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held-breath swimming

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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New Member
May 11, 2004
I am REALLY new to this (check the 'posts' count :eek: ). I am not doing statics, but 'held-breath' swimming - I have access to an open-air swimming pool near my office as of beginning May through to beginning September. I have always been into swimming under water, but since I moved to Germany, it has been a real focus for a self-challenge.

In the last 3 years I made only small steps forward, but last year, just before I got a foot infection (athlete's foot?) that took 3 months to get rid of, I managed a whole 33m length. I was over the moon, because it had taken me 3 years to work up to it. But I realised that it had more to do with technique than 'fitness', and this year, on my second day, I managed a full length (time around 55 secs). Today, just 7 days later, I managed 1 and a half lengths, by NOT hyperventilating at all, and just chilling out in the water for about 30 seconds. Technique and preparation seem to be (at this stage) far more than fitness (I am NOT fit like I USED to be!).

Have always worried about 'bad' effects of 'apnea' swimming, particularly having lost a friend due to heart strain from sleep apnea. This year finally got my arse in gear, and hit Google big time, and just turned up 'deeperblue' time after time after time, so thought I would plague you guys with a 'novel' ;-)

Have a pulse monitor - was amazed to see how my heart beat dropped down to <60 bpm even after 30 metres+, in comparison to a 'full-power' surface length, where it was up to 165 bpm in less than a minute. Rest BPM is around 55 (in the office on a 'chill-out' day :) ) and blood pressure usually around 120-80 to 125-85.

Will not be doing 'proper' free-diving (Germany, at least Munich-area, has very little coastline - alTHOUGH, those mountain lakes are PRETTY deep ...), just swimming, and am interested to here other people's experiences in this area.

Have read a handful of the dolphins swimming/increase your IQ/'it can only be good for you' style articles with interest, and wonder if anyone can give examples of BAD effects of this activity?
(hope not!)

Also read that the WR for held-breath swimming without fins is 134 metres (still current?) - anyone get close to this ?!? Seems like a LOOOOONG way away from my paltry 'personal best':waterwork

Let me know of your 'beginner' attempts! (I read loads of stuff from Eric, Gabriel, etc. and am in danger of floundering in feelings of incompetence ;) ')

P.S. I think statistics mostly suck - if I did 'statistics' analysis of my local pool, then 'swimming' would result in you gaining AT LEAST 50 lbs and ageing 30-40 years plus :cool:
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The current no-fins record is 166m by Stig Severinsen of Denmark.

The most important thing to remember is to have someone watching over you, and the lifeguard doesn't count. There have been several fatalities when people relied on the lifeguard (and even told the lifeguard specifically what they were doing).

If you black out because you went past your limit, you may never come up for air, and unless you have someone watching directly over you, you could end up dead. No one will realize anything is wrong until half an hour or more has passed, when it will be too late.

That is really the main danger. As long as you have someone watching over you, and as long as you come up 'clean' (in control, no shaking), on every swim, and don't do more than perhaps 10 'max' effort breath-hold swims per session, I can't imagine any negative side effects.

Do realize that 'apnea' (breath-hold) exercise improves your performance in just that, breath-hold exercise. It can decrease your performance in cardio (breathing) exercise because the adaptations are different.

You should also educate your 'buddy' on what to do in case of a blackout. You can find the procedure in more detail elsewhere. Generally, if someone blacks out, you bring their face out of the water, take off their mask/goggles/nose clip, tap their face, blow against their face (especially their nose), and tell them over and over to breathe. If they don't resume breathing within 20-30 seconds, then you begin artificial respiration etc...

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
without a buddy ... irresponsible or what?!?

166 metres ...... sheesh ..... well, even if my lungs aren't 'ballooning' at the moment, my 'unachiever' feelings are doing just great :eek:

No, I do take this thing SERIOUSLY, and my own goals, when overcome, give me great satisfaction. But in this, I have the first problem - what you say, Eric, is totally logical, but having a 'buddy' seemss for me next to impossible, and I certainly wouldn't rely on the 65+ year old 'lifeguard' who spends most of his time gossiping with the other pensioners - all the local Germans I know from work consider pools as 'poison' (maybe this is even sensible, due to chlorine ?!?), and at the time I hit the pool (08:15-08:30), they have all been at work at least half an hour, and are fixated on leaving work early (when the pool is HEAVING).

