negatively the relaxation, by making your body tensing up during the last seconds before the beginning of your dive. Before starting a dive, you want both your body and your mind as relaxed as possible.
Packing is proven to increase the heart rate (not great for oxygen conservation), compress the heart (not great in general) and “stretch” the lung tissues (may cause lung injury, see more below)
In these last few years more and more freedivers are becoming aware that extreme packing is dangerous and more and more cases with accidents caused by packing have been documented. It is true that most of these problems occur during dry packing, or during pool training and that depth compresses the lungs as soon as the freediver is underwater, so the extra pressure on the lungs is only exerted for a short time on the surface during the actual action of packing. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that extreme packing for depth is safe. Also, even thought this has not been scientifically proven, many freedivers and medical experts think that there might be a strong correlation between lung barotrauma, packing and blood shift. The theory is that during the descent the body develops a strong blood shift, which may cause the lungs to be unable able to re-expand back to their normal size on the last few meters of the ascent, causing lung barotrauma due to over-expansion.
Generally we try to discourage practices that are aggressive and not natural, and packing is one of these. If we are not able to breathe in the extra air, maybe it means that our body is not designed to contain this air. If we want to change this we should focus on increasing our chest flexibility with specific stretching exercises, and with focus on awareness instead of force, in a way that helps us to breathe in more air, in a natural way.
Note that packing for freediving is a popular subject among freedivers but that has not much scientific backing: this means that there are many different opinions and different practices. What illustrated above is the conclusions we have drawn as the result of 15 years of training; both our own and the coaching and teaching of thousands of freedivers.
Photo credit Linda Paganelli