Holding your breath underwater is a test we’ve done since we were little kids at the swimming pool, trying to last longer than those we were with. Most of us struggled to get past the 1 minute mark, but there are some people who can hold their breath for 3 minutes, even 5 minutes.
In fact, according to TIME magazine the record for longest held breath is 22 minutes and 22 seconds by a German diver. Previously the record (according to Guinness) had been held by a man from Denmark who held his breath for 22 minutes flat.
Here is the video
If you can already hold your breath for a long time then this post may not be for you, or perhaps you still want to extend that limit? It is actually relatively easy to train your body to hold its breath longer. Here’s how.
Being able to hold your breath longer is a valuable ability you can possess. It can help you dive longer when spearfishing (if you don’t have a tank), swim down deep to retrieve a dropped or spotted item, or even just evade anyone trying to find you.
Practice deep breathing.
Inhale and exhale slowly from deep within your diaphragm, making your lungs get rid of the low-quality air within you. Try breathing in for 5 seconds, holding it for 1 second, and then letting it out for 10 seconds. Continue doing this for 2 minutes, making sure that you exhale every last “drop” of air.
When you exhale, push your tongue up against your teeth. By doing this, you are forming a valve that helps control the release of air. Your breath should make a sort of hissing sound as you are releasing it.
By breathing in deeply like this, you are allowing your body to take in excess oxygen, which is then stores in blood cells. Your body can then use these extra sources of oxygen when you are holding your breath.
Get rid of the CO2 in your lungs.
That pressure you feel building in your lungs when you hold your breath is not the result of the “need to breathe”, but instead the build-up of CO2 trying to be released. The longer you hold your breath, the more unbearable this pressure becomes. Decrease this build-up by purging any CO2 that is already in your lungs before you start holding your breath.
First, exhale forcefully and push out as much air as possible. You can puff out your cheeks while you do this, and think about blowing a toy sailboat across a lake.
Once you have done this, inhale quickly and repeat. Keep your body still as you do this, avoiding the expenditure of stored oxygen you have.
Shoot for 1 minute and 30 seconds.
Take a breath and try to hold it for 1 minute and 30 seconds, a “practice run” that will allow your body to adjust to the sensation of going without air. Don’t count, use a timer for those 90 seconds and do not try holding your breath any longer just yet.
When you inhale, breathe in to about 80% – 85% of your lung capacity so that you are not stretching your lungs and burning more oxygen.
After the 90 second countdown expires, exhale briefly to get rid of any excess air and take 3 deep breaths. This is called “semi-purging”.
Repeat – deep breathing and purging. Shoot for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
After the 90 second practice run is completed, repeat the exercises of deep breathing and purging. Each exercise should last 1 minute and 30 seconds.
After you’ve done this, take a breath and hold it for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, using a stopwatch to keep track. Do not try to hold your breath for any longer yet.
Once the time is up, exhale the used air and take 3 semi-purges. Then 2 minutes of deep breathing and 1 minute and 30 seconds of purging.
Now you can try to hold your breath for as long as possible.
If you want, you can splash come cold water on your face before holding your breath. Bradycardia, the slowing of the heart rate, can potentially be triggered by this action as the first phase of the mammalian diving reflex. This step is optional.
If you do decide to try this, just splash some cold water on your face right before holding your breath (you don’t need to dunk your head totally underwater). A cold, wet washcloth may be used instead of splashing. Do not use an icepack in lieu of splashing cold water.
Hold your breath for as long as possible.
Sit down in a comfortable position and take that deep breath, filling your lungs to about 80% – 85% capacity. Sit completely still and hold your breath for as long as possible. Have someone else do the timing. This will make the time seem to go by faster and you will be able to focus on holding your breath longer if you are not constantly watching the clock.
Since holding your breath for long periods of time can be painful, try to find a way to distract yourself to hold your breath longer. A popular method is to move through the alphabet thinking of a friend, celebrity, or historical figure whose name starts with the letter you’re on.
Holding air in your cheeks is not recommended. This is meant as an air reserve, which will require you to lose the air in your lungs to switch to the air in your cheeks.
Every muscle in your body should be relaxed. Release all tension in your body. You can close your eyes to help focus on doing this. If you can achieve this, you can make it possible to lower your heart rate – increasing the time you can hold your breath.
Think of something that relaxes you. If you can no longer relax, distract yourself as mentioned before.
Relaxing includes not moving your body while you hold your breath. Every time you move you lose oxygen as the muscles burn it up for energy.
Make sure you exhale slowly, about 20% of your air at first. Then inhale again so that the oxygen rushes to the most critical areas first. Then inhale and exhale fully.
Try doing all of this 3 to 4 times per session. You can do one session in the morning and one at night. Keep at it and you will be able to hold your breath for several minutes!
Helpful hints to increase lung capacity.
- do exercises to increase your lung capacity, such as cardio, exercising in water, and exercising in high altitudes
- lose weight (exercise + balanced diet)
- quit smoking (even if you aren’t trying to hold your breath longer)
- take up a wind or brass instrument, such as the flute, clarinet, oboe, and saxophone
These three simple safety rules can mean all the difference:
- practice with a partner (for safety and they can help you count)
- practice sitting up, not lying down (you can choke on your tongue if you pass out)
- do not practice underwater, unless supervised by a professional