So ... without a buddy, I hope I can practise at least _reasonably_ safely, provided I stay within recognizable limits, right? I mean, I am not really going for WRs, and when I hit the 1 and a half lengths (still not sure if that is 25 or 33 metres per length -will ask tomorrow), I didn't feel half the hassle I normally felt at 1 length - it's just that I knew I was heading into the >2 metre end, not the 1 metre end, and this freaked me a bit on my first 1 length+ swim ... so I came up. And the (TOPS!) 1:30 minutes I am under water seem like absolutely NOTHING in comparison to what most people are hitting.

It would be nice to get more feedback, since I have on the one side the feeling I am entering a danger zone, and on the other, I don't want to stop pushing those (seemingly) low limits I have at the moment.

And yes, I accept the fact that I am doing this at my own risk, and no advice I get from anyone relieves me from my own responsibilities.
My advice is to work on your underwater swimming technique. 1.5 lengths of a 33m pool is 50m. You are swimming this in 1:30, whereas it is entirely possible to swim that distance in half the time (45 seconds) and still be economical. So if you can improve your technique and still swim for 1:30 then you can double your distance. To do this you will need to lengthen the glide time, improve hydrodynamics and develop power in the kick. Look at Stig's video for a good example: 166m dynamic without fins

IMPORTANT: Don't trust your own judgement about your limits unless you've surpassed them many times. If you haven't blacked out before during a breathhold how do you know when it is going to occur?
If you must train alone then start the swim with high CO2, that way the hypercapnia (high C02) will become unbearable long before the hypoxia (low 02) causes you to black out.

To start with I would suggest doing repetitions at about 70% max (i.e. laps of 33m with about 2mins between them) and slowly decreasing recovery times.

Pleasant training, Will
Thanks for the advice, Will - I have downloaded the vid, but will have to wait until the week to view it at work (my age-old Mac has no media-player or suitable codec :( ).

Point taken about the 'how do you know what your limits are ...': I was being far too simplistic, when I think about it. A bit like the 18 year olds, who are convinced they can corner that 180 degree hairpin at 60 mph in a clapped out rust heap just because they haven't yet spun out :cool: Now kids, 58 is probably an unsafe speed too, ok? :naughty

I just kind of assumed, having fainted twice on solid ground (both due to too little sleep, not enough to eat, and ... (drum roll :duh ) ... being in a hospital with blood or needles present), that I might recognise the symptons. At least, I am 100% sure I would recognise them on land, plus I would recognise beforehand the situation in which it was going to happen. That is, having been at the birth of all 4 of my kids, where the first one resulted in SOOOO much blood, and at the last one (homebirth), my wife nearly died from haemoraghing (***** knew I couldn't spell it :eek: ), I KNOW I can take the sight of blood.

Anyway, pool is only 25 metres long (so I am swimming even slower than you thought). You say 'start with high CO2' - any recommendations how I guarantee that? (obviously, NO hyperventilating, which I now know, and thanks to this website, was able to warn my bro too, in England).

Also (and maybe this will become clear after I watch the vid), how many strokes should I need to cross 25m? I can tell how much more efficient I am underwater (11-12 compared to 18-20 on surface), and noticed a REAL different in how far I could swim underwater when I throttled back and glide more. Approx how long are you talking for each stroke? And is it like a simple breast stroke movement? (I tried the 'crawl' type of foot paddling, and this seems MEGA ineffective without fins, but maybe I'm just doing it wrong).

