How To Hold Your Breath Longer... or Not

Magician David Blaine shares how he held his breath underwater for 17 minutes. You'd be crazy to try replicating his feat, but you can learn a thing or two about holding your breath longer underwater for your next pool party.

Photo by seanmcgrath.

Update: As many readers have pointed out, you probably should not follow Blaine and Wired's advice on this one. You may win yourself a breath-holding contest, but you also may be gambling with your life. We'd suggest sticking with the tried and true strategy of breathing in and out, regularly, for a very, very long time.

Wired pulls out the key tips from Blaine's TED talk (embedded below). If you want to hold your breath for a longer period of time, Blaine suggests starting by hyperventilating. Here's why:

The buildup of CO2 in your lungs can get just as painful as the lack of oxygen. Purge as much as you can before you begin. Repeatedly exhale and inhale. Hard. Imagine you're trying to blow a toy sailboat away from you.

This also has the potential to be very dangerous; see update below.

Note: You don't (and shouldn't) literally make yourself hyperventilate, but the basic idea - blowing out and sucking in a few times before you try holding your breath - is the nugget of the tip.

Update: Many, many readers have written in to highlight that taking Blaine's method to heart - even if you're not aiming at any records - could be potentially deadly. Reader and lifeguard instructor, water safety trainer, and swimming coach Joseph writes in to say:

The physiological response to hyperventilating does allow a person to holding their breath to feel less pain. The body does not feel the pain associated with the urge to breathe not because of a lack of oxygen(O2) but rather an excess buildup of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). By hyperventilating you are dramatically lowering the level of CO2 in the body delaying the body's stimulation to breathe. The problem occurs because the O2 levels in the blood stream typically do not increase with hyperventilation. A person practicing this may never feel an urge to breathe before their O2 levels are below the point to maintain consciousness. They will pass out underwater and it is only a matter of moments before their body relaxes and attempts to begin breathing normally. If they are not pulled out of the water they will intake water into their lungs and will be in the fast lane to death.

Many aquatic facilities are banning repetitive and competitive breath holding due to the increased risk. View it as like banning running on the pool deck, wet concrete floors very easily cause bad falls when people are running except this can kill as compared to a hospital trip.

You can read more about this here.

Hold Your Breath for a Really Long Time [Wired]


    This kind of activity is highly dangerous and could result in deaths. It should never be encouraged. You should remove this from your site immediately.

    This one one of the most deadly things any swimmer can do.

    Encouraging this is highly stupid.

    Listen to codepadawan

    In a nutshell: Hyperventilating reduces the amount of CO2 in your bloodstream, High CO2 levels cause the breathing reflex. By hyperventilating you can lower CO2 levels to such a degree that you have too little oxygen in your blood to sustain consciousness and you pass out without feeling the urge to breathe.

    Read these two sites:

    The second site also ward of another, secondary danger: Tetany, involuntary contraction of muscles due to low calcium levels in the blood.

    not only is this dangerous, it has killed people. such as a friend and fellow student of mine in high school 15 years ago. this is old news and you shouldn't do it. ever.

    Whoa, I concur that this should be removed IMMEDIATELY, or at least a big fat caveat stuck before the first para.

    I'm a trained recreational scuba diver, and this is the first no no you learn. Basically while you're sitting there thinking you're the breath holding champ of the world, you will pass out. in the same way you never remember falling asleep you will be not be aware you are about to pass out, and subsequently drown.

    Really, nobody try this.

      Yup, this is one hack that could easily brick the device... For the fatalistic amongst us, if you’re going to try it, don’t try it in the water..

    I agree - this is dangerous - and I would like to vote that we take down the entire internet to keep people safe - as well as burning all the books in the libraries and putting all persons with any dangerous knowledge that they could share on secluded island.

      Dangerous knowledge should not be forbidden but, labeling dangerous knowledge as a useful trick without mentioning the danger is irresponsible.

        Most of the useful information, when used by morons, is dangerous - maybe there should be some form of IQ test needed before people are allowed access?

    As far as I can tell, this 'hack' is about as smart as saying "If you want to get where you're going faster, drive really really fast".

    Lifehacker is about finding ways to do things that are easier and may be short cuts - I'm not encouraging this action by any means, but this is an article (now) labelled with warnings through out. Lifehacker should not be censored but probably should warn people more clearly of risks associated with their advice in the first instance of posting, even the current warnings are explicited enough, labelled Updates - they should be "WARNING:" instead.

    He beat Guybrush Threedwood

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