The benefits of Breath Holds
Is it good to hold your breath?

In most people’s minds breath holding is synonymous with dysfunctional breathing. Despite its reputation the benefits of voluntary breath holds are far reaching and can be one of the most useful exercises one can familiarise himself with in breathwork.


Athletic Performance

Does holding your breath make you stronger?

Breath Holding will increase tension in the body for 2 reasons:

Increase Mid-section Stability

Even short breath holds will prevent or minimise the movement of the diaphragm. As a result into-abdominal pressure will stay constant and your mid-section (core) will be stable. This will be benefit many strength related movement that involves the core.

Whether you you hold your breath at the end of the inhalation or exhalation also matters. While there are a few different variations in breathing – ab engagement techniques, 2 most popular ones are: 

• Abdominal Drawing In Maneuverer (ADIM), with the breath held on the exhalation and the navel being pulled in

• Valsalva Maneuverer (VM), with the breath held on the inhalation and a slight brace of the external abdominals.

The VM creates higher intra-abdominal pressure than the ADIM.

Increase Adrenaline

When breath holds are held for prolonged periods (~ 80% of our max capacity) they will increase adrenaline, which will also positively impact strength.


Does holding breath increase stamina?

Breath Holds (BHs) don’t increase stamina directly. However they can benefit endurance athletes both prior to race as well as long term.

BHs, when performed in a specific way can bring the body in hypoxia. In hypoxia, the body releases some of its reserves of red blood cells from the spleen, providing higher capacity to transport oxygen to the muscles. For that reason, practicing BHs prior to a race would be beneficial.

BHs, practiced regularly, as part of breathwork training, will improve tolerance to carbon dioxide and thus help an athlete, breathe more efficiently at different Heart Rate zones.


Health Benefits

Why does holding your breath clear your nose?

BHs lead to the increase of CO2 and Nitric Oxide in the nasal cavity. Both gasses have a vasodilatory effect helping the airways to open. The longer the BHs the bigger the build up, which is why the easiest way of unblocking your nose is by holding your breath while walking for up to 80% of your max capacity, 7-10 times.


How can I strengthen my lungs? 

While the lungs cannot directly be strengthened, when individuals have “weak lungs” their breath is often taxed. To breathe effortlessly, one needs to improve 2 things:

• their tolerance to CO2 at different Heart Rate zones.

their breathing biomechanics (ie. their posture).


What are the benefits of breath holding in Yoga?

In the yoga tradition breath hold was referred to as Kumbhaka. While kumbhaka is often practiced during pranayama it can also be utilised during an asana practice to increase concentration, mid section stability, slowing down of HR, restoring of the regular breathing pattern. The role of breath in yoga is complex yet when the principles of healthy respiratory function (which include breath holds) are incorporated in a traditional yoga practice its benefits are amplified.


The benefits of breath holds in Wim Hof Method?

During the Wim Hof Breathing, breath holds increase easily due to the hyperventilation phase. This effect erroneous is perceived by many as a proof that their respiratory capacity has improved. One key effect of breath holds after hyperventilation is the significant increase of Nitric Oxide, while the observed increase of adrenaline for 2 hours following the WH Breathing is also likely be to associated with the breath holds.



Does holding breath lower blood pressure?

Short breath holds can a. activate baroreflex receptors which result in drop of Heart Rate. b. activate the parasympathetic part of the nervous system which will often manifest in an increase of Heart Rate Variability. While these are the most effect through which BHs will benefit cardiovascular health they are not the only ones. Improving of sleep quality, maintaining health levels of Nitric Oxide, and CO2 (through breath holds) will also contribute to a healthy blood pressure.



Is it better to hold your breath after inhaling or exhaling?

Holding your breath after an inhalation or an exhalation can has a similar effect. If your goal is the utilisation of Nitric Oxide it might be easier when starting out to breathe hold after an exhalation.


Why does holding your breath feel good?

Breath holds both by increasing adrenaline and causing hypoxia, which increases serotonin levels [ref], can make us feel good. To achieve that outcome often regular practice is required and the ability to control the intensity of the breath hold.

It is worth pointing out that serotonin has a bilateral relationship with breathing & breath holds as increase in brain serotonin corrects CO2 chemosensitivity [ref].


Why is it unhealthy to hold your breath?

Voluntary breath holds require caution for specific demographics including: individuals with cardiovascular problems, blood sugar regulation issues, pregnant women, those with neurological conditions. The reason for that is the disruption of the blood circulation and the ‘dysregulation’ of blood sugar.

For all the above groups, breath holds can still be safe when supervised.


Did Kate Winslet held her breath for 7min 15sec?

During the recording of Avatar: The way of water, Kate Winslet performed the longest breath hold in the movie history, breaking Tom Cruise’s record. She said:

“Well, I didn’t have to hold my breath for over seven minutes,” Winslet continued. “It’s just that the opportunity to set a record presented itself. I wanted to break my own record, which was already six minutes and 14 seconds. And I was like, ‘Come on!’ So I smashed my own record by a minute.”

The way actors increase their breath hold time is by breathing in 100% oxygen prior to holding their breath (as opposed to 21% concentration in the environmental air [ref]). This is not a novel approach however. In a 1959 study [ref], untrained volunteers reached a 14min breath hold & Budimir Šobat (a Croatian free-diver) who holds the world of underwater breath with 24mins 37sec [ref] used the same approach. For the reference the record was achieved in his home city Sisak in order to promote awareness around earthquakes, after the city was hit by one in Dec 2020!

With approximately 15mins of 100% O2 inhalation, a 2017 study [ref] showed that breath hold can be prolonged to: 16:11min (9:39–21:02). When the participants hyperventilated for 3mins instead they breath hold time was: 5:38 min (3:50–7:11). Both groups reached an end-tidal PCO2 of ~20 mmHg at the end of the breathing phase.

These achievements are clearly impressive but nowhere close to the non-oxygen assisted records of: 11:35 minutes by Stéphane Mifsud for men, and by Natalia Molchanova 9:02 [ref].



Bain, A. R., Ainslie, P. N., Barak, O. F., Hoiland, R. L., Drvis, I., Mijacika, T., … & MacLeod, D. B. (2017). Hypercapnia is essential to reduce the cerebral oxidative metabolism during extreme apnea in humans. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism37(9), 3231-3242.

Blain, G. M., Smith, C. A., Henderson, K. S., & Dempsey, J. A. (2010). Peripheral chemoreceptors determine the respiratory sensitivity of central chemoreceptors to CO2. The Journal of physiology588(13), 2455-2471.

Dale‐Nagle, E. A., Hoffman, M. S., MacFarlane, P. M., Satriotomo, I., Lovett‐Barr, M. R., Vinit, S., & Mitchell, G. S. (2010). Spinal plasticity following intermittent hypoxia: implications for spinal injury. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1198(1), 252-259.

Klocke, F. J., & Rahn, H. (1959). Breath holding after breathing of oxygen. Journal of Applied Physiology14(5), 689-693.

Toward, M. A., Abdala, A. P., Knopp, S. J., Paton, J. F., & Bissonnette, J. M. (2013). Increasing brain serotonin corrects CO2 chemosensitivity in methyl‐CpG‐binding protein 2 (Mecp2)‐deficient mice. Experimental physiology98(3), 842-849.

Do you have questions regarding your Breathing Practice?

I am here to help. To celebrate the release of my 1st book I am offering a 30% discount on 30min Zoom consultations for £45.

Valid until: 30th of Sep