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Best Freediving Breathing Exercises and Techniques For Increasing Your Breath Hold Time

by Max
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Best Freediving Breathing Exercises and Techniques For Increasing Your Breath Hold Time

Imagine swimming amongst the fishes in the deep blue sea, surrounded by silence and tranquillity. Freediving is a fantastic way to explore the underwater world and uniquely connect with nature. But practicing proper breathing techniques is essential to freediving safely and increasing your breath hold time.
For many of us, breathing is something we take for granted. We breathe automatically and don’t even think about it. But when you’re freediving, a new level of importance is placed on your breathing. Proper freediving breathing techniques can help you to relax, increase your lung capacity, and, most importantly, extend your breath hold time.
Let’s take a further look into this topic, and discover the best freediving breathing exercises you can start practicing today.

What Happens When You Hold Your Breath?

When you hold your breath, one of the first things to happen is carbon dioxide (CO2) starts to build up in your body. This is why you’ll start to feel the urge to breathe after a certain time – your body is telling you it needs oxygen, and it’s time to take a breath.

Your stomach and throat will likely contract, which is your body’s way of making you breathe. This sensation is not dangerous unless you are not adequately trained or have been holding your breath for an extended period. But it can be very uncomfortable, and it can even be scary if you’re not used to it.

You must understand that these feelings are not always because you’re running out of oxygen.

In actuality, you have plenty of oxygen in your bloodstream; it’s just that the carbon dioxide makes you feel like you must take a breath. This is why proper breathing techniques are so important when freediving. If you can control your breathing and keep calm, you can extend your breath hold time and stay underwater for longer.

Why Do You Want To Maximize Breath Hold Time for Freediving?

Many freedivers know the freedom and exhilaration that comes with being underwater – with no heavy scuba gear to weigh them down. It is a great way to explore the underwater world and connect with nature, and you can use freediving for many practical purposes, such as spearfishing and collecting seafood.

On average, the human breath hold time is around 30-90 seconds. While there isn’t much reason the average person would want to increase this, it’s a different story for freedivers.

Here are a few reasons why you might want to maximize breath hold time for freediving:

Increase Safety While Freediving

Probably the most obvious reason to focus on your breath hold time is for safety. Freediving solely relies on you and not on any breathing apparatus. By training and increasing your breath hold using breathing exercises for freediving, you can reduce the risk of blackouts and extend the time spent underwater.

Without proper training and preparation, freediving can be dangerous. By increasing your breath hold time, you’re giving yourself a larger safety margin.

Stay Submerged For Extended Periods

The beautiful thing about freediving is the ability to explore the underwater world – just you and the fish. But to stay underwater for longer and take in your surroundings, you need to be able to hold your breath for a long time.

While scuba diving relies on compressed air tanks, freediving relies on your breath hold to stay submerged. This means you’re limited to how long you can spend underwater. Once you have worked on your freediving breathing techniques, you can hold your breath for longer.

For Competitive Freediving

If you’re interested in participating in freediving competitions, you’ll want to increase your breath hold time. In freediving competitions, there are various disciplines divers must compete in – with all completed using a single breath. These disciplines include static apnea, dynamic apnea, and free immersion.

To maximize your freediving performance and give yourself a competitive edge, you must focus on your breathing techniques to extend your breath hold time.

Explore Deeper Depths

Another reason to focus on your breath hold is so you can freedive to greater depths. Going deeper usually requires longer time submerged, which requires your ability to hold your breath longer.

By increasing your breath hold, you’re giving yourself more time to freedive at deeper depths. This means you can explore the underwater world in greater detail and see things that most people never get to see. Of course, this is for more advanced freedivers and not to be rushed into.

Enjoy The Wellness Benefits

Working on your freediving breathing techniques can benefit your body and mind. Holding our breath for a safe amount of time can promote relaxation and help to clear our minds.

Breath holding can also help to improve our cardiovascular fitness by training our heart and lungs to work more efficiently. In fact, some athletes use breath hold training as a way to improve their performance. So, you can explore the underwater world in greater detail and enjoy some excellent wellness benefits by working on your freediving breathing.

What is Required for a Long Breath Hold?

Alongside practicing the proper breathing exercises for freediving, you can do a few other things to help you increase your breath hold.

Fitness

One of the most important things is ensuring you are physically fit. When you are freediving, your body will be working hard to keep you submerged. The fitter you are, the easier this will be. Not only this but exercising regularly will also help to improve your heart and lung health.

Have you ever wondered why elite athletes don’t get breathless as quickly as the rest of us? It’s because they have worked hard to increase their cardiovascular fitness levels. When our body is physically fit, it becomes much more competent at using oxygen. In freediving, this is crucial.

Click here for our complete guide on the best fitness exercises for scuba divers.

