Did you ever have a squeeze? No, I'm not talking about getting a hug from a dear friend, but about that taboo, no freediver wants to talk about and no one admits ever having. A squeeze is essentially damage or injury to the lungs or trachea as a result of the effects of increased pressure on the closed gas spaces of the lungs during breath-hold diving. Medically, it is known as lung or trachea barotrauma. Curiously enough, if you've had one and are honest about it, you'll find that people start opening up and realize that it's something freedivers are flirting with, at least once in their progression path.

How Can It Happen?

The fast track to a lung or trachea squeeze is almost guaranteed when one or more of the following happens at depth:

- lack of relaxation
- cold water
- messing up equalization (we push too much, or we unconsciously reverse pack well beyond our RV)
- lack of flexibility
- abrupt movement, such as a bad turn
- really strong abdominal contractions
- exhale dives and a combination of the above
- empty lungs dry exercises and a combination of the above

A squeeze can look as little as some tiny dots of red blood, and usually, red blood is a sign of trachea squeeze, or foamy and pinkish blood, meaning that there's been a rupture within the alveoli of lung injury. Usually, trachea squeezes don't have an impact on our oxygen saturation level, whilst lung injuries do. In any case, breathing pure oxygen for 5 minutes is the recommended practice.

My Experience With Lung Squeezes And How I Finally Got Rid Of Them

In my case, I started flirting with small squeezes this season. Then, for a few weeks, any dive beyond a certain depth could have been stained with a trace of blood. Not too much, but my anxiety kicks at the sight of any dot of blood. In the beginning, I lost a bit of the fun in my dives, and as a result, I started tensing up even more. But I'd been training the whole winter for my upcoming competition and wasn't ready to give up. In my opinion, freediving is just a tool that allows us to expand beyond our blockages. I knew that my squeezes were nothing more than a plateau-like any others and I was determined to overcome it. I'd taken three weeks rest at times but the issue kept on coming back when reaching that depth.

I knew equalization wasn't an issue for me, and I had always been quite flexible, the water was finally getting a bit warmer and I couldn't understand the reason behind my squeezes.  Because we don't have any nerve endings in our lungs, we don't even feel we have a squeeze until we surface. Then it's a little bit of rattling or wanting to cough, or feeling of pressure in the lungs, and then 7 to 10 minutes later, the dreaded sight of blood.

In the meantime, I'd asked my friend Tito Zappalà to show me some more advanced thoracic flexibility exercises, whilst Andrea Tucci from Uba Project was kind enough to give me one of his equalization tools so that I could be more conscious with my mouthfill exercises. The competition was approaching fast and I was torn on what to do. After checking with doctors, I'd been given the go-ahead to dive again for the competition.

My coach Gus Kreivenas had always checked with me if I relaxed my belly during the descent, and I always replied yes, until the training day before my competition at the Freediving World Cup. That's when Gus was smart enough to ask master Andrea Zuccari to explain to me how to relax my belly. Sometimes it's just about hearing the same story from a different perspective and something clicks inside. I heard the words 'Postural Vanity' for the first time and I learned that most people tend to keep their belly tense for most of their life so as to appear slimmer. So I was given a little somatic homework to do, to stand in front of the mirror, and well, relax my belly out, try to bring that feeling in the water during the freefall. After all, if the belly is really relaxed, it allows the diaphragm to rise following the natural shrinking of the lungs with the rising pressures. A very simple exercise that allowed me to run my competition with no squeeze and target depth.

As a conclusion, looking back squeezes are pretty much always related to our level of relaxation, and talking about our experiences with mentors, being honest in our diving feedback with our coaches, seeing doctors, and listening to podcasts helps in finding the answer we seek to overcome our obstacles.

How To Improve Your Mouthfill Equalization

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