Static Apnea Q&A with Katie Kleinwachter 

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Katie Kleinwachter wasn’t always a freediver but when she stumbled on a course and was invited to compete in a static apnea competition, she was intrigued and her whole life took a turn. Kleinwachter joined a local club and quickly found herself competing on a national level, eventually becoming the first-ever American to compete at the world championships. She is a national record holder and is constantly training to push herself to the next level. Although the discipline of static apnea is a niche within the niche of freediving, Kleinwachter says everyone can benefit from exploring what this unique, fun and challenging sport has to offer. 

What is static apnea?

Static apnea is the freediving discipline of holding your breath underwater in a static position. Whereas other freediving disciplines have the athlete move underwater, static apnea is practiced with the athlete floating face down at surface level in a pool. The athlete wears a wetsuit for both warmth and flotation and typically uses a nose clip. 

Do you need to be certified?

Yes. While nothing is stopping you from practicing on your own, Kleinwachter recommends taking a course. “It's really the best way to get the basic safety covered,” she says, first and foremost. “When you're talking about holding your breath, the pH of your blood is changing, your diet is really important, and then there's a huge aspect of safety—you need to have the basic knowledge of the physiology and what happens to your body when you're breath holding and the safety of it.”

"The other aspect of taking a course is how you can improve your times and be competitive,” she adds. Kleinwachter took an introductory course with friends for fun and at the end was asked if she wanted to try competition and that marked the beginning of her professional campaign.  

How do you train for static apnea?

Kleinwachter trains in the pool with a club twice a week, especially since it is strictly against safety protocol in the freediving culture to ever dive alone. But in-water training is only one part of the necessary training. Kleinwachter incorporates strength and flexibility training as well as dry-land breath work.

A key part of her training is doing “tolerance” exercises. “So when you hold your breath, the CO2 is accumulating and your oxygen is going down and you have to train both of them,” she explains. “You're going to have to train your tolerance to the increasing levels of CO2, and you're going to have to also train tolerating more and more low levels of oxygen. We do that by going through breath hold tables with differing periods of rest in between.”

“Some days I'll be working on technique. Some days I need to be focusing on flexibility and mobility and including physiotherapy in my routine, trying different aspects of diet—it just depends on where you are throughout the year or in the season.”

Talk us through a breath hold…

“There are phases of the dive,” Kleinwachter says. “The part where you're completely asleep, and then that part of like, ‘hey, I need to breathe’. But that, ‘hey, I need to breathe’ is when you still have two-thirds left. But when you're a beginner, those two-thirds go by really quick because you don't know how to relax.”

"The more and more you learn how to relax, the longer and longer you can hold the dive out. And, the more you learn to trust yourself and trust the sensations that you have.”

So how do you actually relax while holding your breath underwater? Explain the mental side of the static apnea. 

The mental side of freediving is perhaps the most demanding. “It's such a deep insight into yourself and how you work, controlling your emotions and your motivation,” Kleinwachter says. She opts for visualization techniques to help her relax during a dive but, she explains, it’s not as simple as imagining herself somewhere else. “The addiction of freediving is that your body is not in the same place every day. It's not in the same place in the morning as it was in the afternoon. You have these nerves of ‘what am I going to get today?’ And not only what am I going to get today, but then how do I combat it? You need to have all these tools that if it's this, I'm going to do that,” she says. “There's this continuous process of trying to find new images or new ways to put your mind in a different place.” 

How do you compete?

Competitions are held in pools all across the world from local to world championship level competition. The actual act of competing is extremely controlled for safety and consists of your breath hold that is monitored by officials. “There’s a countdown,” Kleinwachter explains. “There’s a call three minutes until ‘official top’ and you sit there relaxing yourself. Usually there is a heat where four or five people are going at the same time. There's a 30 second margin from the time that they will announce official top—you can't go before that—and from the time they say that, you have 30 seconds to start.” 

The winner is whoever has the longest breath hold. Kleinwachter is a USA record holder with a time of 5 minutes and 41 seconds.

Who can try it?

“Everybody. It doesn't matter height, weight, nationality, gender—everyone,” she says. “If you did a course with me, for example, you'd be able to hold your breath for two and a half minutes. You don't think that it's possible to be able to the first time but you see like, whoa, I'm capable of so much more than I thought. That feeling of being able to push yourself past what you thought was possible is what a lot of people do it for.”

Why should someone try it? What are some of the benefits?

“It’s just an amazing new world and it seems like you never get to the end of everything there is to explore,” she says. Not only did Kleinwachter find something she enjoys that challenges her to grow but, as an expat living in Spain, it gave her a whole community. Static apnea also gave her the opportunity to compete on the world stage and she became the first-ever American to compete at the world championship in 2021. 

Kleinwachter says free diving benefits the other areas of her life as well. “I think it's very similar to practicing yoga: freediving is your moment to be one with yourself and your environment and it's a really nice disconnect from the hectic everyday rat race,” she says. “The breath work that you use is really useful for bringing down anxiety and learning how to control your emotions. When all of a sudden you spike up, you can bring yourself back down, bring your heart rate down, relax.”

How can you get started?

Kleinwachter always recommends taking a course but also suggests reaching out to your nearest club. “The community is super open minded and inviting so you can go anywhere you want in the world and if you link up with the local team, they'll probably invite you to come join in.”

Dive Like Katie With Her Favorite Pair of TM5



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