Relaxation

When stressed or anxious, our body’s natural response is to take shallower breaths. This is because our body prepares itself for ‘fight or flight.’ In freediving, we need to do the opposite. We must take deep, relaxing breaths to prepare our body for a long breath hold.

You can do a few things to help you relax when freediving:

  • Ensure you are comfortable with your environment and the depth you are diving to.
  • Try some breathing exercises on dry land to help you relax and slow down your breathing.
  • Take some time to clear your mind before you freedive.

Hydration

It is also vital to ensure you are properly hydrated before you freedive. When we are dehydrated, it can affect our blood volume (low blood pressure) and make it harder for our body to transport oxygen around our system. Not drinking enough water also impacts our lungs and their ability to take in oxygen.

So, ensure you drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to your freedive. And if you will be freediving for extended periods, bring a bottle of water with you and take regular sips throughout the day.

Healthy Habits

Aside from the physical things you can do to improve your breath hold, there are also a few healthy habits you should adopt. Some healthy habits can include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol (never freedive while under the influence!)
  • A diet consisting of iron and nitrate-rich foods
  • Adequate rest
  • Practicing mindfulness

Things to Know Before Learning Breathing Exercises for Freediving

Freediving can be such an exhilarating and liberating experience. And with the correct breathing exercises, you can improve your breath hold and enjoy freediving to the fullest.

But, if you’re new to the world of freediving, there are certain things you should know before you start practicing your breathing exercises.

Always Freedive With a Buddy

Freediving can be dangerous, and it’s crucial to always freedive with a buddy. If something goes wrong, your buddy will be there to help you. Ideally, you would choose someone experienced in freediving and knows CPR, just in case. Diving with a buddy is one of the easiest ways to keep diving safe.

Dry Practise First

When you get onto our freediving techniques for beginners, you’ll notice that we always recommend first starting with ‘dry’ breathing exercises. This means practicing breathing exercises on dry land before taking them into the water.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, it’s much safer to practice on land where you can be sure of your surroundings. Secondly, when starting, you must focus on your technique, and it can be easy to get distracted underwater.

Finally, if you require help at any time, you won’t have the added danger of being in the water. Practicing on land first lets you perfect your technique before taking it into the water.

Do Not Hyperventilate Excessively

Hyperventilating either before or after a freedive can be extremely dangerous. Yet, it is a very commonly used technique to increase breath hold time. How does this work?

When you hyperventilate, your body’s CO2 levels drop. This means that your urge to breathe is delayed – increasing your breath hold time. While this sounds great, you need to be very cautious when hyperventilating before freediving.

The reason is that your body’s CO2 levels can easily drop by too much. Since this delays the urge to breathe, you may stay down for too long, depleting the oxygen available to your body tissues. While the increased partial pressure of oxygen may still be enough at depth to keep you from losing consciousness, this changes as you ascend. Once you ascend, the partial pressure of oxygen drops, which can lead to the so-called shallow-water blackout. This is extremely dangerous – you may never make it back to the surface alive.

So definitely stay away from excessive hyperventilation!

Be Aware of Your Limits

It’s essential to be aware of your limits and never push yourself too hard when freediving. If you feel uncomfortable or like you’re struggling, stop and take a break. Remember, freediving is supposed to be enjoyable, so don’t turn it into something that feels like a chore.

Get Mentally and Physically Prepared

Before you freedive, it’s important to be mentally and physically prepared. Your freediving will suffer if you don’t have the right frame of mind. And if you’re not physically ready, you could put your body under too much strain.

Always be sure you take the time to mentally and physically prepare for your freedive – this also goes hand in hand with relaxation.

Understand The Risks

When diving into the great blue without any breathing apparatus, certain risks are involved.

Some of these can include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Shallow water blackouts
  • Drowning (at any depth – an adult can drown in just a few inches of water in the nose/mouth are covered)

Even with the correct freediving breathing exercises and techniques, there is always a risk involved – so please freedive responsibly!

Freediving Breathing Exercises for Beginners

Now that you better understand freediving and breathing, let’s look at some activities you can do to improve your breath hold.

Measure Your Current Breath Hold Time

Before we can get into some freediving breathing exercises for beginners, it’s essential to measure your current breath hold time. This is also an exercise known as ‘dry apnea’ and is an excellent freediving breathing exercise to

To do this exercise:

  • Lay down in a comfortable position
  • Do a relaxed breathing exercise (the next freediving breathing exercise on this list) for 3 minutes
  • Inhale deeply – do not overfill your lungs
  • Hold your breath
  • Have a stopwatch or clock nearby to track your time – but do not clock watch! Just focus on relaxing and holding your breath
  • Once you feel the overwhelming urge to breathe, take a few deep breaths

Now you have a good idea of your current breath hold time, you can start to work on increasing it with some of the freediving breathing exercises below.

