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    How To Hold Your Breath Longer: Breath Hold Overview

    October 16, 2020 5 min read

    spearfishing underwater breath hold


    When it comes to becoming a spearo, one of the most important skills you have to learn in spearfishing is breath holding. Because the longer you can hold your breath underwater, the higher your chances of coming across the perfect fish to spear. 

    In this blog, we're going to cover breath hold diving. But before you continue reading, stop for a moment and try this quick breath holding exercise:


    Step 1: Hold your breath as long as you can until you feel a bit uncomfortable and then breath again. It doesn't matter how long you can hold—10 seconds, or 30 seconds, or a minute that’s okay.

    Step 2: Give yourself two to three minutes rest, then take another breath. Hold your breath but don’t force yourself to breath hold more than you can as this can cause you to blackout.

    Step 3: Lastly, in this final breath hold, pay attention to when you get the urge to breathe what is happening to your body? What do you feel? Are there any contractions going on?

    When we hold our breath, the oxygen is being used up and converted into carbon dioxide (CO2). Now it's the carbon dioxide, the byproduct of your breathing and exercise that gives you the contractions and the urge to breathe. Your body is not low in oxygen, but it's high in carbon dioxide. With carbon dioxide high, your body goes into a different mode. It tries to get as much out of the oxygen as it possibly can. So it does a few things. And we call this the mammalian dive reflex.

    Mammalian Dive Reflex

    Mammalian Dive Reflex is a diving response consisting of a set of reflexes that are activated when we hold our breath. This unique diving reflex enables our body to manage and tolerate a lower level of oxygen. All our aquatic mammals have this on as their usual situation, but humans don't. Most people are struggling already when they hold their breath within 15 seconds. So let's cover the mammalian dive reflex and see what it entails.

    Heart rate reduction 

    The first thing about this dive reflex is the urge to breathe. This is brought by the high carbon dioxide in your body. This is your body's effort to stay alive. The reflex will tell you to breathe. And to some degree, we have to work against or around that, to be able to extend our breath holds. The second thing that the dive reflex involves is that it slows your heart rate down, known as bradycardia. Normally, you may have a heart rate of 60bpm up. During mammalian dive reflex, the human heart rate slows down 10%, 30% and up to 50% in more trained individuals. Thus, a good dive reflex is going to give you longer breath holds.

    Splenic contraction

    Another action that happens during mammalian dive reflex is located in the spleen where hemoglobin-rich red core parcels are injected into the bloodstream. This is called splenic contraction. Normally, the spleen acts as a reservoir for large volumes of blood which are circulated through it. During mammalian dive reflex, the spleen will contract and subsequently release blood into the circulatory system. The additional volume of blood that enters the body as a result of the splenic contraction will increase the amount of oxygen available to the system. A diver that's trained a long time can get a huge injection. And this means a much longer breath hold. Average or untrained individuals, on the other hand, cannot get that immediate strong breath holds because they don’t have enough hemoglobin in the blood to carry oxygen. Hemoglobin is a protein in our red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

    Peripheral vasoconstriction

    Another thing that happens during dive reflex is the restriction of blood to the extremities including your fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms, and then legs. Capillaries in these extremities begin to constrict and restrict blood flow to send blood to the vital organs. These include the heart, lungs, and brain which all significantly need higher amounts of oxygen than other peripheral organs.


    Now, when you're training, you're training to get this kicked in. So you can get the most out of your breath hold. One common question is, “How to increase your breath hold?” What does a long breath hold mean? It means more time underneath, more terrain you can explore, more time to encourage the fish to swim up to you. A good long and safe breath hold is what we want. So how do we do this? The way it's been done for many years is you just go diving. Keep diving and you just keep your body in the position where it is being used underwater while holding your breath. Over time, you will develop a good dive reflex.

    However, this can take years. It's a long-term process if you only use diving as a way to increase your breath hold. So another thing you can do it is to train in the pool. However, when you bring freediving and training for spearfishing into the pool, you may encounter a lot of safety concerns. Why? Because you think because you can see the bottom and the sides and that, and you have no waves, there's no current, you think you're safe. And so you tend to push. And if you're not training with a responsible trainer who knows what to do, you can possibly get into trouble when you’re in the actual setup.


    People have died in the pool because they pushed too hard, they just went unconscious. You can level up your training a little bit through increasing the distance you're getting used to working with low oxygen. If you start decreasing the recovery time or tolerating the actions of CO2 on your body, this will result in increased breath hold. However, when you’re training, you must be disciplined. You'll probably hear someone say, "Well, I'm better now because I blacked out." But this is not a healthy viewpoint. You've got to take it and learn that a blackout is a failure. If you ever have a blackout, you've got a lot of stuff that you can use to help you never have blackout again. Never train to the point of blackouts as a usual thing.

    Aside from all of these points, always remember to have fun because this is, after all,why you do spearfishing. Just continue practising and your hard work will produce amazing results. Soon you’ll have more time in the “kill zone” to catch the ideal fish!

    If you need additional tips and guidance on how to properly get started with spearfishing, visit theAdreno Spearfishing Blog now! You can also check out our massive range ofspearfishing gear at the lowest prices!