One last Q: I have LOONG hair. I'm not going to cut it for the sake of an extra metre or something (just too much of a rebel :cool: ), but how much of a difference do you think this makes to the hydrodynamics (obviously it's not good, but HOW 'not good'?).
I feel you with the whole hair situation. Mines not long, but it's really shaggy (i'm an american punk electric guitar player, what did you expect?) and i know i can't ever get a good seal on my mask, it pisses me off.
Some experts can cover 25m in 2 strokes (with a push off the wall). Normally it is more like 5-6 strokes.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
I tried nofins with a neckweight for the first time last night and am in the 5 strokes per 25m range. Interestingly my kick is really poor and I can do 50m more easily with just arms 12 strokes. While I get a little power from my legs it is a lot less than my arms:

Arms only 6 strokes for 25m
Legs only 12 kicks for 25m

I think the good guys get equal power from arms and legs and from watching Wal he gets as much power and glide from his legs as he does from his arms!

Even with my poor technique it is a great feeling and is more enjoyable/relaxing than my monofin

so, I finally checked out the Stig video clip .... man, that is SOMETHING! Awesome.

Andy, he also seems to get much more thrust from his arms too, when you see how fast he moves after his legs kick, and then his arms. He's doing around the 4 to 5 a length, I think, although I didn't count.

You could see from the last couple of strokes that he was going to have come up - before that, there was little difference over the first 150 metres, as far as I could see (will have another look today - can only view it at work), but it must be hard not to think that just a few more metres might not be possible, SPECIFICALLY on a WR attempt ...

Interesting that the difference between with and without fins is not so much (it seems, from the distances)

And Skarz, with the hair we have ... well, I saw from him how streamlined (with the suits, caps and everything) you can get. So I guess in that respect, we are off to a bad start :( !

But I think I like long hair too much:t
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my PB

Hey, glad to hear your enjoying yourself!
I'm pretty much a newb to this myself (definately). I've been mostly working on statics at nights because I find it helps me relaxand kind of works to help the sleeplessness, but my dynamy best is right at 25 meters, with a very awkward swim as I have virtually no glide - but now that I see what it is supposed to look like (Thanks!)
I'll work on getting that 25m with quality - I too, have no 'buddy' in the nearby area (Mike from Ohio is a great help with the statics though!) So I'm hoping some day I'll be someplace I can take a class/course, but that will be years down the road!
For safetys sake, try to have someone in the water with you, monitoring what you are doing, and how you are feeling. There have been swimmers who have died or nearly died in competitive swim training during apnea/breath hold sets. And one of the crazy things that sometimes will have happened, is that the swimmer will still be moving their body, even though they are passed out/unconcious. Only quick action by teamamtes and coaches have saved their lives.

If you want some stuff to look at in the way of active streamlining (which will allow you to slip through the water as easily as possible), check out some of the books on competitive swimming....or even better tape some of the upcoming Olympic coverage....what these athletes do to reduce drag and be more streamlined in the water is amazing.....
Thanks for the warning, Bluewave ... heard it before, but I think it's always good to keep it current, and in the foreground.

Jaster, glad to hear YOU are enjoying yourself! I think your idea of getting 25 metres WITH QUALITY is excellent, with regards to the 'without a buddy' position ... I think this is a pretty safe target, which you can still use as an improvement marker (and therefore target), without pushing yourself into the realm of 'high risk' (provided you are not overtired :naughty, hungover :duh, etc), as you might do if you simply went for longer and longer distances/time.

As for your input with regards to relaxing and sleeplessness, I can only agree ... when I come out of the swimming pool after only 45 minutes of swimming (usually a few cycles of 1 attempt at 25 to 50 metres held-breath, then 1 length relaxed, 2 lengths fair power, followed by 30/60 seconds rest, then start again), I always feel REALLY chilled out, and it sets me up for a great day, regardless of whether it is raining or sunny (despite open-air pool!). Sleeping at the end of such a day is absolutely no problem.

