How to use less air… or just dive longer



Part 2: Techniques

Calm down

When you first enter the water, your body reacts in a very primitive, survival-based way. Your heart rate increases, your outer limb capillaries close, and your body works to protect your core temperature. So, when you first get into the water (from a giant stride or back roll – it matters less for shore entry), stop and relax at the surface for a moment.

Put your face in the water, breathing from your snorkel, allowing the water to trigger your mammalian diving reflex.

Calm and slow your breathing. Close your eyes a moment. Then open, give the okay, and descend.

Once you descend, and reach your desired depth, repeat. Calm and slow yourself. Then give the okay and enjoy your dive.

Breath control

Focus on your breathing. Notice it.
Take a yoga class. Zen. Consider a koan.


Practice slowing your exhalation. Two seconds in. Four seconds out. Three seconds breathing in. Six seconds slowly breathing out. Even up to four seconds in, and eight long seconds slowly breathing out.
Don’t stress about counting; the idea is to just breathe out slower than you are breathing in.


Pause. Never stop breathing – the number one rule in scuba diving – but pause. In between each inhalation and exhalation, pause for half a second. Don’t force the next breath, don’t hold it, but slow everything down.


Try pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth to stop an uncontrolled exhalation or inhalation. Mid breath, if you find yourself breathing to hard or too heavily, try to stop and regain control of your breath rate. Pressing your tongue upwards (in the middle of the roof of your mouth, far behind your teeth) can help you arrest that breath.

Even gently placing your tongue can let you slow your breath, so only a sliver of exhalation escapes.


In current, if you’re getting exhausted, or if you’ve just been startled by something (like a snake passing nearby), or a brief unexpected sprint (like running from a titan triggerfish) – stop.
Deploy a reef hook if the site allows for it. Hook in, and rest. Calm your breathing before trying to resume swimming.

Note: many resorts and areas ban reef hooks because of the damage they can do when deployed poorly. Check first before bringing one with you.


Practice different kicking styles. The flutter kick and frog kick are the two most common.

A flutter is good for a strong, straight line.

Frog kick is great for efficiency in calm water.

A helicopter or reverse kick can save a lot of distance in maneuvering.

Modified flutter or frog is perfect for silty bottoms.

Different kick styles are often suited for different diving situations. The right kick can make all the difference to the effort expended.

A good swimming form will increase efficiency, reducing your work, reducing your air usage.

Changing kick styles will work different muscle groups, reducing fatigue and cramping as you switch between them, even if they aren’t the “best” for a situation.

Know when to not swim, and just hover or drift.

When drifting, learn to position yourself closer or further from the wall or floor to control your speed instead of swimming to do so.

Flailing around

Every time you activate a muscle, it creates an oxygen demand until it relaxes. During activation (use) and even for a minute or two afterwards, your body requires more oxygen than normal.

The less muscles you use, the less oxygen your body needs, and the less you need to breath.

If you kick using just your thighs and hips – not your calves, and not your arms – you minimize your muscle usage.

New divers frequently use their hands and arms to try and swim, which is rarely effective. It generates very little thrust, and activates a number of large muscle groups (such as the chest and shoulders). It can also put an unaware diver at a heightened risk of injury, from flailing into urchins, sea jellies, anemones and everything else.

Mastering the ability to hover, as taught in the Open Water/Scuba Diver course, is a great way to reduce this.

Trim, weights and buoyancy

Be in the correct trim (position) for the diving you’re doing. Face down, vertical, one side up… move your weights to help keep you in your preferred position for the dive you will be doing.

Do a weight check to ensure you’re properly weighted for the water (salt content), wetsuit and your current body size (Christmas/holiday gorging can affect your buoyancy, for example).

Lastly, consider do a fin pivot to help you become neutrally buoyant if you are having trouble hovering in the water column. Watch where you put your fin tips! If you’re careful, it’s a good way to rest against a gentle current.


Make yourself smooth and sleek in the water. Reduce drag (resistance) in the water.

If you’re overweighted, your BCD will be fuller – and thus bigger – to compensate.

Take off anything you don’t immediately need all the time, especially big things like slates.

  • Use pockets as much as you can.
  • Don’t let things dangle.

Anything you can do to keep your profile lean will make it easier to swim, which will reduce the amount of work you need to do, which will reduce your air consumption.


Take a Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty course. All modern PADI instructors are able to provide training and certification in this three dive course over a single day.

This course will help improve your breathing, trim, buoyancy and kick styles.

One comment

  1. I’m surprised that it does not mention to calibrate your 1st stage to the style of diving you do. Most can have shims added inside to adjust the intermediate pressure before it reaches the 2nd stage. Then for further twicking adjust the cracking point of the second stage. Donc forget to use proper tools to do so and this will void the warranty of it unless you have it done by a certified person to do so.

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