With five gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, American swimmer Caeleb Dressel has been the talk of the event. His success is not a flash in the pan. Dressel already showed great promise in 2016 with two gold medals and his breath holding technique.

Every breath counts!

Dressel is a sprint swimmer that specializes in freestyle and butterfly sprint events. For sprinters, every breath counts – but not for the reason you think. Every time you take a breath, there is a chance to breathe sub-optimally. As a sprint is over before you know it, there are not a lot of breaths to take, one mishap means game over.

Athletes and coaches have been focusing on breathing techniques in the last decade. Many of them are already familiar with breathing less – opting to breathe every three strokes instead of five to reduce inspiratory muscle fatigue. Caeleb Dressel prefers to not breathe at all for the last 25 yards – and does a voluntary breath hold instead.

Photo by JD Lasica

Why breathing more is not always better

According to Dr. Mitch Lomax, a leading researcher on inspiratory muscle fatigue, breathing less is a toss-up for competitive swimmers. Each breath can possibly disrupt the stroke mechanics. On the other hand, muscles require oxygen to function optimally. Holding the breath completely requires the body to become tolerant to the build-up of CO2 in the bloodstream. It’s not the lack of oxygen, but the increase of carbon dioxide that drives the urge to breathe.

Holding your breath during heavy physical activity is a double challenge as the muscles are using oxygen while there is no fresh supply. It’s for this reason that not all swimmers employ breath holding – as in the worst situation, you experience a blackout and in the water, this can be fatal.

It’s also a test of mental strength – as holding your breath is hardest at the end of the sprint where the discomfort and fatigue is the highest.

Photo by Casper Tybjerg

Improving your CO2 tolerance

The great thing is that breath holding can be trained without even getting your feet wet. Even if you are not looking to become an Olympic champion, breath hold training offers many advantages for daily life:

  • Reduce stress and lower your heart rate
  • Increase your mental toughness – and make better decisions under pressure
  • Make your body and mind more resilient – and boost your immune system
  • Improve athletic performance as your body becomes more CO2 tolerant

The 7-Day Breath Hold Challenge

Explore your own true breath holding potential.

Learn how you can increase the amount of time you can hold your breath and why holding your breath is a great way to start the day – and kick-start your body.

Stig Severinsen - 4x freediving world champion and Guinness World record holder in breath holding - will share some of his best tips to double your breath hold times!

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