How Can Freedivers Go So Deep?

How Can Freedivers Go So Deep?

By improving their breath-holding ability, equalising, and developing their relaxation and breath-up techniques before a dive. With these factors mastered, a Freediver can dive to great depths!

Freediving is incredible…with a few deep breaths on the surface, a Freediver can dive down to some incredible depths! 

But how can Freedivers go so deep on one singular breath? 

In this article, we will talk about the following:

  • How Deep Can Freedivers Go?
  • How Do Freedivers Practise Breath-Holding
  • Equalisation
  • Relaxation
  • Pre-Dive Breath-Ups

Without knowing the correct techniques, you could risk spending months of hard work and never reaching your full Freediving potential. When breath-holding, warm-ups, relaxing and breath-ups are practised correctly, Freedivers can go much deeper and for longer!

So, let’s dive in!

How Deep Can Freedivers Go?

The Deepest Freedive is 214m (702ft)!

Below, is a table of the two world records for the deepest No-Limits Freediver (NLT), both Male (M) and Female (F).

NLT Record HolderDepthTime (Minutes)Year
Herbert Nitsch (M)214m (702ft)4:242007
Tanya Streeter (F)160m (526ft)3:262022

But how can these Freedivers reach such incredible depths? The most important thing is being able to hold their breath for that long! Then they need to fight that prickling urge to breathe! And let’s not forget overcoming their fears and doubts!

I know, it sounds like a lot! But let’s pick each aspect apart, starting with Breath-holding!

How Do Freedivers Practise Breath-Holding?

Freedivers practice and improve holding their breath by enhancing their normal breathing ability, Carbon Dioxide Threshold and Hypoxic Threshold. These are known as the Three Pillars and allow Freedivers to dive so deep.

Freediving can reach a huge depth or distance in one breath. So of course, holding your breath is one of the most important aspects that every Freediver must practise!

Just like most other things in life, practice makes perfect! But how do Freedivers practice holding their breath?

Well, there are three important pillars of breath-holding, which all can be developed with specific exercises. By working on each pillar, the Freediver’s Breath-holding ability will improve.

Read on to find out what they are!

Freediver swimming between two rocks

Three Pillars Of Breath-Holding

The Three Pillars of Breath-Holding are:

  1. Normal Breathing Ability
  2. Carbon Dioxide Threshold
  3. Hypoxic Threshold

Pillar one: Normal Breathing Ability

A normal breathing ability is something we all have, which we do subconsciously. Some people have larger lung capacities than others. However, with training and exercises, most people can severely increase their normal breathing ability. 

So the first pillar of breath-holding is improving your normal breathing ability. But ‘how are you supposed to improve the way you breathe?’ I can hear you asking… well there are some breathing exercises to do this!

One example of Breathing exercises is practising Abdominal breathing. 

During our normal day-to-day lives, we mostly breathe with our chest. Try and now focus on your breathing for a few seconds…See? Your belly might move slightly, but it is mainly your chest that rises and falls. This is known as chest breathing. 

Abdominal breathing is where your belly expands, helping to increase the efficiency of your breathing by allowing you to use your complete lung capacity. With a higher lung capacity, more Oxygen is inhaled and more Carbon Dioxide is released. 

Abdominal breathing helps to improve your breath-holding ability, aiding more efficient pre-dive breathing and a better breath-hold during the dive. 

If you practice abdominal breathing enough, it can even become a subconscious habit! You can start breathing with your belly throughout your day-to-day life. 

Therefore, not only is this efficient type of breathing excellent for Freediving, it can benefit your health by lowering your resting heart rate, increasing your relaxation levels and even reducing anxiety!

I recommend practising abdominal breathing 2-3 times a week while standing up to really open up your air space.

Standing while abdomen breathing is a great exercise as you can practice anywhere, such as waiting in line at the supermarket or even while cooking!

Here are the simple steps on how to practise abdominal breathing:

  • Stand up tall with a straight back
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly
  • As you take a slow deep breath through your nose, feel the rise in your belly
  • Then feel your belly flatten as your breath out through your mouth

Have a go at this later and start increasing your breathing efficiency!

For now, read on to find out the second pillar of breath-holding!

