From beginner to 86 meters in two years.
About the privilege of coaching Annelie.

By: Sebastian Naslund

On October the 20th 2007 Annelie Pompe tried to break the world record in constant weight freediving. The bottom plate was set at 89 meters in the waters of the Red sea - Dahab, Blue hole. She turned early - next diver Sara Campbell dove down to 90 meters coming up claiming the world record. But how could Sara get to those depths with only half a years serious training? She says: "...wondering how on earth I did what I did. Well, I'm sorry to say there are no magic training techniques that I can share with you".
The following text might be intresting for those who want to get an idea what kind of training and attitudes it takes to get deeper than 80 in two years. And what a coach can do to help.

Summer 2005
Curious by nature – I googled the name Annelie Pompe. She had signed up for a beginners course with me in Sweden back in 2005. I soon found out she had a history in other sports, winning competitions in mountainbiking, multiraces and some medals in national championships in fitness and climbing. Good, that kind of students are always inspiring for a trainer.

On the first deep diving day at sea she had some trouble with her ears (medical nature). But she pushed it, though my advice was to rest and come back for free on the next course. I clearly remember her coming up from a 20 meter dive in the green chilly waters of Sweden saying: “I want to be the best in the world”.

My response was rather sceptical (which I find is a suitable attitude towards naïve persons). “Well you see, first you have to become the best in Sweden, and that might not be so easy”.

Annelie 2007/oct Red Sea. Photo: Sebastian Naslund

I am not known for being the: “you can do it”, “everything is possible” kind of coach. At the time Lotta Ericsson was showing world class performances (2005) having done a 70 meter dive in the only discipline Annelie considered real freediving: CWT. As deep as you can with fins on one breath.
I sort of summed Annelie up there and then: There was enthusiasm yes. Ears possibly strong, focus yes, but a bit too eager, lacking calmness (due to a history of adrenaline sports), muscles indeed, but slightly to high BMI, courage a lot, even too much, lungs possibly weak.

I said I could take her to 50, maybe 60. I underestimated all parties involved.

What I missed was her determination and her willingness to actually train. Actually trying out all new approaches to freediving that the later years had produced and I had been trying out on myself. She was prepared to go the full length.

This started a cooperation that lasted up to date, exploring advanced freediving together. She adding her knowledge of diet and anatomy (as a certified personal trainer) and inspiring me to actually start physical training myself. Something I deemed of lesser importance for freediving since there are so many ways around that tiresome training in pools and gyms. I had proved that national records was in reach without so much muscle or cardio training.

Now coaching is not as easy as writing down a training schedule on paper stating a number of lengths in a pool, or series of breath holds. It’s a highly personal approach, where many distracting factors has to be juggled.

I introduced Yoga as a way to explore the possibilities of mind and body (and the way they intervene). This suited Annelie well since she already was into “body awareness”. Myself I had found yoga with the purpose of improving my freediving. Now I have grown to see freediving as a measuring device for if my yoga has been done properly. To yoga Annelie added profound knowledge of stretching and how the muscles function.

Sebastian teaching in Sweden.  Photo: Annelie Pompe

I was closely following the world top tens performances pondering on what to learn from them. Two weeks with Rudi Castineyra at a world record attempt made me realize that they (at the time) was in the forefront of warming up techniques (things that everyone know today). By the line in Ibiza WC I saw Herbert doing things that showed he was one of the pioneers: packing and hook breathing that no one else was really doing. I paid close attention to what Fattah were saying (even though I could not grasp all). All this was of course before Annelie had heard of competitive freediving.

But to sum it up: all the time I spent thinking - Annelie spent training. Her morning jog of 10k was not even part of her training scheme, it was just extra training, the real training came later in the day. But on the whole here training has never come close to what rumour says Natalja is doing.

But I soon realized what Annelie had already found out: “rules that apply to others does not necessarily apply to her”.

She moved to Dahab for some time working with freediving for Desert Divers. This troubled me since the closeness to deep warm waters might get her caught up in a PB race. Going for max all the time. A habit that will make you miss some essential basic training needed for greater performances in the future. (All through the process I have been totally convinced that at a certain level of freediving you go deeper with 30 days training on dry land (and pools) and only one day deep diving, than 30 days deep diving). As soon as you learn to pressurize the lungs and simulate depth – this training can start.

Annelie was not with me on this. There was another factor I had not foreseen.

I had missed the impact of nitrogen narcosis. Annelie just loved it. She actually dives to get it. She has that kind of adrenaline seeking – risk taking personality that if brought up in a less favourable environment she might have as well ended up as a drug addict just for the thrill of it. As It is, she gets her thrills from hill, mountain and sea.

Annelie has studied marine biology so her lust for the sea is more than a desire for depth. She actually likes being under water looking at fish. So much that she does not eat fish. They are to look at, not eat. (Chickens do not fit into that view of the world – and she happily eats them on occasion.) Her father has all during her upbringing been a keen amateur underwater photographer, so the sea has been close by all the time.

