How To Hold Your Breath Longer

| posted on September 06, 2011

Mark Healey takes enough beatings to know that staying calm in the maelstrom is the key to conserving oxygen. Photo: Noyle

Although the vast majority of surfers will never suffer a two- to three-wave hold down or stare down a 20-footer, we’ve all felt a sense of panic as we scramble to the surface. Needless to say, we could all benefit from learning to hold our breath longer. To keep your lungs inflated, we talked to Mark Healey, a man who credits his lung capacity to saving his life on more than one occasion.

“Before you start to train, keep in mind that you’ll always hold your breath longer if you’re not being timed. That’s how much of it is purely mental.”

“For me, I’ll either go for a run or get on a stationary bike and get to a pace where my heart’s going and I’m getting a workout and then start my Breath Hold Tables. Basically, I’ll hold my breath for 30 seconds, breathe for 1 minute, and then hold my breath for 30 seconds, and then breathe for 1 minute. I repeat that for half and hour.”

“I pass out holding my breath all the time. When you’re training, you want to make sure you’re in a safe, controlled environment. You don’t want to black out, fall down, and get hurt.”

“The rules for holding your breath while you’re freediving are the polar opposite to holding your breath while you’re taking a beating. In diving, you want to relax and get calm. In surfing, if you’re taking a beating, you’re already stressed and expending a lot of energy.”

“You need to go to your happy spot to calm yourself when you’re getting worked. That helps.”

“You can start to get better at holding your breath within a single day.”

“My best static breath hold is pretty crap. I think it’s about 5:30.”

“I’ve definitely felt the benefit of all the practice. Had I not trained to hold my breath longer, it could have gone the other way with me a whole lot of times.”

*When you’re practicing holding your breath, please do it in a safe, controlled environment under professional supervision. Or better yet, take a freediving class.

  • bones

    guys, this is one dangerous and irresponsible blog post. sorry but seriously, if you want to learn to hold your breath, take a freediving course. NUMBER ONE RULE is… Never freedive or hold your breath in the water alone! RIP Jay Moriarty.

  • Steve-O

    How is this irresponsible? It says “When you’re training, you want to make sure you’re in a safe, controlled environment. You don’t want to black out, fall down, and get hurt.” I thought it was cool.

  • Jeff

    Yeah, I second bones’ comment. I don’t really think it’s smart to make yourself pass out while “training”, even if you are sitting on the couch.

  • bones

    steve-O – i understand where you’re coming from but… i’m a surfer & a professional freediving instructor and it chills me to hear someone like mark being allowed to write this stuff to millions of impressionable groms out there.

    You should not be passing out holding your breath for training or any other reasons. Also – the number one thing not mentioned anywhere in this article is DO NOT DO THIS IN THE POOL! You will not “fall down and get hurt”, you will just kill yourself. To suggest that falling down and bumping yourself is the main danger is completely insane.

    Also, mark writing that 5’30” static is “pretty crap” means that people will be trying to hold their breath up to/past there. 5’30” is not “crap” it is a decent long breath hold for a professional athlete who has been properly trained, like mark.

    Surfermag, you really need to add a warning to this article or pull it. This is the single most irresponsible thing you have ever published.

  • JP Spain

    Totally agree with bones’ comments. Whe he says 5:30 is “pretty crap” and “I pass out all the time”, I understood this guy is out of his mind…

  • jeff

    totally stupidly irresponsible… We have enough trouble pulling out half dead little surfer mag groms without encouraging them to drown themselves with this bs..seriously!

  • Cbrody

    what a bunch of pussy comments… Healey is a f’in animal and obviously most mortals wont be attempting any of the nutso things he does… surfer mag is not our mother and responsibility has nothing to do with anything here… know your limitations and be responsible for yourself… 5:30 IS crap compared to fish… which is what Mark thinks he is… Im so goddamn sick of the whining little bitches who want to control everything anyone ELSE says… groms have moms to make them pussies, and need heroes to make them men.

    @old farts above: You say irresponsible, I say inspirational. God made fear to keep us safe. Darwin takes care of the rest.

  • Bill

    Healey is right on ! I could hold up to 3:45 and it saved me during a really
    heavy holddown at Cloudbreak, covering several hundred yards. When you dedicate yourself to the practice of increasing your holds, you’ll be astonished how rapidly your times increase. Within a week, you can bring it up :45 seconds. I hold my breath at red lights, tv commercials, lines at the grocery store, anywhere. Healey…is one of today’s most articulate watermen. Thanks for illuminating this hugely beneficial habit for surfers

    • Bubbles in the bathtub

      I hold my breath when I fart. I can’t breathe out and in at the same time.

  • linjinshan

    i just want to say …enjoy it ………..

  • bones

    surfermag – thanks guys, good call on the warning.

    @cbrody pussy comments! haha! rather be a tiger in the water and a pussy on the internet than the other way round 🙂 seriously, no disrespect to mark, he is heavy for sure, the article just needed a warning note. plenty of people die freediving every year through simple ignorance, no need to add to that number.

  • Jasin

    I was once challenged to a breath holding contest at Law Street. I held my breath and all the air came out my ass!

  • Cbrody

    @bones, seems they added the warning after your comments but before mine… anyhow, I can see how you would have such opinion if you had witnessed death of those overstepping their limits.
    It just seems so obvious to me — yes, free diving is dangerous, does anyone really need a warning from surfer mag to know that? — it just seems in this ongoing pussification of the nation people have come to expect a warning sign on every freekin thing that might give us a hangnail or splinter… I guess I should really just blame the lawyers, but I always pegged our surf culture as one that reveled in the freedom and, yes, the bit of danger associated with the water.