What I have also found on my current holiday (I live in Germany, but am English, and tend to do one 3 to 4 week holiday once a year back to Britain, but since I have 4 kids, and my wife won't fly anyway, and has no driving license (!), I do a LOT of long distance driving (3,500 miles in 18 days so far) !), is that short lengths of holding breath WHILE I AM DRIVING, REALLY help when I am feeling sleepy at the wheel. Now, this will probably be rather controversial, since the risk of blacking out at the wheel and losing control, and therefore causing severe accidents, cannot be 100% ruled out, but I feel on long distance drives, or even short distance drives where the driver is tired or sleepy, that the concentration and physical activity required during (and here is the key to safety) SHORT apnea sessions can be REALLY positive with regards to wakefulness and response times ... but I am going to start a new thread along these lines, along with answering a couple of other threads on similar subjects!

In the meantime, happy training - my personal opinion is, if you are not dead set on beating world records, ditch any ideas of buying special suits, or getting haircuts:cool: just to improve performance - after all, it is then just about improving oneself physically, and the bonus of a special suit doesn't reflect an improvement in oneself, rather, just a further (financial) investment in an attempt towards a particular goal, which, without Stig's commitment/abilities/time resources/etc, is a wasted financial 'investment'.
Great thread so far guys! I am a new apnea swimmer myself. I have been swimming competitively for around 12 years now, but apnea swimming is very new to me. My longest thus far is around 83m. I struggle with the same problems that have been voiced here... weak leg kick mainly. I preferred the butterfly and backstroke in competition and have never really worked on my breaststroke kick.

I used to love to swim the apnea with a lot of people around. It felt great to get the attention. However, recently I have noticed that my heart rate is much higher when there are a lot of people are around. I can't relax as easily because, most certainly, I am nervous... wanting to impress people. What happened was, apnea swimming went from something to impress people with to something to challenge myself with. Every day, I go to the pool with my best bud and push my limits. I take it slow first, 50m or so. Just to relax. I don't hyper-v but I do take a few good deep breaths before my hold. I do pack a bit but I am not sure if this is wasted time yet or not... I test it out a little more. One of the most beneficial techniques I have learned is to always think positively when I am swimming. I always say to myself "Ok.. this is the one, I'm going to make my goal (what ever it may be) on this attempt."

One of the things I have struggled with is keeping a clear mind... Not worrying so much about the technical aspects of my swim or how my lungs are holding up. I am best when I can just stare at the black line and keep on pushing. I think about the apnea as I do golf. There is a lot involved, but the best participants are those who don't have to think about any of it and can still do it all perfectly. I have found it works great for me if I use a sort of rhythm when I'm swimming that I repeat in my head. Ie. "Pull...1...2...3...Kick...1..2..3" This keeps my mind from wandering and keeps me focused on the swim.

I would like to ask one question for anyone who wants to respond... What do you do right before your attempts? What is your regimen right before pushing off the wall?
Hello guy's, here's my view.

Try to follow a apnea cours, you'll learn much about technique and safety. It's fun and you'll meet likeminded people to share your view with too!

Seagull, there is a freediver event in Hemmoor, Gemany the 9-10-11 of July, there wil be courses there, ~ 150 freedivers from different countries (me too :) I't on an camping and I'm sure you and your family can have a great time swimming and diving into the great and blue sweetwater lake.
Bring a suit, swimming cap (for comfort and keeping your sinuses warm), mask, fins, ein bisschen blei, tent/caravan (you can rent a room/house too) and join the party. http://www.apnoehappening.de/

A tip for large amounts of hair: the swimming cap :)
A tip for extra distance: look down instead of forward improving posture helps A LOT.
What Commonerg sais is also true, try to maintain one rhythm.

I red your doing some 'light' apnea while driving, please STOP that. It's really dangerous and you wouldn't want to endager the passengers. If you feeling tired to drive, pull over, do some streching, take a 15min nap (powernap), drink lots of water with a little lemon juice to it. The lemon makes it easyer for the body to hold the water in. Snif in the fresh air, eat some pepper mint.
But abbove al start rested with the driving.

I have a 3' minute movie on my site of mine 100m without fins, and the comments can be found somewhere down in the newssection, pointing out what went good and wrong about that dive in particular.

Save diving,

Great video Kars! The clown on the back wall is a nice touch. The only thing that was lacking was the cool music like in the stig 166m video. Congrats on 100m though.

