One of the biggest factors in what you can do while diving is the amount of air you can hold. Different people use air at different rates – some people have low consumption normally but have it shoot up when they’re exercising while others tend to consume air at a steady rate regardless of their activities. Whatever your body’s like, you’ll need the air in the first place.
To help with that, here’s our guide on how to hold your breath longer. Alas, there’s no way to learn how to breathe underwater without tools, but you can learn to dive for minutes on a single breath.
Getting Ready To Hold Your Breath
The human body doesn’t want to breathe in – not in the way most people think it does. When you feel the urge to breathe, it’s actually caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide in your body. The first step in learning how to hold your breath for a long time is ignoring your body’s urge to breathe.
On average, most people can hold their breath for up to one minute without significant difficulty, then another minute while their body starts trying to do it involuntarily. The time you can hold your breath goes up if your lungs are healthy and down if they’ve been damaged by factors like smoking. Certain activities, like singing or playing instruments, can also help improve your lung capacity.
The important thing to understand is that improving your skill at holding your breath takes time. You can’t learn one breathing technique and jump from a 60-second dive to a four-minute dive overnight. Instead, you’ll need to focus on slowly building your lung capacity until it’s as high as you can reasonably achieve.
When you’re ready to begin, completely relax your body by sitting in a comfortable position for several minutes. Don’t play games or watch television – you shouldn’t feel pressured or excited when you’re doing this. After you’ve relaxed, breathe in for five seconds. Chances are you’ll feel a little lightheaded. Wait for that to pass, then exhale as slowly as you inhaled.
Wait until your body signals that it wants air, then repeat the steps above. Do this five times. Over time, your body will get used to these signals, and you’ll be able to go longer and longer without a physical reaction forcing you to breathe.
Holding Your Breath In The Water
Once you’ve practiced up on land, it’s time to take the plunge and work on how to hold your breath longer while underwater. But first, a safety note: Never do this on your own. You should always have a partner who’s trained to recognize the signs of trouble and rescue you if need be.
For the first part of serious development, get into the water with your partner beside you. Face the ceiling, floating horizontally, and relax. Take several slow, deep breaths, then a single large breath. At this point, your partner should rotate you so your face is underwater and begin to time you.
Your goal is to relax as much as possible. Don’t try to fight or force things – just exist as calmly and patiently as you can. Every ten seconds or so, your partner should tap you and look for an agreed symbol, like waving a finger to indicate you’re still fine. If you don’t give the signal, they should roll you back up.
When you finally need air again, don’t inhale quickly. Instead, you should take a series of short breaths. If your lips turn blue at this point, that’s okay. It’s normal in sports like freediving and not a sign anything is wrong with your attempts to learn how to hold breath longer than before.
Keep your grip on the side of the pool until you’ve completely regained your normal heart rate. While you’re doing this, your partner should write down your time. When you’re completely returned to normal, go for another round, and repeat until you’re done for the day.
As you continue practicing this on a regular basis, you’ll get more and more used to the feeling of excess carbon dioxide and how to manage it with no breathing.
Training For Dives
Now that you’ve improved your lung capacity, it’s time to start working on the rest of your body. The biggest difference between diving and breath training is that you’ll be actively burning your oxygen, not just letting your body process it at a comfortable rate. To improve any further, you’ll need to do anaerobic training.
As explained by Breaking Muscle, anaerobic exercise is doing short, high-intensity exercise that doesn’t allow much in the way of oxygen. You physically can’t do it for very long, but it’s exactly the sort of thing you’ll be doing underwater.
Fair warning: This isn’t an easy form of exercise. It’s not a fun program, and there may be times when you seriously regret ever starting. That said, if you can stick with it, anaerobic exercise is one of the best ways of boosting your ability to dive. When you’re used to intensive, low-oxygen situations, you’ll be able to push past your previous limits and become capable of diving, not just holding your breath underwater.
Aim for at least three anaerobic exercise sessions per week, and don’t forget to maintain your body. You’ll be putting a lot of stress on it with these exercises, after all. Techniques like ice, heat, deep massages, and – of course – proper stretching can help you get the results you’re looking for without putting the rest of your body at risk.
Like all forms of exercise, it helps if you have a partner who can motivate you to stick with it. We really can’t overstate how hard anaerobic exercise can be, especially at the start. Still, it’s a vital component of becoming an outstanding diver.
Going Further Down
Once you’re well into anaerobic exercising, you should be capable of diving much deeper than you ever expected. Part of this is biological. Humans aren’t naturally aquatic, but we benefit from a special trait known as the Mammalian Diving Reflex.
This special condition overrides our normal unconscious reactions and helps us survive for much longer than many people realize is possible. The short version is that our body recognizes that we’re underwater and adjusts itself accordingly, allowing it to focus on using intrinsic oxygen instead of trying to breathe.
At this point, diving is more mental than physical. People have gone underwater for more than ten minutes and come up safely, although this usually doesn’t include swimming around and burning oxygen up faster. Instead, it represents an improved lung capacity and deliberate activation of the body’s diving reflexes.
With the proper training, you can do it, even if your body doesn’t recognize this right away. The more you practice, the more you’ll know about what you can safely tolerate. Don’t try to push yourself too quickly, though. Oxygen deprivation can cause serious medical problems, so it’s better to take things slow and steady as you learn how to hold your breath longer.
Safely Returning To The Surface
Up to this point, we’ve been focused on diving – but you’re only halfway done when you get to the bottom of your dive. One thing many people forget is the need to train for returning to the surface when they’re low on oxygen.
When it’s about time to return, you’ll notice contractions in your throat and diaphragm. Contrary to what some people believe, these are not a sign of a serious problem. Don’t panic when you feel these. Instead, make a deliberate effort to remain relaxed as you move back towards the surface.
The biggest danger here is known as a shallow water blackout. This condition occurs if you start panicking as you return to the surface. When that happens, your heart rate will shoot up and your remaining oxygen will be rapidly consumed, leading to a loss of consciousness. This can be fatal if you don’t have a partner around to rescue you.
Many people find that it helps to focus on other topics as they ascend, such as doing math problems. By occupying your mind and moving steadily towards your goal, you can avoid the risk of a blackout. When you finally surface, don’t immediately gasp for oxygen.
Wait for a moment – because you’re in control, not desperate for air – and take a short breath that you immediately exhale. Take another quick breath in and hold it for a few seconds, then exhale again. Continue to breathe slowly and deliberately until your body has fully returned to its normal breathing rate.
Under no circumstances should you dive again until your body has returned to normal. It needs time to replenish the oxygen you burned, so relax with a flotation device or climb back into a boat until you’re ready to go down again.
Congratulations! You’ve finally reached the point where you can do your deepest free dive. From here, it’s just a matter of continuing to improve yourself and aiming to go just a little deeper each time.