If you understand basic human physiology, then you probably know that our bodies have air spaces within them. When you are freediving or scuba diving, these sacs of air are exposed to rapid pressure changes making them smaller. Now, if the air is not added to these pockets to bring them to their original volume (the volume at the surface), an injury will occur.
The air sacs that need equalizing when you descend into the water are your middle ear, mask, sinuses, and lungs. Putting air into your ears, mask, and sinuses equalizes the pressure in them, preventing potentially serious injuries like ear barotrauma.
In this post, we dig into the Frenzel maneuver, the most commonly used freediving equalization technique by both novice and advanced divers. Some people do it naturally, while others have to learn. Yes, Frenzel can be tricky in the beginning but with regular practice, you can pick it up pretty fast.
The Frenzel Technique
Frenzel’s technique is the basis for the more complex equalization methods used in freediving. It doesn’t use much energy, which enables you to save air when diving. The method, however, requires proper control over the tongue, soft palate, and glottis.
So here is an overview of what happens in Frenzel equalization:
- Your tongue compresses air under the mouth’s roof.
- The exerted pressure pushes the air to the nasal cavity so it can escape through the nose but the fleeing hits a dead end because the nostrils are pinched shut.
- The glottis is closed too so air cannot make its way back to the lungs either.
- Besides, holding your tongue in the back of your mouth or against your upper teeth forms an airtight seal around that area, so again, no air can escape from the mouth.
- With no other place to go, the air flows into the Eustachian tubes and middle ear, resulting in pressure equalization.
What You Need To Perform Frenzel Properly
1. Closed Glottis
The first thing you need is a closed glottis. But what is glottis and wherein the body is it located, you may ask?
Well, the glottis is located in the throat, between your vocal cords. It is the part of your body that enables you to make an “ah” sound and stop it without closing your mouth or inhale through the mouth and hold the air inside the lungs. When you stop the “aah” sound or trap the air in the lungs with your mouth open, you are actually closing your glottis.
2. Neutrally Positioned Soft Palate
Do you see that fleshy part in the back of your mouth’s roof? That’s the soft palate. Take a deep breath with your mouth open, exhale slowly through the nose, then through the mouth, and then through the nose again. Keep switching until there is no more air left in your lungs to exhale.
The part you feel raising or lowering whenever you switch between exhaling with your mouth and the nose is the soft palate. If you can exhale through the mouth and the nose simultaneously, then your soft palate is neutrally positioned. Easy to do, right?
Controlling the soft palate and glottis is not difficult at all. We do it whenever we talk or make nasal sounds. We also do it when learning proper freediving breathing techniques and equalization.
Controlling both the soft palate and glottis together, however, is not easy. Closing your glottis most likely raises the soft palate. But remember, to do your freediving equalization right, you need to have your soft palate in a neutral position.
Try taking a deep breath through your mouth and then holding the air inside the lungs by keeping the glottis closed and your mouth open. While in this position, try raising or lowering the soft palate until it is in a neutral position.
3. Ability To Perform A Tongue Block
Apart from proper control of the soft palate and the glottis, you must have the ability to trap air between your tongue and the mouth roof. This is commonly referred to as a tongue block.
Try saying the letter “D” without being audible. Make sure you have trapped some air between your tongue and the mouth roof. See, easy peasy!
4. “Tongue Pump”
Last, yet importantly, you must be able to tongue-pump. This is simply moving your tongue up and down to exert pressure on the trapped air so it can enter the Eustachian tubes.
Frenzel equalization can also be performed using a “K” block instead of a “D” or tongue block. A “K” block will seal the space between the soft palate and the tongue, locking in the air. To pressurize this air to equalize, just pump the back of your tongue. Try this with your mouth open and the tip of your tongue relaxed. Surprisingly, practicing this also helps you to breathe and dive better.
Letter “N” can be used as a tongue block too, to make the area between your tongue and the mouth roof airtight. Just remember to have some trapped air under the mouth roof. Practicing these blocks regularly will enable you to properly move air from your lungs and lock it under the mouth roof.
How To Properly Perform A Frenzel Maneuver
Here is how to perform the Frenzel technique right:
- Pinch your nose
- Fill up your mouth with air and perform your preferred tongue block
- Close the glottis
- Move your soft palate to a neutral position
- Using your tongue as a piston, forcing the air into the Eustachian tubes and middle ear. You should feel your ears pop!
Problems With Equalization
There are many problems that divers may experience with equalization. Here are the most common:
- Equalizing too late: Always stay ahead of pressure changes. If you start feeling pain or strong pressure in your ears, chances are you started equalizing too late.
- Not equalizing as frequently as needed: Pressure increases with depth. When you are 8 meters below the water’s surface, you will need to equalize more frequently than when you are only 3 meters below. Pre-equalize before you take a dive and once you start going deeper, have one of your hands on the nose all the time. This will ensure that you are always ready to equalize and could go a long way in ensuring freediving safety.
- Keeping the head raised: Keep your head tucked in so it is lined with your body. This will help reduce pressure on your middle ear and Eustachian tubes and make equalization much easier.
- Straining: Make sure you are not straining when equalizing. Do it gently to avoid over-pressurizing your ears. If you are unable to equalize, abort the dive and ascend to the surface. You don’t want to force it and risk injuring your ears.
Globo Surf Overview
We are all different in terms of our physical makeup. Some people will perform the Frenzel technique easily without even the need to pinch their noses. Others will find it a real struggle.
If you just started learning the technique, take it slow. Do not overthink it. And as they say, ‘practice makes perfect’ so keep trying until you have honed it.
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- DAN’s Smart Guide To Ear Equalization, diversalertnetwork.org