Freediver swimming up to the surface

Pillar Two: Carbon Dioxide Threshold

Improving your Carbon Dioxide Threshold is the process of training your mind and body to resist the urge to breathe due to rising levels of Carbon Dioxide. By doing this, you can dive for longer before coming up to take a breath!

I am sure you know that our bodies take in Oxygen to release Energy. This process produces Carbon Dioxide as a waste product, which is then exhaled from the body. 

As Freedivers hold their breath, this Carbon Dioxide begins to build within their blood. As this level gets higher, Carbon Dioxide receptors signal to your brain that you need to breathe.

It is important to remember, that this urge to breathe is stimulated by high levels of Carbon Dioxide, not low levels of Oxygen. 

This means that when Freedivers have the urge to breathe, they have more Oxygen than it might feel like! Therefore, breathing can be resisted for a little longer, as this is just Carbon Dioxide building up and there is enough Oxygen to finish the dive. 

By practising resisting the urge to breathe, over time your Carbon Dioxide sensors can become slightly desensitised and your Carbon Dioxide Threshold is increased. 

With a higher Carbon Dioxide Threshold, Freedivers can dive deeper and for longer, fighting the high Carbon Dioxide levels and urge to breathe for a prolonged amount of time!

This sounds pretty awesome, right? But how can you increase your Carbon Dioxide Threshold? Below is a small list of examples:

  • Static Apnea and Carbon Dioxide Tables- which demand certain apnea times with restricted breathing allowances. 
  • Dynamic Apnea and Carbon Dioxide Tables.
  • Dry Apnea Walk- walking while holding your breath on land. 
  • Wet Apnea Walk- walking while holding your breath under water.

So we have gone through the first two pillars of breath-holding, let us move on to the third and final pillar!

Pillar Three: Hypoxic Threshold

A Hypoxic Threshold is your body’s ability to work under low Oxygen levels. This can be trained by repeatedly entering a low state of Oxygen until your body begins to adapt. 

One very important thing to understand while trying to improve your Hypoxic Threshold is that it is a marathon, not a sprint! It takes time to improve this skill, and you have to be patient with the process.

One example of how to improve your Hypoxic Threshold is Static Apnea with Oxygen Tables. 

Oxygen tables are similar to Carbon Dioxide tables, however, they include Apnea times which remain the same length throughout, but the recovery time between each set reduces, in order to enter a Hypoxic state.

Another key thing to note is that you should work on your Carbon Dioxide Threshold with Carbon Dioxide Tables, before working on your Hypoxic Threshold with Oxygen Tables. 

Why is this? Because you should practise being comfortable holding your breath first, before working within a Hypoxic state.

Equalisation And Warm Ups

Freedivers need to equalise their mask and ears while Freediving, in addition to warming up their lungs, due to the pressure exerted on their bodies from diving deep in water.

If you have been swimming before and dived down, you have likely felt the pressure of the water in your ears. This is because during the first 10m of water, the pressure doubles, from 1 Bar at the surface, to 2 Bar.

Equalising your ears is pretty simple. The most common way is the Valsalva Manoeuvre. Just pinch your nose and gently try to exhale through it. Yep, just like you do on a plane!

There are a couple of other methods such as swallowing or moving your jaw from side to side! However, the Valsalva Manoeuvre seems to work best, which is why you may see Freedivers with nose clips, so they can continuously perform this technique while keeping their hands free!

To equalise the mask, Freedivers blow a small amount of air out their nose into the mask, to equalise the airspace in the mask!

Sounds pretty simple right?

The other thing Freedivers must do in order to go so deep is warm up!

Due to the pressure discussed above, exercises can be done to warm up the Freediver’s lungs. This includes Free-Immersion Diving. This discipline does not use fins, and the Freedivers pull themselves down a rope, warming up their body to pressure changes while conserving energy in their legs!

Free-Immersion diving is great for warm-ups, and allows divers to prepare for the greater depths!

Free-Immersion is one of the many Disciplines! Check out this article on all the different Freediving Disciplines!

So Freedivers can go so deep by practising how to hold their breath! But what else can they do?


Relaxing your mind and body before a dive slows your heart rate, reduces the amount of oxygen your body uses and increases your bottom time. 

