Extreme Breath-Holding: How It's Possible
Peter Colat, a Swiss freediver, held his breath underwater for 19 minutes and 21 seconds, breaking the world record in breath-holding.
Even with NBA players still on strike, with fall officially here, there's no shortage of sports starting up, from pee-wee leagues all the way up to the pros. But there are also other athletic forms of competition that gain little notice every year despite a dedicated following. Here we explore some sports that you've likely never heard of (and should probably never attempt). We begin with chess and boxing, together at last in a sport whose name is as unlikely as the combination itself: chess boxing. So the name may not be original, but chess boxing is a singular sport that demands brains and brawn like no other athletic competition. Popular in Germany and the United Kingdom, the game is played with alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Competitors can win by winning the chess game, by knocking out an opponent or by judges' decision at the end.
From the looks of this photo, you might think sepak takraw, a sport native to Southeast Asia, is almost a kind of karate volleyball. And you wouldn't be far off. Played with a ball made of dried palm leaves, sepak takraw is popular in Asia and even started to make inroads in North America in the late-1980s and 1990s. Sepak takraw even has a lot in common with similar team sports more familiar to Western audiences. Like soccer, players pass around a ball using anything but their arms. The game is played on a court about the same size as a badminton court. Two teams of three players gather on each side of a net, trying to keep the ball in play. The rules for scoring are similar to that of volleyball.
Given the hard hits and frequent fights so common in ice hockey, it's difficult to believe that anyone could imagine a more potentially hazardous version of the sport. But with the added element of a potential drowning, underwater hockey makes frozen-water hockey look like child's play. The rules of liquid-water hockey are similar to that of it solid-state counterpart. The difference: Players use wooden or plastic sticks about the size of a banana to push around a metal puck around the floor of a pool. The action is especially exciting for spectators, who can only really see ripples on the surface from the action below.
Dog dancing may be more art than sport. But however you classify what could be one of the surest signs yet of the apocalypse, dog dancing, also known as canine freestyle, combines coaching, discipline and dance. Although it may seem like an amateur pastime, dog dancing is actually a competitive sport with contests held in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries with pet owners who have too much time on their hands. Looking for the perfect partner? Check out the all-new Dog Breed Selector at Animal Planet!
Street luge is a sport that combines the safety concerns of the luge with the gentleness of pavement. Participants lie on what is essentially an enlarged skateboard designed to hold the human frame. Gravity does the rest of the work.
Credit: Getty Images
The pastime of the wizarding world of the "Harry Potter" series, quidditch combines magic, athleticism, and a touch of violence. Given the sheer impossibility of the sport, you'd think there wouldn't be a real-life equivalent -- and you'd be wrong. There are enthusiastic fans of the series who just wouldn't let reality or the laws of physics stand in their way. And so, these ambitious muggles created their own version of quidditch that might not have all the magic of the dramatic version but certainly isn't lacking for passion. Founded at Middlebury College in Vermont, the International Quidditch Association has grown in just a few short years to include hundreds of teams with a presence on nearly every continent. The game has the same rules and scoring system as the quidditch from the series, with one big difference: no flying.
You sure won't find a chess board -- or anything resembling a board game -- at the annual Summer Redneck Games in East Dublin, Ga. Instead, you'll find the kinds of athletic events that could only come out of Dixie, including toilet seat tossing, seed spitting, and mud belly flops (pictured here). Competitors at the Summer Redneck Games may not get all the attention or the money or the endorsement deals with Nike. As a matter of fact, many of them probably don't even have shoes. But there's no doubt it takes a special kind of athlete to take home glory at the Summer Redneck Games.
Eukonkanto, a sport of Finnish origin, is a simpler than its name implies. Its English translation -- "wife carrying" -- is right on the money, however. Male competitors race across an obstacle course while carrying a female teammate, who grabs onto her partners neck and back while hanging upside-down. Glory isn't the only prize. For those fortunate enough to take home top honors at the Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajärvi, Finland, the winning team earns the wife's weight in beer.
Chopping wood may seem like a tireless chore. But at the now retired Great Outdoor Games, there's a lot more to the timber events than that. From log rolling to tree topping to the hot saw and more, the Great Outdoor Games turned lumberjacks into competitive athletes. Each of the timber events was either a race, as was the case with the team relay or speed climbing, or an endurance event, like logrolling.
