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Dry Apnea Blackout --- really!

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New Member
Aug 21, 2001
Hi Guys,

I just had a bad experience, and I'd like some advice.

I was just practicing dry apnea in my livingroom (it has been a slow night). I started by breathing up for 2 minutes, holding for 20 contractions (twice), breathing up for 3 minutes, holding for 20 contractions, breathing up for 5 minutes, and holding for as long as possible. <----- I got this from an Erik Y post

That part went fine, I got to 4 minutes, which is good for me.

Then I did one extra hold, but followed the Eric Fattah routine of fast diaphragm breathing for 4 minutes, and then packed my lungs.

I was doing well and feeling good right through 4 minutes when the contractions started. The rest is my wife's account, and I will try to get it exact:

"Around 5 minutes, you made a farting noise with your lips, relaxed for 10 seconds, and then flopped around like a [deleted expletive] fish for about 10 seconds, relaxed, and flopped around again, and then relaxed for 10 seconds again. Then you jumped up in your chair, sucked in air, and hit the stopwatch. Why are you so [same expletive] stupid?"

The stopwatch said 5:40, which is way beyond what I can do. I felt perfectly fine, though, after two or three breaths, until I discovered that I wet my pants -- and the chair.

My question is this: What happened? I didn't think blackouts could happen so easily without a pressure change as occurs with SWB. Has anyone had a similar experience? I doubt I pushed myself any harder than other people on this forum do.

Frightening thing is this: I felt fine right up to the blackout, and there was no warning at all.
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You OK?

I think that you have just answered snorkelbums question about blacking out.

From what I have read, you experience was not that unusual. Wetting yourself, convulsions, etc are all a part of the physical manifestations of what you attempted. I bet this experience has affected you psychologically as well.

With all the training that I do, this is one area that I have a fair amount of anxiety with. And is probably why I won't try for anything regarding static breath holds - this $*#! scares me...

I have nothing to prove in that arena and to be honest, I think the truest form of the sport is the constant ballast form of the sport.

My training is actually to allow me to freedive and photograph others while doing the sport for magazine and stock photo's.

I will still need to use a tank where necessary, but I truly feel (personally) that to photograph freedivers, one should freedive as well.

As a last comment - to all of the great participents in Deeperblue's Freediving Forum, please be careful. It would sadden us to hear that someone would never be able to discuss with us again.
Surface Blackout

Hey buddy, I know that that was a scary experience, but I would look at it as a learning experience....now you have a line in the sand. I have had similar experiences, and they were all after any sort of fast breathing or quick-purge breathing. If you breath up properly, nice and relaxed, then you should not need more than 3 to 10 quick purge-breaths to clear out CO2. As you know, quick breathing only removes CO2, it doesn't give you extra O2, so you allowed your body to be fooled by the extremely low CO2 levels. Eric Fattah is a world record holder who knows what's going on in his body to an extreme level of awareness , and he knows exactly what he can get away with in the way of hypoxia and hypocapnia due to that awareness and years of hard-core practice and explicit observation.

If I due any amount of fast breathing, I get tingles, warm fuzzies, narrowed perception, and blackout if I'm not careful, right at the beginning, due to low CO2 and high O2 levels. I'm learning where my line in the sand is, too.

Good luck with your next try, and be careful. Many divers have sambas and blackouts, and there is no evidence that it affects them adversely, but there may be the remote possibility that you could vomit during blackout, so consider sitting up or laying on your side if your concerned about that.
Cheers amigo,
Erik Young
ps, I think this brings up the question of "How far am I going to take this?" for all of us.
Wow! Hope you're feeling okay.

I have an idea as to what might have happened.

When you're doing dry statics and you're doing your "regular" breathe-up with mild purges (if any) and short recovery time, by the end of your breath-hold your blood becomes fairly acidic as O2 gets exchanged for CO2. The acidic blood sends the urge to breathe impulse to your diaphram, not "CO2 building up in your lungs" as if commonly thought. But it also does something nice. With acidic blood, our hemoglobin releases O2 molecules to the brain much more easily. This is called the Bohr effect. So as you proceed with the breath-hold, into contraction land, in theory, the blood is giving up its oxygen to the brain and other tissues more efficiently. As an example of the Bohr effect in action, take Martin Stepanek's world record. He had his first contraction just after the 4-minute mark and held on for another 4 minutes. There's a lot more going on there to help him make the 8 minutes, but he did no hyperventilation (as is evident by how early he got the contraction).