Completing some relaxation exercises on the surface is one of the most important things a Freediver can do. The ability to remain completely relaxed is the difference between a beginner and a professional Freediver. 

The ideal heart rate for Freedivers is below 45bpm. Yes, I know what you’re thinking… That is very low!

The average resting heart rate is 60-100 bpm. So imagine if you are in the middle of this range and have a resting heart rate of 80bpm. This would mean you would have to reduce your heart rate by 35bpm!

You can imagine how much relaxation this would require!

If you cannot reduce your heart rate, it will remain high and your body will use a lot of oxygen. If you bring your heart rate down, less oxygen is used and you can hold your breath for longer! 

Makes sense right?

Besides, Freediving is supposed to be relaxing! Yes, it can be extremely challenging and forces you to push yourself… but it is also soothing, relaxing and enables you to find peace within the underwater world. 

If you are not relaxed and enjoying the Freedive, then you are missing out on most of the fun!

Of course, it is crucial to lower your heart rate and preserve Oxygen, but relaxing your mind also allows you to fight your fears and dive deeper out of your comfort zone!

Here are some tips on how to relax while Freediving:

  • Meditation
  • Positive Visualisation
  • Relaxing Music

Let us go through these three tips in a little more detail!


Meditation can be done by finding a peaceful and comfortable place, closing your eyes and entirely focusing on your breathing. By meditating before a dive, you can calm your mind and body!

I would highly recommend meditating for 5-10 minutes every day!

Yes, it can help you increase your Freediving bottom time, but there are also numerous other health benefits of meditation such as reduced stress, improved sleep and even enhanced creativity!

A woman with her hands together, meditating

Positive Visualisation

Positive Visualisation is imagining in your head, and picturing success. Before a dive, you should visualise your best possible performance, as it can help you strive for success.

Not just before dives, but during your day-to-day life, take 5-10 minutes to practice some positive visualisation. Sit quietly, and imagine a dive situation that might scare or challenge you. Picture that dive going excellently well.

By practising positive visualisation, you are re-wiring your brain to think and act positively, which can help keep you relaxed in a situation that might cause you to stress!

Relaxing Music

Listening to relaxing music before a dive can help you enter a happy, positive and relaxed state of mind. It is easier to hold your breath when your mind is calm!

Music is a great way to channel emotions. Have you ever used music to help channel determination and motivation? Perhaps to clean the house, go for a run or do some work!

Listening to relaxing music will have a soothing effect on your mind, preparing you for a relaxed and peaceful dive!

Pre-Dive Breath-Ups

A Pre-Dive Breath-Up is breathing on the surface before the duck dive down, which is essential to maximise the Freediver’s bottom time. The better the Breath-Up, the longer the dive!

The more you breathe on the surface, the more oxygen you will take up. Efficient breaths allow you to hold your breath for longer, reaching deeper depths for an extended amount of time. 

There are a few exercises you can do on the surface, to improve your Pre-Dive Breath-Up.

However, it is important to remember to breathe deeply and slowly on the surface. You do not want to enter a fast breathing pattern, which could result in hyperventilation. 

Find out here, why hyperventilating is dangerous and should always be avoided. 

One example of a good breath-up technique is to exhale for twice as long as the inhale. For example, inhale for five seconds, and exhale for ten seconds. Doing this 2-4 times is enough before a dive.

However, everyone is different and has different tolerances to Carbon Dioxide. Therefore it is important for each Freediver to practice this technique, and find the best inhale/exhale ratio for them!

Another great technique which you should always be doing before your dive is to exhale passively. This simply means not forcing all the air out of your lungs during each exhale. 

By doing this, you avoid lung-packing, which can be dangerous and should only be exercised by very experienced Freedivers. 

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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Final Thoughts

This article has explained how Freedivers go so deep by practising their breath-holding using the three pillars, Relaxation methods and Pre-Dive Breath-Ups!

Remember, mastering a new skill takes time! Be patient with yourself.

More importantly… have fun!

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Bethany Nyquist

Bethany is a writer, an Environmental Scientist and Dive Master, exploring the underwater world. Practising Underwater Photography, Bethany aims to raise awareness for and help protect marine life.

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