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October 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 33, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Breathing Exercises For Longer Dive Time

from the October, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Last April, we reported a study about divers doing certain breathing exercises for 30 minutes daily that increased their dive time by 66 percent and decreased their underwater breathing frequency by 23 percent. Many readers, tired of burning through tanks too fast, asked us to describe those exercises, but unfortunately they can’t be replicated at home. “We tested them on a specially built machine, but it’s not available for purchase,” lead researcher Claes E.G. Lundgren told Undercurrent. “And if you try to breathe as intensively for 30 minutes while sitting at home, you’ll just get very dizzy.”

But there are simple ways to expand your breathing capacity. First, you must change the entire way you breathe, says Michael Grant White, founder of the Optimal Breathing School in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a diver. “Most people inhale only using their chest muscles, which wastes a lot of the oxygen. You need to breathe with your whole body.”

Breathing with your belly and strengthening your diaphragm are key, he told Undercurrent.“You must train your diaphragm to push more air out on the exhale, otherwise you won’t inhale the needed volume of air into your lungs. Your belly must expand on exhalation and relax during inhalation so the diaphragm can move downward with less force and less energy expenditure.” This will help you breath slower too and pump blood more efficiently.

One of White’s exercises to build up the diaphragm is the “Squeeze and Breathe.” Sit up straight near the edge of a hard chair with feet flat on the floor. Relax your jaw and stomach. Place your thumbs over your kidneys and wrap your fingers around your sides toward your belly button as if you were getting a grip on your love handles. Squeeze fingers and thumbs together gently but firmly. Then inhale through your nose in a deep three-second breath, using the force to widen your fingers and thumbs against their attempt to stay tensely closed. Then relax your grip and, keeping your belly stomach relaxed, slow down your exhale so it lasts seven seconds. Gradually work up to 20 counts of a three-count inhalation and a seven-count exhalation.

You can also turn to Dennis Lewis’s Tao of Natural Breathing, a book with diaphragm-building exercises. But forget breathing machines, with names like PowerLung and SportsBreathe. Experts say they’re no good for building up the diaphragm. And pumping iron won’t do the trick. “Bodybuilding actually restricts lung capacity because it builds up the external muscles around the diaphragm, giving it less room to expand,” says White.

A few minutes a day building up deep-diaphragm breathing can increase underwater time by minutes. White says divers have it better than land-based athletes. “Because most of a diver’s exertion is done in a gravity-free environment, he can have greater lung capacity than a Mr. Universe.”

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