How To Improve Underwater Breathing

In 2012 a German freediver, Tom Sietas, broke the previous world record by holding his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds. Whether you are planning to break Tom’s record or just want to improve your personal best time, we have some tips to help train your lungs.

Before we begin, it is important to note that safety is the most important aspect of any aquatic activity. Always make sure there is a lifeguard or adult supervisor on duty while you swim or hone your underwater skills. Do not push yourself beyond your limits.

There first technique that we would like to explore starts outside of water. This method involves training your body to hold breath longer by expanding your lung capacity and improving your ability to regulate breathing.

Begin by slowly exhaling from the diaphragm to fully exhale all air stored in the body.  Next take some time to breath in, hold the breath for a second, and then slowly breathe out for about 10 seconds.

Breathing deeply stores excess oxygen in blood cells which will help maintain bodily functions while underwater. You may further regulate the release of air by pressing your tongue against the back of your teeth in order to form a valve for better control as you exhale.

How To Improve Underwater Breathing

Purging carbon dioxide, CO2, from the lungs makes holding your breath less painful.  In order to do this, forcefully exhale as if blowing up a balloon with your cheeks puffed. After completely exhaling, quickly inhale while remaining as still as possible so as not to burn any of the stored oxygen. Repeat this step several times.

In order to train your body, take a practice run. Grab a stop watch or your phone and try to hold your breath for a minute or a little longer if you are experienced. Don’t try to hold a full breath. Holding a giant breath of air will make you feel tense and increase pressure.

The goal of this part of the exercise is to adapt your body. Try to relax. After the time is up, exhale and then take 3 full breaths to restore your oxygen cache in the blood cells.

Gradually increase the length of time. It is recommended to repeat deep breathing and purging a few times, then stepping up the hold time to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. After that exercise, take a couple of minutes to breathe deeply and then purge the CO2 as we previously discussed.

As an optional step, splash some cold water on your face before attempting the longest hold. This triggers bradycardia, an instinctual reflex that slows the heart rate prior to a dive. Make sure the water is cool or cold but not freezing, and try to keep your body relaxed during this process.

Now it’s time to break your personal record. Only inhale to about 80% of your total breathing capacity. Remain as still and as relaxed as possible. Try to divert your attention by counting or repeating the alphabet in your head.

Avoid holding air in your cheeks unless you have developed an intermediate technique of storing additional air reserves and switching them known as “circular breathing”. Limit yourself to maxing out your breathing only once a day.

Now you’re ready to keep improving until you beat the record. Let us know how you did.

Jason Allen Goss is a guest blogger for