To the right: Annelie in the Red Sea. Fish are to look at (and photo) not to eat. Photo: Sebastian Naslund

 The other stuff
I started finding gear sponsors, suggesting eating habits, arranging safe diving, kindling motivation (in this case hardly needed), discussing VO2 maxes, PH levels and lactic tolerance, endless reminders of how the dive response works, nagging about holding back on training (since she is prone to over train), and on rare occasions doing some “BTT´ing”

As a coach your job is not only to solve the current problem (the main limiting factor) but to fore see what the next one will be. In the end of the day it is about caring about a persons dreams (taking them seriously), worry about their health and training. And since Freediving is such a mystery still, just nod and respond: "good idea let’s try it".

Most of the time we know what has to be done, but sometimes there is a leap of faith needed to actually to do it. Sometimes one has to do something strange that only in the end makes sense.

My basic idea (as it evolved while diving with Annelie) is that the body is ready for great depths if the right responses can be triggered – size and shape is of less importance. Actually I believe a beginner freediver can name any depth as a goal – the rest is about: time and money. What are you willing to sacrifice?

The hydrodynamics was soon in place due to a flexible body (that most women seem to be gifted with). In 2003 Kirk told me that hydrodynamics would be the ultimate limiting factor. I concluded one had to work with both surface and body friction.

And so one day she had passed my (at the time) personal best in depth: 72 meters. What had taken me five years took her slightly over a year. The depth below that became uncharted territory for both of us. I have been held back by squeeze, but Annelies lungs have been proven to be built for the depths, and not to forget mentioning, she has approached depth somewhat wiser than me. Learning from some of my mistakes.

So many approaches in training are possible, but at the end of the day it’s all about attitude. The essential approaches of these two years have been summed up in a small booklet, and Annelie is (together with Helene Garner) working on a yoga book for freedivers.

Sebastian coaching the Eritrea national team.
They finished last in the teams world 2006.
Photo: Rahel Zemoi

After 75 it was mostly about fine tuning the 17 factors that we had discovered makes up a good dive. Lots of people have the orthodox principle of only improving a meter at a time – but I believe that if the right preparation has been done and the right mental state can be summoned: a 75 meter dive is not much different from an 85 meter dive. It’s just a leap of faith. A mental journey. “Release the handbrake” as Umberto once told me.

If the option is to increase a meter a day during three dive days, I would rather say: stay on land for two days and rest and add five meters the last and only diving day. But this only refers to top level freedivers who knows their bodies and the sensations of depth.

Many of these things related to “the leap of faith”, was proven to me by Murat, not only theoretically, but hands on.

Sebastian under water

So what has Annelie been doing during these two years?

Hypnosis has been added during the last 6 months, yoga all the time, Jala neti and yoga nidra,  lots of cardio, some muscle toning (in both pool and gym), a serious look on diet and food supplements, pool sessions with a board, not much static since Annelie sucks at it (and she does not like to do things where she does not excel).

At the end of the day it’s all about the feel good factor as I heard Herbert name one of the key ingredients to his successful dives. Not to forget good suits from Eliossub, support from Sporasub and Suunto and Great Earth food supplements. And supportive freedivers giving safety and friendship when needed.

I have actually never told Annelie to do any thing, it has always been her own final decision how to train. At one point I realized she was actually willing to do as I told her, and that made me hesitate and be very sparse with my advice. Training has always to be guided by intuition. Since the key issue is body awareness, one will know what and how to train if one pays very close attention to what happens in ones body at all times.

To phrase it slightly more poetic: the sea will tell you what to train and at what depth you should set the line. Just do one warm-up hang at your depth of choice and hang there and listen very carefully. Do you hear a voice that says: "How could you possible do what other with stronger bodies have failed to do? This is not the day for a PB – feel your weaknesses". Well don’t listen to that. Do you perceive a distant echo  of: "you can do it - you’re a star". Pay no attention to that either, it’s probably some mental remnants of a bad Hollywood movie. There are other attitudes to use.

There are no perfect days, there are no perfect dives – there is just the pursuit of perfection. Paying attention to thought and movement. Cherish the actual moment. Stop looking for excuses – just do it to the limit of your power that day. What ever the outcome, it will be part of your future success.

It was a late afternoon in the Blue Hole. Cars where already leaving and the sun was about to touch the western mountain ridge. The blue hole was turning less bright as shadows moved closer. We hung the line at 79 meters. At that time it might have been the second or third deepest dive a woman ever tried (?). Some minutes of calm breathing and of she goes. One single line stretching down. I see the last reflection of her monofin and she is gone for over two minutes. I meet her at 20 - at fifteen she starts staring blankly and starts shaking her head. I grab her wrist and start racing her to the surface. She is out of breath, but in control. She claims she could have made it without my assistance.

Annelie stretching at Desert Divers.
At 70 she still has access to air from the lungs.

Afterwards she asks what the world record is. Natalja has it at 86 meters, I told her. Her positive attitude and belief in herself seems to be never ending and she felt it was within reach there and then. Just another weeks training.

I was rather sceptical and suggested a very specific training schedule for six months aiming at a peak in the autumn of 2007. So be it, she spends the summer doing her “home-work”. Work and illnesses delay progress. Courses and working with competition steals energy.