  • drew

    5:30 is crap?
    mark thinks he’s cool for saying that.

    ahh i surfed 30 ft teahupoo…got held under for 3 waves…total of about 5 minutes…and i almost didn’t make it…just dissapointed that i couldn’t stay down there longer for about 4 or 5 waves…

  • Kodiak

    Bones, lighten up……

  • Brendon


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  • be

    BULLSHIT!! 5.20 IS CRAP!!!???




    i can hold my breath for a week, in waves of magma!! its pretty crap i pass out all the time.

    im so hot!!

    and awesome,

    • bam

      awesome waste of time mate… and screen space to go with it.

      Congratulations to you! You are a grade A c**t

      no points for guessing…

    • shermenz

      LoL That was an awesome comment

  • Rachel

    These warnings will help save lives. As an aquatics professional, I see far too many swimmers die from dangerous breath-holding practices, training, contests and games. This is called Shallow Water Blackout and occurs when a swimmer passes out underwater from oxygen deprivation as a result of competitive, repetitive, or prolonged breath-holding. Underwater swimming, hypoxic training, and repetitive breath-holding are extremely dangerous. These activities can deplete oxygen levels and if a swimmer resists the discomforting urge to breath, pushing past their limits, they can pass out underwater and drown. This is a little known phenomenon, but a worldwide epidemic. If breath-holding is going to be practiced, people must be aware of the risks. A safe, controlled environment and professional supervision are vital. Taking a freediving class is also an excellent suggestion.

    • Bob Pratt

      It’s not the breath-holding that is the problem, it is hyperventilating before the breath-hold. This drives your CO2 down without affecting O2 as time passes your O2 falls too low and you pass out before your CO@ level rises enough to cause an urge to breath.

  • Dill Weed

    Doing the exercise bike thing: increase heart rate, hold breath 30 seconds, breath 60(seconds) , then repeat. All of the opinions & comments from the peanut gallery make me wanna puke. Thanks for the helping me improve my breath holding skills. It’s working great.

  • Steve-V

    The secret to holding your breath has nothing to do with your lung volume. The average human holds enough oxygen in his or her lungs to last for 5 minutes without breathing. It’s really, not remarkable.

    Of course, what makes holding out that long difficult is the fact that we are designed to breath. It’s an involuntary response. It takes a significant amount of concentration to hold your breath. It’s just a matter of will. That sensation you get when you’ve held your breath for 30 seconds is not your body crying out for air, it’s your body desperately wanting to exhale.

    I find it difficult to believe anybody is holding their breath to the point of passing out. If that’s the case, you’re causing brain damage,

    Free divers practice two important things. The first is remaining calm and not giving in to the initial panic, the second things they practice is efficiency. Unnecessary movements waste oxygen.

    • JonDConde

      Look up US Air Force para rescue training mate. Lots of kids passing out trying to complete their underwater swimming test.

  • jagam myra
  • killer

    cowabonga doodes

  • komingbali

    not sure about passing out..but def holding ur breath training helps. My legrope snapped a few months ago surfing in not too big bali 6 foot (measured back of wave). but there were sets of like 4-6 waves. after losing my board, i was held in impact zone with strong current pulling me out to sea. not good. and i was surfing alone. i started paddling but got caught under wave after wave and made mistake, (first time in my life – and i have surfed 10 foot ulus before), i apparently began hyperventilating. so each time i came up i failed to exhale properly (thanks for ur good advice on exhaling) and becos i was breathing too much and not relaxing (leg rope snapped and being held under and strong rip) , i suddenly couldnt feel my legs. they turned to “jelly”. it wasnt cramp. spoke to some doctors later they said it was my body shutting down. anyhow “no legs” and still not half way to beach. luckily becos i been surfing bali for over 20 yrs i had jus enough upper body strength and literally i used my last ounce of energy to paddle to the beach and collapsed there couldnt move for 40 mins..(where the lifeguard was holding my board asking “r u ok mate?”..haha…apparently he didnt bother coming to save me cos he saw i could surf and was apparently paddling back). that was only time i thought i nearly died. no joke. and i was shocked cos i surfed way bigger waves before in ulus and medewi and kirra. so jus wanna say good advice on the need to train to hold ur breath, keep calm, and never underestimate the ocean…..and remember change get a new legrope once a year! dont make the mistake surfing with old legrope in bigger waves.

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  • jahlz

    what is this article?? looks like you just took a couple of quotes and slapped em up. no technique and only one pretty intense exercise.
    i found this while looking for strategies to help my grom hold her breath longer while she’s surfing and also for junior guards. this offered nothing and like bones said, dangerous at best.

  • skendo

    Yeah I use the same technique as Mark, toke the bong, hold it for 30 seconds rest for one minute then repeat and whoa blow me down if I havn’t passed out using this method too!! Always use the safety of the couch to avoid serious………what are we talking about?

  • Marc

    This is SO completely irresponsible. I hope none of you reading this go and try to hold your breath till you pass out. Or try to do it for 5 minutes. I cant believe this article hasn’t been removed. Surfer Mag?? WTF?! Please educate yourself before trying anything like this

    • Sandy

      I won’ t be trying this. I have lifeguards near me. So I would be pulled out if I blacked out.

  • Ryan Mungvain

    People are so freaking sensitive, Let the man say his peace. Irresponsible you say, add a warning? Freedom of speech is my answer to all that! Grow a pair of balls and yea try to outdo his 5:30, and if you’re stupid enough to pass out in a pool alone then thats called survival of the fittest. America is turning into a bunch of pussies.