I hope you don't mind a little constructive criticism. I noticed you have a slight asymmetrical kick. I have a similar problem as my left hip tends to pop when I kick so I sometimes revert to the improper kick. It would get you disqualified in a swim meet, but I'm not sure if it is affecting your performance any more than a negligible amount in the apnea. Have you noticed any? Maybe I'll be brave enough one day to submit a video for deeperblue approval. You have great technique and you seems to have a very efficient and powerful stroke. Thanks for letting us see the video!

I also noticed you do a lot of packing before your attempt. Can you review your pre-apnea preparation for us? I am interested because I am trying some different things to see what works best for me.

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Yes I know my legs are not synchronised. I've written my comment on the dive in the News section:

" The preparation was far from ideal when I arrived at Job’s house after cycling for 35minutes at a speed of 28KM on my, new second hand, racing bike. After a few minutes Jurgen also arrived and we speeded to the 25m pool. Job had brought along his video camera to tape my attempt. At the pool we quickly changed and I did some stretching. Job gave me 10 minutes to prepare, in a for me new method. He told me that I should hold my breath with empty lungs until the first urge to breathe, then breath out and in and out and do it again. During the breath-holds I thought of the swimming technique and the suns’ power which I collected about an hour ago. After five minutes of laying on a towel on the tiled bench practicing breath-hold I got slowly up for a last minute toilet visit. When I came back I had only three minutes left for the ‘official top’. I sat down on the edge, bending my head forward down into the water putting my cap on. As my head touched the water I felt much of the tension leaving me as I turned inside myself. I put on my 2,5KG neckweight, and got in position. I’m not used to camera’s and waved and looked in the camera with a short shy smile.

Now only one minute thirty was left, so I tried to breath easily and to relax. I came out a little late, as I packed about fifteen times and went under fifteen seconds after official top.

Hardly thirty minutes after my 16KM cycle race to Job’s home I went under and pushed myself off. This time I’ve not practiced any lane in advance, it had to be good right from the start. I usually like to swim some practice lanes to find back the right stoke and rhythm. So I swam and thought of my strokes as I went along. In the first meters I came out a bit too deep, and I had to make a broad stroke. And compensate with the legs as well. The first turning fitted nicely and I again pushed myself off. Coming in the middle of the pool where the edge of the moving floor is , I came out to deep again. I skimped on the floor loosing much speed, and rhythm. After that I floated up a bit I had again to compensate that. The 50m turn went nice again, and this time the push was better as I had more ground clearance. I felt I had swam the first two lanes to slow, so revved up the tempo. At seventyfive meters the turn was nice again and I remembered Bill’s advice not to look up, just swim. So I held the tempo and when I saw the T at the end I slowly got up. Took a few quick belly breaths and I felt ok, but kept on breathing to be sure and as a practice for the upcoming competition in Belgium.
I've done the 100m!
Funny thing is that my dynamic WITHOUT fins is now equal to my Dynamic WITH fins, that beholds a nice promise for 30 May :)*

And people as you’ll soon see on the video Job made, I’ve got a safety diver swimming along knowing exactly what to do if I would black out, please don’t try this at home! "

*30 May I indeed became Dutch Pool Champion :)
I'm not so sure about the packing nowadays, I haven't done a max without fins afther the competition in Belgium. I did not get the 100m to be official, I had my second BO ever, though a tiny one 1-2 sec. It was because I did prepaire by swimming some lanes and got really cold. So I prefer a dry preperation because of the temperture. Also I'm eating more than I want to gain some fat, 6% is too cold.. Brrr.

Dive safe,
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That is packed with information. Thanks for posting! My dynamic with fins is also very close to my dynamic without. I have a lot of trouble on the turns with the fin. I think swimming in a 50m pool will help my distance.

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It's great to get so much feedback - an active forum is such a brilliant source of information and opinions!

Anyway, I have a few more items to throw into the ring:

1. Lung capacity
I missed this earlier on in the post, somehow:

"Do realize that 'apnea' (breath-hold) exercise improves your performance in just that, breath-hold exercise. It can decrease your performance in cardio (breathing) exercise because the adaptations are different."

