As a kid, did you ever have a contest with your friends to see how long you could hold your breath underwater? Did you ever wish you could hold it longer? Most people think they can only hold their breath for about 30 seconds, but it’s pretty easy to use simple techniques and get your hold up to well over a minute (or even up to three minutes)!

My friend, Zac Cohn, recently completed a weekend long course on free diving and he had some great tips to offer on increasing the length of your breath hold.

Discover Your Baseline

Zac suggests starting by just holding your breath and timing yourself to discover your baseline hold. Just do whatever you would normally do when preparing to swim underwater and time it. Do a hold right now, without reading any further.

My first hold was about 30 seconds long. Zac started out hitting 20-25 seconds before his training.

It’s (Mostly) All in Your Mind

Zac argues that breath holding is only 15% about your technique and at least 85% mental. Preparation and relaxation are key. Keep that in mind as you go through the steps below – for example, I tried to do this at a party (when I was not relaxed and prepared) and it definitely did not work.

The Five Phases of a Proper Hold

1) Calming breathing

This phase is designed to slow your heart rate (and therefore reduce your consumption of oxygen). 

  • Inhale for two seconds, hold it for two seconds, exhale for ten seconds, hold for two seconds.
  • Repeat for up to 5 minutes. You don’t HAVE to complete this phase, but it helps extend your hold time.

2) Purging

When you’re ready to go for it, start purging. This is basically controlled hyperventilation.

  • Inhale for one second, then inhale again for four seconds. (Total length of inhalation should be about three to five seconds.)

This phase is designed to purge all of the CO2 out of your lungs. The burning sensation you felt earlier, like you were running out of air? That had nothing to do with running out of oxygen, that was just your lungs saying “there sure is a lot of CO2 in here!” You still had MINUTES of oxygen in your body.

3) Normal Breathing

Once you’ve purged, take one or two normal, slow, “I’m just walking down the street” breaths. This is your last chance to stay calm, because now it’s time for…

4) Peak Inhale

This is the big kahuna!!

  • Place your hand on your belly, near the belly button, then take a BIG breath in. This should be the biggest breath that you can take.

Check yourself!

Did your stomach flex and suck in? If so, you’re like pretty much everyone and breathing wrong. When you breath correctly, your lungs are expanding, so you want to make as much room for them as possible.

  • Think about pushing your stomach “out” and “down,” then think about breathing into the bottom of your lungs. This is where 50% of your lung capacity resides.
  • After your lower lungs are full, switch to your chest. Breath higher, expand your rib cage, think about breathing into your ribs and back and chest. (This is the next 30% of your lung capacity).
  • Then lift your shoulders and breath into your upper lungs (15% of your lung capacity).
  • Finally, tilt your head up and breath into your esophagus, packing your throat with air (5% of your lung capacity).
  • You should feel mildly uncomfortable, like there’s a big balloon inside of you. If you can’t figure out the last two, no big deal – you’re still at 80% of your total lung capacity.
  • Now… Relax. Close your eyes, relax your muscles, and just go blank. You might feel a tightening in your chest… Ignore it. You still have minutes of air. You might get contractions of your diaphragm, like really uncomfortable hiccups. Or you might start making gulping or swallowing actions. Ignore them, ride it out. Some people get euphoric, or tingling, or numbness. Stay calm, push on.

When you finally break, you’ll probably exhale whatever is left, and then it is VERY important you go into…

5) Recovery Breathing!

This is very simple, but will prevent you from blacking out, which is embarrassing.

  • Inhale for one second, then exhale for one second. Repeat this six times.


In this photo is the world record holder, who held his breath underwater for over 22 minutes!

Use a Timer and Practice

And that’s pretty much it! If you want, set a timer and practice adding time incrementally. Start with 1:30, then two minutes, then 2:30, then three minutes. Your spleen kicks into overdrive during breath holds and hyper oxygenates your blood (this is basically legal doping), which actually makes subsequent holds easier. If you get 1:30 the first time, then try again, you’re likely to hit two minutes or more.

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