The fire-breathing method of hyperventilation can make a breath hold more comfortable but it doesn't do much in the way of extending your actual capability. It delays contractions (I've done a breath-hold where my first contraction was at 5:12) but then contractions come fast and furious and then it's difficult (for me) to hold my breath beyond 10-12 contractions (I stopped at 5:30 on that same breath-hold). It's also dangerous to do so (as you found out). With hyperventilation, you make your blood highly alkaline (low CO2). At the end of a breath-hold, when your brain needs O2 the most, the blood is too alkaline, too "sticky" to release oxygen properly to the brain and so you black out. So in effect it is possible to black out when you blood still has plenty of oxygen in it.

I've heard of a samba from this technique with dry static. This fire-breathing technique is very risky for wet static and has some interesting and unnerving complications when you combine it with a mild mammalian diving reflex (massive tingling, buzzing of your limbs, trembling) which can make a clean recovery difficult.

Unfortunately, the road to good static apnea lies mostly in the realm of relaxing, being in excellent physical shape, learning "your' technique of getting through the breath-hold and experience. By the way, if some of your are pushing yourselves to 20 plus contractions several breath holds in a row, remember that your blood will be choked with free radicals, so load up on anti-oxidants right after (from fruits and other sources). I guess it all depends on how you like to train, but I think there are other ways to achieve a decent static performance in the pool (with a spotter!) than from a diet of 100 contractions a day.

I think there's still a long way to go as far as the best way to go for static apnea training... I'm still learning.

Safe diving,

Peter Scott
Vancouver, BC

I look forward to meeting you in two weeks. And congrats on your PB at Kirk's clinic.

Will you have time to come out for some fun diving after the comp?

Great info

Erik and Laminar,

Wow! Thanks for the great info. I'm feeling fine, and thanks for asking.

The physical symptoms from rapid breathing you described are spot on. I felt tingling in my lips, face, feet, arms and hands. I expected it to subside as the breathhold progressed, but it didn't. I also believe that my arms trembled a bit, but that occurred around the time I was checking out of reality.

Thanks for the advice and the support. I really appreciate your effort in posting your replies.

Originally posted by laminar

I look forward to meeting you in two weeks. And congrats on your PB at Kirk's clinic.

Will you have time to come out for some fun diving after the comp?

Thanks Peter, I am looking forward to meeting you and all the other divers that I read about all the time. Maybe my amount of posts on this forum will tell you that there is no freediving community up here! I did a little clinic here a couple of months ago, and I'm going to do another one in October, to try and generate some interest (and dive buddies). After Kirk's clinic, I have more information to show people, especially safety protocol. I will be arriving in Van on the 7th, Kirk said I could sleep on his floor, and I would love to stay for some fun after the comp. I haven't booked my flights yet; are you talking about diving on Monday the 10th ? If so, I will stay the extra day. Any chance anybody could pick me up at the airport?Cheers,
Erik Y.

I think I have to work on Monday but maybe I'll call in sick. I know that Kirk won't be around that weekend (I think) because he's judging a world record in Spain (Karoline Dal Toe, I believe) but Mandy will be around. I don't have a car to pick you up. Sorry. :( If for some reason staying at Kirk's doesn't work out, there's room at my place.

Even if I don't get off work for Monday (maybe for the afternoon?), I know Tom, Lukas, and possibly others will be game for some recreational freediving at Porteau or Ansell Point. If you want to stay, I suggest flying out late at night or even the next morning because we like to stay in the water for hours and hours.

There always diving after the constant ballast day, too, if the conditions are great, it's a shame to "waste" the day with too much competition. :t

see you soon,


That sounds great Peter, I will see you then. I'll book my flight back for Monday night, just in case.
Erik Y. (The reason I sign my last name and initial is because of all the Erics and Eriks in Freedive Canada)
mr gattaca:

i side with Cliff on this one. i'm not a fan of static apnea, land or sea. i think people should take a look at the bigger picture of what's actually going on in these situations.