Relaxed Breathing Exercise

This freediving breathing exercise for beginners helps you focus on controlling the rate at which you breathe. It also helps to relax your body and reduce any tension you may feel. Also known as pranayama in yoga, this breathing exercise is said to help improve our lung capacity and increase the oxygen levels in our blood.

To do the exercise:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight
  • Exhale all breath out until your lungs are empty
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, filling up your lungs
  • Once your lungs are full, hold your breath for a moment
  • Exhale slowly and evenly through your mouth
  • Repeat this cycle for 2 minutes

Diaphragm Breathing Exercise

This exercise is great for strengthening your diaphragm and improving your breathing capacity. When you hold your breath, the diaphragm can contract and urge you to take a breath. So, by strengthening your diaphragm with this exercise, you can help to increase your breath hold time.

To do the exercise:

  • Sit or lay in a comfortable position with your spine straight
  • Rest your hands on your stomach, just below your navel
  • As you breathe in, focus on pushing your stomach out
  • As you breathe out, focus on drawing your belly in
  • Repeat this breathing pattern for 1 minute

Walking Breath Hold Exercise

When freediving, you must learn how to move efficiently with one breath. The walking breath hold exercise will help you increase your overall lung capacity and stamina. Once you have practiced this exercise and feel ready to push yourself further, try it while jogging or on the treadmill.

To do the exercise:

  • Start by walking at a comfortable pace for 2 minutes
  • Speed up your pace until you start to feel breathless
  • Breath in through your nose for a count of 4
  • While continuously speed walking, hold your breath for 6 to 8 counts
  • Exhale through your nose for a count of 4
  • Repeat this freediving breathing exercise for up to 5 minutes

Advanced Freediving Breathing Techniques

Once you have mastered the basics and have built up your freediving breath hold time, you can start to push yourself further with more advanced exercises. These will help you to increase your lung capacity and overall freediving performance.

CO2 and O2 Tables

When holding our breath, our bodies produce carbon dioxide (CO2), and we use oxygen (O2). The levels of these gases in our blood change and will eventually cause us to take a breath. When we learn how to deal with higher levels of CO2, we can increase our breath hold time.

There are two ways to do this: by using a CO2 table or an O2 table.

CO2 table:

  • Half your average breath hold time – so if you can hold your breath for 4 minutes, you will only hold it for 2 minutes while doing this exercise
  • Breath as normal for your allocated time; in this example, 2 minutes
  • Hold your breath for 2 minutes
  • Repeat for 8 breaths, but reduce the length you breathe for between holds, as follows:
  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold: 2 minutes
  • Breath: 1.45 minutes
  • Hold: 2 minutes
  • Breath: 1.30 minutes
  • Hold: 2 minutes
  • Breath: 1.15 minutes
  • Hold: 2 minutes
  • Breath: 0.45 minute
  • Hold: 2 minutes
  • Breath: 0.30 minute
  • Hold: 2 minutes
  • Breath: 0.15 minute

The O2 table works differently – instead, you will breathe for a set amount of time.

O2 table:

  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold: 1 minute (it is your choice on where to start with holding your breath, but ensure the end breath hold does not exceed your maximum capability)
  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold: 1.15 minutes
  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold: 1.30 minutes
  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold: 1.45 minutes
  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold: 2 minutes
  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold: 2.15 minutes
  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold: 2.30 minutes
  • Breath: 2 minutes
  • Hold 2.45 minutes

Please note you should only pick one of these exercises on any day. Never perform CO2 or O2 exercises on the same day.

Wet Static Apnea

Static apnea is one of the more advanced freediving breathing exercises for beginners. Many newbies will want to steer clear of this one until they have finessed the dry freediving breathing techniques. In this exercise, you will hold your breath while floating motionless in the water. This is a great way to learn about controlling your breathing while underwater.

To do the exercise:

  • Always do this exercise with an experienced buddy or instructor
  • Practice some relaxation breathing techniques
  • Do pre-dive freediving breathing exercises – which we cover later in the article
  • Hold your breath
  • Lay face down in a pool and do not move
  • Once you start to feel the urge to breathe, gently roll over and exhale

Wet Dynamic Apnea

In this freediving breathing exercise, you will swim underwater for a set distance on one breath. This is a great way to increase your lung capacity and learn how to control your breathing while swimming. This freediving breathing exercise is similar to the walking breath hold but is performed in water instead – making it more advanced.