I tell her what I deem necessary for a WR attempt: Move all weights to neck, reduce suit, skip mask, skip your in water warm ups, reduce BMI – to this list she adds: alkaline diet. She sees some logic in my advice and makes an effort to change, but she is soon back to more weights, full suit, mask and at least two warm ups.  I also thought it a good idea to aim for a PB of 5.30 in static and 150 in DYN in order to approach apnea from another angle and bring new skills back into CWT.  She tried - but could not.

And then something very annoying happens – she gets a boyfriend. In my Darwinist evolutionary view of the world I now picture a worst case scenario where all the need to excel and impress fades away into just being a happy girlfriend.

Little do I know Annelie and the boyfriend happens to be a guy diving deeper than her (Peter Pedersen) – that can’t be bad. At least there will be a lot of diving.

She goes early to Dahab in the autumn of 2007, but comes to a standstill. It takes time to approach 80 again. Many failed dives, motivation goes down, which results in the not so wise decision to dive every day looking for old strength. Keeping her from not diving continuously everyday takes some persuasion from both dive buddy Peter Pedersen and me.

One good progress is that she actually starts enduring some contractions during static training. Contractions are your friends, they are the sign of a deepening dive response. She has not really been interested in listening to talk like that (I have tried to get her on to a course with Murat, but the opportunity has not been there). For Annelie freediving is supposed to be easy and pleasurable, even if doing dives close to world record depths.

I treat her “failures” with a “what ever attitude”, the world will not fall apart if you are not the best. Make do with a few Swedish records and maybe a medal in the WC. I don’t know if my relaxed attitude provokes her or makes her relax, but in the following days she does: 77, 80, 83. The dream of a world record awakens again.

Annelie and I conclude that ventilation is the last key to the depth. Will Trubridge has arrived and supports this statement. Too little and she will be daunted by early contractions, too much and she is heading for a likely blackout.

Closing in
In the following days she tries twice for 86 meters but turns early. Next day she tries again, it takes a long time before she turns and I know she has made it all the way down.
I meet her at 25, soon she starts shaking her head, asking for support. I hesitate, grab her, let go, she continues to beg for help. I study her eyes, her lips – she is still there.

I been there, I have felt the burning sensation of lactic acid and the voice screaming: “you are not going to make it”. I grab her arm but I don’t pull, just pretend to pull. Surface protocol easy and fast, but she is out of breath. That was hard, she says. She ´s got the tag.

Now is the time for sensible advice. Another dive? To 89? One or two days rest? A warm-up dive to 80? Strategy is needed, what would you advice? Everything is crucial, no room for bad judgement. Annelie comes up with an idea. Lets do a variable to 90. We have tried it before but always fucked up technically or Annelie bailed out on the way down. It makes sense to explore depths by pulling down or getting pulled down.

Touching the bottom of Blue hole
Blue hole is crowded as usual. I squeeze in between Natalja and some of unknown nationality. Peter Pedersen goes first, we set the line to 88. His fluid goggles break in warm-up, he does the dive without them and succeeds. Annelie annoys me by going into the water 20 minutes to early, sure enough she gets cold and has to go up. I just hates it when she lacks a professional approach. I set the line to 91, a six kilo weight is prepared and attached to the line. She does a breath-up for 7 minutes and of she goes. She has only two kilos around her neck apart from the six kilos pulling her down. She touch bottom after 1.20 and we know she has been down there. The test today is to see if she can swim up from theses depths without her legs failing. I meet her at 30 – she looks determined, actually very un-bothered. I hide behind a person we have designated as judge so that Annelie gets rid of the habit of doing SP towards me. She succeeds (easy dive – lots of air) and she is filled with confidence and smiles for the rest of the day.

Too much confidence.

She starts pulling up the line and I have to raise my voice to get rid of her and let me do it alone. Just three days of professionalism and a focus on details – that’s all I am asking for.

And on the day of the competition when the line is set on world record depth at 89 meters she turns.
So how much interest are there in a failed dive. What a person does for preparation before a dive that is a total failure. What she eats, how much she rests, how she thinks, what stretches she does, how she warms-up, what kind of breath up?

Freediving is a very mental sport, that would be the short summary of Annelies failed record attempt to 89. She lost all focus and all nerves. And the “nail in the coffin” was a coach missing the countdown giving her more than a minute less breathing than usual. Early contractions and a total disbelief in her own performance made her turn early. The only good thing is that she actually went out there and did something – after a night without sleep, migraine and zero motivation – she went through the warm-up and the countdown and turned her fin towards the sky.

But end of one dive is the start of another. A failure is an important part of future successful dives. What can be done better, why did I turn, what is the missing factor I have to work on… (Annelie took the Silvermedal in the world championship two weeks later).

Annelie is a divemaster, climbing instructor, aida-freedive instructor and a personal trainer. She gives courses, sometimes together with Sebastian Naslund ( During her exploration of depth she has also spent time with uw photography - visit her gallery at: Her official homepage is Her PT site can be found at: She is part of the initiative. Annelie can now deliver online diet- and training schedules for freedivers. Her diet- and physical training coaching was part of my PB to 60 meter CNF.