i think Erik and Laminar have a great idea of what's going on chemically, but what about psychologically? the human body reacts to everything you do to it in order to protect itself. i'm keeping this in the most general sense possible, by the way. but, think of what your mind goes through when you're practicing static apnea. unless you're into meditation or preoccupation, your mind is going to continuously think about what you are doing and the consequences that will incur if you don't breath. it seems like something's bound to happen; warning or not.

i spearfish. i never try to hit a certain depth so i can chalk it up on my wall or tell my friends. i go where i need to go... where the fish are. when i train in the pool, i'm trying to mimic spearfishing as much as possible. i'm either writing on a slate, singing a song in my head, or listening to a walkman(yes it works). anything to keep my mind in a frame of preoccupation. just like hunting fish. my mind's always focused on something besides holding my breath.

i've never had a problem, and i think my training is sufficient for what i do. all these dangers definitely make you respect people like Yasemin and Eric and how succesfully they are at pushing their bodies.


Your raise a really good point about the "psychology" of static apnea, and well, why not consider deep diving, too. I much prefer deep diving. It is a wonderful feeling to be saturated with 02 at depth and to come out from the blackness into the light (Freud would have a field day with freedivers!). I would also add our emotional state to the equation.

For static apnea, the biggest challenge for me is to enjoy the breath hold for the longest amount of time possible. With deep diving on a line, breath-holding takes a back seat (at least on the way down) to diving technique, equalizing, relaxation, monitoring your "vitals," and general body awareness of the water. I don't typically pay attention to the fact that I'm "holding my breath," it's more along the lines of "how do I feel" and how do my lungs feel?" In static, I try to remove my thoughts from "time" and move them to relaxation, the feeling of floating on the water, the sounds of muffled voices, watches beeping, the thrum of the pool filtration system, and the sensations my body is having. That's where it can be kind of neat, trying to expand your awareness during the breath hold. If I try to wilfully forget what I'm doing, it doesn't work for me. Better to embrace the experience than to deny it.
Anyway, when the contractions start to come on, you get a rude awakening if you've tried to put yourself somewhere else. Wet statics are much more pleasant to me than dry because it is a different experience. It's a water experience, limited, but unique. At least that's what I try to tell myself when I'm training for it! :duh I have had statics over 5 minutes where I've come up smiling because it felt so good and others where it was a struggle from the first second. Psychology is HUGE for static. I would call it a technique.

Even after saying all this, I much prefer to freedive in the ocean than do statics in a pool. I think, too, that after a certain point in your development as a freediver, static training ceases to yield the returns in performance for diving that it does when you are just starting out. At that point you are interested in maintaining CO2 tolerance and the psychological habit of being able to resist and endure contractions. The deepest dive in any category takes no more than 3 minutes or so. If you're doing constant ballast, free immersion, or no-limits, then you have a lot more things to worry about than holding your breath!

Vancouver, BC

i'm so respectful of this sport that i'm reluctant to deepen my dives w/o proper training/instruction. my buddies and i are trying to hunt down kirk's next class. i'm due for a thorough exam from an ENT. and i'm overdue on learning the freznel.

i'm up for the deep, don't get me wrong, i just want to be prepared. i've been in school for the past 3&1/2 years and have snuck away countless weekends to get into the water. i've had no time to train so i've never pushed myself. i'm still ignorant on a bunch of stuff you guys are talking about. i'm yet to understand contractions, and i've never timed my breath-holds anywhere.

i remember when my uncle first took me to John Pennecamp in the Florida Keys. i was 8 and my mom kept pulling me out of the water because i was scaring her too much. she couldn't understand how i could stay under for so long. i've always been so comfortable under the surface, so i really see potential in myself. i just want to make sure i'm going down the right road as far as proper technique and instruction go. i've been to 27m so far but have had very little bottom time. and, i never realized how deep i was because of the preoccupation with the grouper i was following.

thanks for the words,


Sounds like you have the right idea. Although Kirk and Brett's clinic has a "performance" freediving bias, the most important part of the clinic is the safety he teaches. I would recommend it for that alone. I think that's the best way to develop as a freediver. When you're aware of the risks, know how to minimize them, but are also prepared for the worst, then you can decide if you want to push yourself or be a excellent recreational freediver. (or both)

I'd say this experience is strong support for my idea that individuals have a greater or lesser propensity to black out from apnea. If I were you, I'd be SUPER careful underwater, pal. Enjoy.


I, like most people in this forum, disagree with your theory.

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