Illusionist and stunt performer Harry Houdini was famously capable of holding his breath for over three minutes. But today, competitive breath-hold divers can squeeze ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes out of a single lungful of air. How do these divers do it -- and how can you train to hold your breath for longer?
"My best static breath hold is pretty crap," says surfer Mark Healey in an article on breath-holding from the September 2011 issue of Surfer Magazine. "I think it's about 5:30."
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If that sounds like a long time to you, that's because it is, and Healey is being modest (some would say irresponsibly so).
But to the world's foremost practitioners of "static apnea" -- a competitive discipline in the sport of freediving in which a person holds his or her breath underwater, without moving, for as long as possible -- five minutes is small change.
In 2001, renowned freediver Martin Štěpánek held his breath for a then-unprecedented 8 minutes 6 seconds. His record stood for nearly three years, until June of 2004, when freediver Tom Sietas bested it by 41 seconds with a time of 8:47. The record has since been broken eight times (five of them by Sietas, himself), but the title currently belongs to French freediver Stéphane Mifsud. In 2009, Mifsud spent a lung-searing 11 minutes 35 seconds below water on a single gulp of air.