One of the main problems people have while learning freediving is the inability to equalise their ears properly. This happens because some people have never consciously equalised their ears before and therefore do not know how. They may have felt something in an aircraft or perhaps when they have gone swimming but never knew what it was. This page is has been made to share with you all the information required for someone to learn to equalise their ears or said more simply: to make their ears “pop”. The ability to equalise your ears efficiently and correctly when freediving is an essential skill and will make your freediving experience much better, safer and more comfortable.
There are two basic methods we use in Freediving:
The Frenzel Manoeuvre and the Valsalva Manoeuvre. In the end both manoeuvres do the same thing which is to push air into the middle ear to make it at the same pressure as the surrounding water and so remove any danger of a damaged ear but how they do it differs significantly and has an effect on our freediving, especially as we go deeper.
The Valsalva Manoeuvre utilises the breathing muscles to create a higher pressure the entire breathing system to push air into the middle ear to equalise it and thus remove any danger. This works fine down to about 25-30 meters but beyond that starts to get difficult to perform. It also takes more energy to perform this manoeuvre and so makes a freediver less comfortable in the water. This manoeuvre is perfectly fine and functional for Level 1 free divers and is perfectly safe and usable for casual recreational freediving.
The Frenzel Manoeuvre just utilises the movement of the tongue and certain other soft parts of the mouth and throat to create a high pressure in the mouth which pushes up into the middle ear and thus removes any danger. This is the preferred technique for freediving and the most efficient and energy conserving method to use. This method will take a freediver down to about 35-45 meters before they will have to switch to a more advanced method while still uses the Frenzel Manoeuvre in conjunction with another more advanced technique which allows for dives down to 100+ meters. The use of the Frenzel Manoeuvre is required to complete Level 2 certification. This technique is specifically taught at Level 2.
How to know which one you are doing:
Generally the Valsalva Manoeuvre tenses the entire upper body and is quite visibly forceful to do. An easy way to know if you are using this method is place a hand on your belly and equalise, if you feel movement at your belly while you equalise you are using Valsalva. For Frenzel the best way to cheek is to stand in front of a mirror and equalise. Look for movement in the throat / "adams apple" while also feeling the Belly. If you see movement of the throat/adams apple and you DO NOT feel movement on your belly then you are using Frenzel. We usually say that Valsalva takes the whole body to do but Frenzel just takes from the neck upwards. If you cannot tell which one you are using please do not worry as we would check this for you on our course anyway.
Before joining a freediving course we would suggest you try to practice as much equalisation as you can. It can be done at home sitting watching television or perhaps reading a book. It is one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. Practice is key. If you can effectively perform these actions about once a second you will be doing very well. Note: You will be taught these techniques on your freediving course but it helps to have them practiced before hand. The links below are collected from across the internet to describe the various methods and dangers of freediving equalisation. Practiced correctly there should never be any problem or danger to the ear when freediving. There are other more obscure or more advanced techniques documented in the links below but for general freediving the two described above are the most common and most used.
Wikipedia entry for the Frenzel Manoeuvre
Eric Fattah (freediving equalisation expert and pioneer) explains the Frenzel Manoeuvre PDF.
The Frenzel-Fattah technique explained in the original Eric Fattah PDF document:
An Excellent page that describes in detail all the various manoeuvres and techniques that can be used to equalise the ears:
DAN Divers Guide To The Ear: (scuba specific but most of it also applies to free divers)
Aharon Solomons (elite freediver instructor trainer) explains Frenzel Manoeuvre in an excellent and comprehensive video: