How to: breathe up & fill your lungs

In freediving air intake, consumption and efficiency are key factors in reaching longer breath holds in both dynamic as static performances. Although you might think that the more air intake you do will equal a longer breath hold, this is only partly true. There are a lot of other variables in play which make it a specialism to master as a freediver. Consider the difference between a dynamic and a static freedive on the level of aerobe or an-aerobe. Or even simpler, consider the difference in a dynamic pool freedive and a dynamic depth performance. In this article the focus is on the air intake.

Air intake
One of the variables that make a difference – in any type of freediving – is the air intake and how comfortable you are with the ammount of air in your lungs. I am not even discussing the difference in lung volume different freedivers have. I’ll dissect the air intake into three topics:

  • Optimizing air intake
  • Comfortable vs. Packed
  • Increasing lung volume (advanced techniques)


Optimizing air intake
Optimizing the way you execute your air intake is where you want to start when you’re new to freediving (or the way you’re breathing up now isn’t working out properly). With a freediving course you will be taught the basic skills for a good breathe up, which in generel comes down to the following:

Before you start:

  1. Relax
  2. Put your first hand on your chest
  3. Put the second hand on you stomache, just underneath the rib-cage

Inhaling (5 seconds):

  1. Try and imagine that all air will go to your stomache area first
  2. Start inhaling and notice that your 2nd hand (lower lung area) is moving and the 1st hand (Top lung area) is not
  3. At the point where you can’t fill the lower area of your lungs, start filling the top part, check this by noticing your 1st hand now start moving outwards
  4. As an extra you could look up and grasp the last bit of air in your mouth and close it.

Hold the air for 5 – 10 seconds and start with the exhaling

Exhaling (15 seconds):

  1. After the short hold, slowly release the air from the top part of your lungs
  2. When the top part slowly empties out, continue by gently pushing the air out with your abdominal muscles by tensioning them just a bit
  3. Release the tension in your abdominal muscles and let the last bits of air slip out through your mouth

This basic guide to a good breathe up is generally used in the 2 minutes before you start the freediving discipline. Not only will this improve your breathing over time, it will be a real help in getting your body in a relaxed mode. Ultimately it will help lower your heart

Comfortable vs. Packed
what_is_freediving_2Choosing the ammount of air intake is a specialism, as there are no real guidelines or specific tables. It’s because every freediver is different in it’s approach, lung volume and tactics. It depends on how you deal with comfortable air intake levels and not so comfortable levels. Plus the fact that when you start out with freediving, your lungs aren’t used to larger amounts of air residing in your lungs for breath holds. I’ll describe two examples that apply to my own experience with freediving.

My first example of a situation where comfort might help you is with a static. Although you want all the air in the world to reside in your lungs for a majestic world record breaking time, but you’re most probably feeling like a michelin puppet whilst doing so. In this case you can consider to take a bit less air for a static performance, in a way that you feel the most comfortable until the contractions start. In my own experience this has proven to be a good way of post-poning the contractions period with a minute, sometimes even up to 5 minutes without contractions. Where as I would do a few packs – I’ll discuss Packing later – to top up the total air intake and start the contraction period already on 2,5 minutes. For me comfortable levels play a large part in how I’m able to cope with the rest of my static. For other types of freedivers, this could be just the opposite. Packing all the air they can, brings them to their ultimate way of increasing a breath hold time.

Where you do want more air intake is in the depth disciplines, as in this kind of freediving your air gets compressed bigtime on your way down. At 10 meters it’ll be 50%, at 20m – 33%, etc. So having more air will help you in being able to equalize to a deeper stage without having to use advanced techniques like a mouth-fill. Even though you might want to push a lot of air into your lungs for a deep dive, please consider how well your lungs are suited for this. I’m a freediver that hasn’t done a whole lot of packing throughout my freediving journey, which in turn means that I should not over-pack my lungs just to reach that deep spot. I’ll do a few to be sure I got my lungs filled to 100%, which still enables me to reach about 40 meters using basic equalizing techniques. Where I know of freedivers who can descend to about 70+ meters on basic equalizing, which in turn I would like to be able to do ๐Ÿ˜‰

Increasing lung volume (Advanced)
Lung volume can increase over time, but you should not be to eager with taking big steps to increase it. This should be a process of gradually trying to optimize your air intake, by letting you and your body get used to the larger amounts of air residing in the lungs using the basic breathe up technique. When I started out with freediving my total lung capacity was about 5,5 liters, now after a good 5 years of freediving my capacity is up to 7 liters, without the use of packing ยป that would take me to 8 liters or maybe more, but I haven’t ever really tried that.

Packing (advanced technique)
Although very effective in increasing the air in your lungs, it is a technique which is considered advanced. Packing is the art of pushing more air into your lungs than you would normally be able to do. Packing is also referred to as carping, because the movement made with jaw and cheek resemble the way carp’s grasp for air. These days it’s regularly used by competitive freedivers all over the world, but still requires a lot of practice and getting used to. As I’m not a regular packer, I will not go into full detail about pro’s and con’s for improving lung capacity.

8 thoughts on “How to: breathe up & fill your lungs”

  1. Just been reading the breath up technique section. Just one question, I spearfish so how do i adapt this breath up before i dive. Can it be performed face down with a snorkel? Or is this done with head out of the water and no snorkel. ?

  2. Hello @Dan ,

    Thank you for your question. Yes, you can easily adapt to it by breathing up through your snorkel. Although you have take note that the airflow will be slightly reduced due to the somewhat more narrow tube you’re breathing through.

    Whilst freediving for depth I only breath up though my snorkel and this works out just fine for me and my fellow freedivers.

    In general it’s good to focus and prepare for any dive, this really helps for that.

  3. thanks I’ve been diving for ages but no one has ever told me how taught me about the hole breathing thing

  4. thanks man. I’ve been diving for ages but to one has taught me how to breathe properly

  5. Hi,
    can learning to free dive significantly improve your air consumption while scuba diving?

    1. Absolutely! Besides getting a better physical body (blood improvement, lung optimization, etc), you can also improve on spacial awareness, streamlining, overall relaxation, which all help tremendously in reducing air consumption while scuba diving.

  6. What i dont get is the breathing technique are you surposed to practice that breathing technique before u go for a dive or through out the day or cruse around the water breathing normal then do it before u dive ?

    1. It’s used before you breathe up for a dive or performance. You could practice this way of preparation to get comfortable with it, when you want to use it to prepare for a dive/performance.

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