Survival Fitness Plan Blog/Legacy Posts/Breath Hold Training - Learn to Swim 50+ Meters Underwater: Part 1

Breath Hold Training - Learn to Swim 50+ Meters Underwater: Part 1

Learn to hold your breath for 5+ minutes underwater with this step-by-step breath hold training

How long can you hold your breath?

The average human can hold their breath for about 2 minutes.

With this breath hold training, you will be able to do it for 5+ minutes.

This training focuses on how to hold your breath longer underwater. In the Survival Fitness Plan, you combine it with an efficient swimming stroke. Your aim is to swim 50+ meters underwater.

Breath Hold Training Introduction

This post is stages 1, 2, and 3 of long-distance underwater swimming training. It will teach you how to hold your breath longer. Start with increasing your current breath holding ability. You then advance to static apnea training. Static apnea training is what free-divers use to increase their lung capacity.

Underwater Swimming Safety Tips

Important! Breath holding training is dangerous! Read, understand, and follow the following safety guidelines.

  • ​Train with a partner, and not at the same time. Your friend must watch you so he can help if something goes wrong. If you must train alone, then at the very least make sure there is a lifeguard present.
  • ​Stay in shallow water, especially to begin with.
  • ​Never push yourself to beat your last time or distance. Only hold your breath for as much as comfortable. Trying to beat yourself will have an adverse effect anyway. You're much better off staying relaxed and seeing where you “pop-up”.
  • ​If you begin to panic at any moment, relax and surface.
  • ​Listen to your body. If you get light headed, your vision begins to fade, or you get any other abnormal sensation, swim to the surface immediately.
  • ​Work on your lung capacity on dry land and concentrate more on efficient stroke when you’re in the water.

Stage 1 - Dry Land Breath Holding

Practice holding your breath for longer periods of time while on dry land.

In the Survival Fitness Plan, we use minimal preparation for breath holding. This is so you know how far you can get in emergency situations. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, then go.

Take these breaths slowly from deep within your diaphragm. This is to rid your lungs of low-quality air (CO2).

Tip: You know you’re using correct breathing if your belly is moving up and down rather than your shoulders. When your chest and shoulders move it means you’re breathing with only the top part of your lungs. This deep breathing is also useful for recovery after a workout.

Here are more detailed instructions for the inhale, exhale, inhale, sequence.

Whilst doing the following, relax your muscles and remain as still and as calm as possible. This includes not “clock watching” which will make you anxious. The more relaxed and still you are, the less oxygen your body will consume.

  • ​Breathe in for a count of 5 seconds, hold it for 1 second, then breathe out for a count of 10 seconds.
  • ​When exhaling, push out every last drop of air, and push your tongue up against your teeth. This forms a valve which helps to control the release of air. Your breath should make a hissing sound as you exhale.
  • ​Inhale slowly to about 80-85% capacity. Start at the bottom near your diaphragm, then up into your sternum, and finally into your chest.
  • ​Hold your breath for as long as you can, and when you first start to feel the need to breathe, swallow a little spit. This helps to relax your breathing reflex.
  • ​When you need to breathe out, let out little puffs of air at a time.
  • ​When you're finished, push out as much air as possible to get rid of any extra carbon dioxide.

Don’t try this sequence again until you get your body back to normal oxygen levels. Breathe steadily for at least 5 minutes and don’t do it more than 3 times in a single session. Only do one session a day.

After a few practice sessions try adding in slow movements, such as walking. This will prepare your body to dive and swim with less air.

Stage 2 - Static Underwater Breath Holding

Stage two is the same as stage one, but underwater. The point of this stage is to get you comfortable holding your breath underwater.

Inhale, exhale fully, inhale to 80% capacity, then hold and submerge.

Keep your mouth and nose closed while underwater. Use your fingers to hold your nose shut if you need.

Stay relaxed, and once you are near your limit, resurface. Blow out any extra air as you rise so that you can take a fresh breath immediately.

Stage 3 - Static Apnea Training

In this stage, you will use static apnea training. This conditions your lungs and body to withstand the effects of prolonged breath-holding.

This stage is ongoing. You can move on to stage 4 while doing it.

IMPORTANT: This is a dry land activity. DO NOT try it underwater!

There are two separate programs for static apnea training. One conditions your CO2 tolerance. The other increases the amount of oxygen your lungs can store.

Each program has its own training table. The recovery stage is when you can breathe — breath normal for the allocated time. During the breath hold stage, hold your breath for the allocated time.

Only start O2 tolerance training once you can hold your breath for at least 90 seconds.

You can do both CO2 and O2 sessions on the same day, but do not do them immediately after one another. Do one in the morning and one at night.

Do not do more than one training session of each per day.

CO2 Tolerance

CO2 tolerance training consists of a series of alternating breath-holds and rest periods. Your breathing time gets less and less while your breath holding stays the same.

Start off with a breath-hold period that you’re comfortable with. 50-70% of your capability is good. Add 5 or 10 seconds each day.

This table represents one training session, i.e., you recover and breath hold 8 times. Use the same breath hold time for each one. In your next training session (the following day), you increase your breath hold time by 5 or 10 seconds.

CO2 Tolerance Table for Breath Holding
CO2 Tolerance Table

O2 Tolerance

In O2 tolerance training, your recovery period stays the same. Instead, you increase your breath holding.

Only start O2 tolerance training once you can hold your breath for at least 90 seconds.

This table represents one training session.

O2 Tolerance Table for Breath Holding
O2 Tolerance Table

Additional Ways to Increase your Breath Holding Ability

There are some other things you can do to increase your breath holding ability:

  • ​Exercise often.
  • ​Lose weight (if you are overweight).
  • ​Learn to play a wind or brass instrument.
  • ​Take up singing.
  • ​Don’t do drugs, especially smoking!

Body Response Information

Important! This is for informational purposes. DO NOT practice/experiment with it.

When you hold your breath for an extended period of time your body goes through three response stages.

  • Convulsions. When you first get an urge to take a breath and you don’t, you will have convulsions in your diaphragm. You can learn to fight through this, and if you do then you will gain a couple of minutes before you need to breathe.
  • Spleen Release. If you fight through the convulsions your spleen responds by releasing oxygen-rich blood. Your body will calm down and you will get a surge of energy. Use this energy to get somewhere that you can breathe!
  • ​Blackout. If you do not find fresh oxygen you will black out, and if you are underwater at the time you will drown.

Breath Hold Training Conclusion

Make no mistake, breath hold training is dangerous. If you are going to do it, follow the safety guidelines!

That being said, if you want to be able to swim underwater for 50+ meters, then this training is a must. But please do not push yourself, especially in the water. Follow the progression in this article, training first on land.

When you are ready, move onto stages 4 and 5 of this training. These last 2 stages will teach you an efficient underwater swimming stroke.

Did you find this article on breath hold training useful? If so, please share it with your friends.

Article by Sam Fury

Sam Fury 3 png
Sam Fury 3 png

Sam Fury is the creator and owner of the Survival Fitness Plan.

He has had a passion for martial arts and outdoor pursuits since he was a young boy growing up in Australia.

As a young adult he joined the military and studied outdoor leadership in college. After that, to further his skills, Sam started traveling to learn from the best in the world in various fields related to the Survival Fitness Plan including various martial arts in China, SE Asia and Brazil, Parkour in Singapore, Surf Life Saving in Australia, and others. 

These days, he still enjoys learning new things, traveling and sharing what he has learned via the Survival Fitness Plan. 

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