To do the exercise:

  • Always do this exercise with an experienced buddy or instructor
  • Start by swimming laps in a pool at a comfortable pace to warm up
  • Take a deep breath and submerge yourself in the water
  • Swim for the distance you have set yourself, say 2 laps, then surface to take a breath
  • Repeat the exercise, but swim for a longer distance each time

Underwater Freediving Games

If it requires you to hold your breath underwater, then it is likely to be a good freediving breathing exercise! There are lots of fun games you can do to increase your lung capacity and have fun at the same time.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Underwater hockey
  • Tug of war
  • Breath holding races
  • Freediving tag

Playing these games will help to increase your lung capacity and resist the urge to take a breath for longer. And, of course, it is great fun too! Once you become more experienced, you can try freediving in an open body of water.

As always, never partake in aquatic freediving exercises, no matter how advanced you are, without the supervision of an experienced buddy or instructor.

How Often Should You Do Breathing Exercises for Freediving?

The answer to this depends on which freediving breathing exercises you are doing and your current freediving ability. For dry freediving techniques, like relaxation and diaphragmic breathing, you can do these every day.

For the wet freediving techniques, like the wet static apnea or CO2/O2 tables, you should give your body time to recover between sessions. So, we recommend 2-3 times per week for these exercises.

Remember to always listen to your body and never push yourself too hard.

Best Freediving Breathing Techniques You Can Use While Freediving

Aside from increasing your breath hold time, you must also know how to breathe before and after a freediving session. This is because how you breathe can help to prevent blackouts and hypoxia.

Here are some of the best freediving breathing techniques to use while freediving:

Equalization

One of the most crucial freediving breathing techniques, and one that you will be using a lot, is equalization. Equalization clears the water pressure from your sinuses and ears and is essential for safe freediving.

There are a few ways to equalize, the most common being the Valsalva and Frenzel maneuvers.

To do the valsalva manoeuvre:

  • Pinch your nose shut with your thumb and first 2 fingers
  • Try and exhale through your nose
  • You should feel the pressure release in your ears

To do the Frenzel manoeuvre:

  • Pinch your nose shut as previously specified
  • Keep your mouth closed
  • Close the epiglottis (the flap at the back of your throat)
  • Position your tongue to the roof of your mouth and use it to push air upwards into your sinuses

The Frenzel maneuver is generally considered to be more effective but can be harder to master. It is worth learning, though, as it can make a big difference to your freediving.

Pre-Dive Breathing Technique

Often referred to as the pre-dive breath up, this breathing technique is used to help you take in more oxygen before a freediving session. It also has the added benefit of helping to calm your nerves and relax your body.

To do this exercise:

  • Sit or lay comfortably
  • Inhale deeply, expanding your stomach and then chest
  • Hold this breath for the count of 2
  • Exhale slowly until all the air is released
  • Repeat this no more than 3 times
  • On your final inhale, fill your lungs and stomach with air to a comfortable position (do not overfill)

Recovery Freedive Breathing Techniques

Once you have resurfaced from the pool or open water, you must do recovery breathing. We need to do this to help rid our bodies of the carbon dioxide that has built up and to replenish the oxygen in our system. Remember not to hyperventilate, as this can cause you to black out.

To do this exercise:

  • Hold onto something such as the side of the pool, float, or your buddy/instructor
  • Exhale a little air
  • Take a quick breath in through your mouth
  • Exhale slowly, again only releasing a small amount of air
  • Repeat for as long as you require – for at least 30 seconds
  • It doesn’t matter how deep you swam or how long; always do some recovery breathing after a freedive.

Freediving Breathing FAQS

Q: Can I use freediving breathing techniques while diving with scuba gear?

A: When scuba diving, you benefit from a breathing apparatus, so there is no need to use freediving breathing techniques. It is also important to note that you do not need a snorkel for freediving.

Q: I have asthma. Can I freedive?

A: While there is no definite answer, and it really depends on the severity of your asthma, in general, it is not recommended. This is because freediving can put a lot of strain on your lungs, and if you have asthma, you can be at risk of an attack. If you are determined to freedive, speak to your doctor first and get clearance.

Q: How long does it take to increase your breath hold time?

A: This really varies from person to person and depends on several factors, such as age, fitness, and genetics. In general, it can take weeks to see any sort of progress. This is why perseverance, dedication, and regular practice are so important when it comes to freediving breathing techniques.

Q: Is there a limit to how long I can hold my breath?

A: The world record for breath hold is 24 minutes, but this doesn’t mean that everyone has the potential to hold their breath for this long. In general, most trained freedivers can hold their breath for up to 5 minutes.

If you want to increase your breath hold time, starting slowly and building up gradually is important. Remember to always freedive with a buddy, and never push yourself too far. Safety should always be your number one priority.

Final Thoughts on Freediving Breathing Exercises and Techniques

When it comes to freediving, breathing is just as important as anything else. By using the correct breathing techniques and exercises, you can help to increase your breath hold time, allowing you to freedive for longer and deeper.

Remember to always start slowly and never push yourself too far. Freediving is a fantastic sport, but it is essential always to put safety first. If ever in doubt, please always seek professional freediving instruction.

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