Updated: Sep 3
Having problems equalizing when freediving? Want to better understand how it works?
Purpose of this Article
If you are reading this article, it is because you may be having some trouble equalizing on your first course. Here we will go through the principles of basic equalization to accomplish the comfortable ear to pop or click. Please understand this is our recommended exercises collected from different documents and personal experiences and under no circumstances should be taken as “the only way to equalize”. Same way this is entirely user responsible guide, meaning that nor OceanSense Freediving, its instructors or representatives could take responsibility for any injuries caused due to forcing equalization.
How equalization works
As discussed in the course theory, even though our body is mostly water, it contains air spaces. As depth increases, so does pressure. Therefore, we need to add air into these spaces to compensate, or equalize the pressure within them to bring them to the same volume we had at the surface, otherwise injury will occur.
The air spaces that need to be equalized when we Freedive are our ears, sinuses, mask, and lungs.
Since you are reading this because of your ears, this will be the focus of this document. It is key to understand how and why equalization works so you can apply consciously the techniques whilst visualizing what is happening inside your body.
When we submerge ourselves, our outer ear becomes flooded with water and naturally applies pressure on the eardrum. The eardrum has air on the other side, this air gets compressed by the pressure (due to depth) and gives us the discomfort feeling. It is that air cavity that we need to add air from our lungs, throat or mouth.
When we talk about equalizing our ears, we are actually referring to our middle ear, located behind our eardrum and connected to the back of our throat via the Eustachian tubes.
Equalizing the ears
The most common equalization technique used by beginner Freedivers is the Valsalva maneuver, which is also the most used by Scuba divers. You simply pinch your nose (make sure no air can escape through it) and blow to create pressure from your lungs. Like if you were trying to exhale through your nostrils against your pinched nose. If you try this you will usually feel a “click” in the ears.
If you are having problems and cannot equalize effectively try the following tips and exercises at home:
First of all, if you have been sick with a flue, cold, or similar, even hay-fever; that could be the reason why you can’t equalize, so let your body go back to normal and your tubes may work properly.
Stretch your Eustachian tubes
Sit down and relax your body, pass your right hand over your head until you can grab your left side. Then, very gently pull the hand downwards to your right, like if you were stretching your neck for about 5 to 10 seconds.
Remember: Do not use your neck it self (or move your head) on its own, it must be the hand gently moving it.
Do the same to the other side.
Repeat 5 times each side.
Give space to your tubes by mobility
Do this by moving your jaw forward and backward; and side by side. Alternate those and or try wiggling your jaw and swallowing. Also yawning, yawn frequently.
Add positive and negative pressure to the tubes
The same way you are trying to equalize by pinching your nose and blowing through the nostrils, now keeping your mouth closed (and still pinching) try to inhale from your nose, then blow through them and inhale (suck) again. Take a breath and repeat the exercise.
Try the Lowry Maneuver:
Pinch your nostrils, and gently try to blow air out of your nose while swallowing. Yes, like the Valsalva but also swallowing. Give it several tries, this may take longer for our body to understand.
Try using an equalization device to activate the muscles
Yes, to be able to add pressure or move air inside our cavities we are using muscles, and like any other muscle in our body that we haven’t used consciously before, it may be tricky to find the way to activate it. So, an equalization device may be a good tool to start moving the muscles around your tubes.
We might have them in stock fo AUD20.00, please contact us if you would like to buy them.
Also, you could use a device called Kencap The Brand New Eardoc, we have never used this but it is sold here in Australia and it is meant to clean and clear the mid ear, eustachian tubes, and actually advertises to divers and swimmers in the package.
You need to find the technique that works for you and your body, and keep practicing these exercises every morning. It may take a while until you feel the click, even maybe won’t happen until you go underwater again. So yes, give it a try in the pool every now and then, always supervised by your Freediving buddy.
The Frenzel Maneuver
We previously talked about the Valsalva technique, this technique works but it is not the optimal one for Freediving, especially if you are looking forward to making your way to the 20’s meter club, even more to the 30’s one.
For those who are still reading this, should aim to learn the Frenzel maneuver. Which instead of using the air in your lungs pushed by your diaphragm, will use air in your mouth and throat using the back of your tongue to create pressure in the back of your throat, equalizing your ears while keeping your epiglottis shut. Since the air is not coming from the lungs, this is what you would be able to use when equalizing at much deeper depths. Maybe start practicing now right?
So, equalization is no problem for you, but you are not sure which technique you are actually using, test yourself with the following steps:
1. Breathe calmly through your nose
2. Pinch your nose with your fingers
3. Pronounce a “T” or a “K”, or even better a "H" (ch) sound.
If these steps lead to an equalization, then you are applying the basic principles of Frenzel. Make sure you are not creating any tension with your abdomen or chest while applying pressure because that would mean you are still doing Valsalva or a mix of both.
To start practicing it, start by looking in a mirror at your throat and the area under your jaw. Put the front half of your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth and then repeatedly squeeze the back of your tongue up against the roof of your mouth. Under your jaw, you should see an upwards movement corresponding to the movement of the back of the tongue.
To do the Frenzel, you still need to pinch your nose, so now half-pinch the nose and do the movement of your tongue again – see if each time you squeeze the tongue up against the roof of the mouth, a little bit of air escapes from your nose.
If this is tricky, then still half-pinching your nose, slowly let a stream of air out of your nose. Keep the stream going but then bring the back of your tongue up, squeezing more air out of your nose.