This seems to go against my gut feeling, that increasing lung capacity must be good for both types of activities. Is this not so? Is there also scientific evidence behind this?

2. Videos/techniques
Thanks for posting links to the 2 videos - these have been great in helping me think through and improve my own techniques. I realise I had been tensing my legs to 'keep streamlined', and particularly Kars showed how relaxed he was. As soon as I saw this, it was logical - when I used to do martial arts, this was also an important fact, since being tense (muscles working) all the time uses energy, and that is obviously not good for stamina.

I would love to see some more videos! Regardless of how 'good' the swimmer is, even of people who 'only' achieve 25 or 50 metres - in fact, particularly these would be good to see the differences, to see how much is perhaps fitness/adaptation, and how much is technique.

By the way, anyone want to tell me what the music on Stig's video is? Way cool ...

3. Apnea during driving
Kars, I understand what you are trying to say. I wasn't really very specific, unfortunately. I am talking about breath holds of around 1 to 1 1/2 mins. I do not believe this is even beginning to be dangerous, when I know I can hold my breath for 3 mins plus.

Your advice about power naps, stretching, etc. - essentially good advice, but I find these do not help for more than short periods, and the constant stopping then extends the driving even more, increasing overall driving time. I did this on my first ever 500+ drive, and it was a NIGHTMARE how long it took.

My experiences during 4,500 miles of driving: most important, like Kars says, drive rested. But also, don't drive when you would normally be sleeping. I am confident now, that I could easily drive 1,000 miles in a day without even getting close to falling asleep at the wheel, when I follow these rules. Arm rests also help take all the stress out of driving. But short breath holds got me through a few times at the end of drives where I broke the second rule.

4. Packing
Ok, now I know what packing is, and both Kars and Stig are packing 12/13 times. I followed some of the Deeper Blue links to other sites, and realised I had already tried it, just didn't know the name. I pack about 8 times before I start feeling uncomfortable, when I stop. BUT, it doesn't seem to make any difference in when I feel the need to come up (this is CO2 concentration, right? And this would not be affected by packing, right?). So what's the deal ... ? Does it REALLY help or not?!?

5. The urge to breath
Simply put, when do you guys start getting this?!? It hits me already after 20 metres. And if you are just pushing yourselves through it, how do you know when it's time to stop pushing? Like, how did Stig/Kars know it was time to come up? Is this because they have both BOed or samba'd often enough, that they can feel it coming?

Ok, enough for this post (although I've got more questions on heart rates, for example)! Keep the good stuff coming!
I pack because I think I've got more air within me, thus more O2.
It's also needed to counter the 2,5KG neckweight ;)

My first urge to breath came at 40m.

I'm not so good in determining when I have to stop my attempt, but I'm learning. One important thing I've discoverd is that in the end, on should focus on feelings instead of the perfect stroke and rhythm. This wrong focus has given me my Samba's/ and my 2 BO's. I was also surpriced by the effect of being intence cold befor the start. Therefor I now choose to prepair on land.

Freediving to me is learning to feel, and obay to your body.

On Lung capasity, I think that overal leanness(?) is essential. A good vital lung capacity is handy to be able to ventilate efficient.

Love and Peace,
ok, call me slow ... but I only just realised that those 'sausages' around your necks (you and Stig) are neck weights ... :duh ... I assume you bought those, right? where from? And how do you know what weight to buy? And how MUCH of a difference do they make? ... oh, question overload .. sorry ...

By the way, Kars, I tried the swimming cap ... DISASTER!!!! I just have too much hair. I mean, even if I was prepared to accept that it doesn't matter that I look like a TOTAL wazzock :eek: with one on, it didn't seem to help much - no noticeable difference in glide, and it didn't even keep my hair dry :( and that WAS a major bummer, because washing, brushing and drying my hair is SUCH a pain in the a..e. Am seriously considering doing a Stig and shaving it all off ...
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