Played on horseback, the traditional Central Asian sport known as buzkashi may appear to be an eastern variant on polo. But there is one critical difference: Instead of playing with wooden mallets and a ball, participants use the carcass of a cow or goat. Each team consists of 10 players, five of which are in play at any given time. Players score by dragging a carcass across the opposing team's goal line. Given the fact that the game is played with dead animals, it should come as no surprise that the participants can play rough when competing against one another. READ MORE: The Extraordinarily Brutal Extreme Sports of Ancient History
- The new record for breath-holding is 19 minutes and 21 seconds.
- There are tricks to holding your breath for long periods of time, but the practice can be dangerous.
- There may be long-lasting health consequences to extreme breath-holding.
A Swiss freediver held his breath underwater for 19 minutes and 21 seconds, according to news reports this week. The gasp-inducing feat beat the previous world record by 19 seconds, and blew away the record of 17 minutes and four seconds that magician David Blaine set on Oprah Winfrey's talk show in 2008.
For most ordinary humans, all that breath-holding can be hard to fathom. The feat might also bring up some basic questions about biology. For example: Is it really possible to survive without inhaling for that long? And is it healthy?
"It is, as a matter of fact, possible -- with certain tricks," explained Claes Lundgren, a physiologist at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine in New York.
It is probably not, however, good for you, and consequences can be deadly.
"Sooner or later, kids will read this and do something silly," said Lundgren. "It's not recommendable at all. Anything written about this should be accompanied by a strong admonition not to try this without someone knowledgeable present."
Breathing is obviously an important way to stay alive, and our bodies have a built-in system of sensors and signals to make sure we keep doing it. When you hold your breath, carbon dioxide builds up as your body uses up oxygen. After a minute or two for most people, the result is an overwhelming urge to breathe.
"All sorts of alarms go off," said Ralph Potkin a pulmonologist and hyperbaric physician at the University of California, Los Angles School of Medicine. "The brain tells the body to breathe. The diaphragm gets electrical signals to stimulate breathing."
To fight those powerful instincts, a competitive breath-holder starts by hyperventilating for as much as 10 minutes while breathing from a tank of 100 percent oxygen. Breathing hard and fast expels carbon dioxide from the body, buying time before CO2 levels get too high. Likewise, boosting oxygen stores with pure oxygen buys time before O2 levels fall too low. After hyperventilating, if a person isn't unconscious, he'll probably feel dizzy and have extreme cramping in the arms and legs.
Peter Colat, a Swiss freediver, held his breath underwater for 19 minutes and 21 seconds, breaking the world record in breath-holding.AP
The next step is to plunge into a tank of water. That triggers a primitive, mammalian reaction called the diving reflex. When confronted with water, especially cold water, the body shunts circulation from the rest of the body to the heart and brain.
The reflex, which even chickens have, probably helps babies survive the trip through the birth canal, Lundgren said. By lowering how much total oxygen the body is using, the diving reflex also allows people to hold their breaths for longer stretches.
The record for breath-holding on land is around 10 minutes, said Lundgren, who can go eight or nine minutes without breathing. The new record-holder, named Peter Colat, was able to last twice as long because he was in a tank of water.
Training for competitive breath-holding often involves spending time in hyperbaric chambers, said Potkin, who helped David Blaine prepare for his Oprah performance. Like extreme mountain climbers, breath-holders want to get their bodies used to oxygen deprivation.
Many competitors also practice Zen-like relaxation exercises to cope with a variety of discomforts, including the squeezing sensation of oxygen-deprived, deflating lungs.
"Some can drop their blood pressure like yogis and their heart rates as well," said Potkin, whose personal record is four-and-a-half minutes without a breath. "There is a lot of voluntary denial of pain. It's really an out-of-body experience in a way. You really have to disconnect from your body."
Doctors used to declare patients brain-dead if they hadn't breathed in five minutes, Potkin said. Intentional breath-holding is slightly different because the blood is still circulating. Still, studies of freedivers have turned up abnormalities in brain scans and markers that suggest brain damage. No one knows what the long-term consequences will be of feats like these.
"I wish I could tell you what their brains will be like in 20 years," Potkin said. "The medical diving community is a little concerned about it."