5 Freediving Breathing Techniques to Take Your Diving to the Next Level

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If you’re looking to take your freediving to the next level, learning how to control your breathing is essential.

There are a number of different techniques you can use to improve your breath control and help you stay underwater for longer.

We’ll look at a handful of the most effective freediving breathing techniques.

Important Note

All exercises are to be practiced dry unless you have completed a freediving course and have certified buddy to train with in the water. Safety is the number one priority so please remember to never dive alone or practice breath holding alone.

Diaphragmatic Breathing – TO BE PRACTICED DRY

Freediver relaxing underwater

What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing or belly breathing, is a technique that we as freedivers use. There are many benefits of diaphragmatic breathing including lowering your heart rate and stress levels and helping you enter a relaxed state.

This type of breathing activates the diaphragm, a large muscle located at the base of the lungs that helps to control breathing. As the diaphragm contracts, it moves downward and flattens out. This action increases the thoracic cavity volume, into which your lungs expand.

When you breathe diaphragmatically, your abdomen expands outward as your lungs fill with air. Diaphragmatic breathing is an efficient way to breathe and is not only used by freedivers, but by athletes, singers, and other performers to improve their breathing too. Diaphragmatic breathing practice is perfect for high stress situations including in the workplace.

How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach, just below
    your ribs
  3. Relax your shoulders try to release any tension within the body
  4. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, letting your stomach expand
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth pursing your lips together almost
    making an ‘Sss’ sound. The stomach will gently contract
  6. Repeat this breathing exercise for 10-15 minutes per day

When done correctly, using a ratio of 1:2 (for example 5 seconds inhalation and 10 seconds exhalation), you will feel a sense of relaxation over the body and mind. The idea is that we do not want to feel dizzy or tingly whilst practicing this. Try the different ratios below to find the one that works best for you. When finding the correct ratio for you, practice each one for 2 minutes to get a feel for it.

Ratio Options:

  • For a smaller body type you will usually use a ratio of 4 seconds in and 8 seconds out
  • For a medium body type you will usually use a ratio of 5 seconds in and 10 seconds out
  • For a larger body type/broad shoulders you will usually use a ratio of 6 seconds in and 12 seconds out

Segmented Breathing – TO BE PRACTICED DRY

Freediver swimming over a reef

What is Segmented Breathing?

Segmented breathing is a process where freedivers breathe into different parts of the body to warm up the thoracic cavity to gain more outward flexibility. It helps us take an even bigger breath during our relaxation phase also known as the breathe up. When we warm up for our dive session we divide our thoracic cavity into 3 spaces: the stomach, intercostals and chest.

During the exercise below we will use a method called muscle isolation. This is where we isolate each section and breathe into them individually.

For example, the first section is the stomach. We will place one hand on the stomach and one hand on the chest and direct our breath to the stomach. For the second section we place our hands over the stomach and chest and this time we will breathe only to the chest and isolate the stomach.

Whilst breathing into each section we are going to use our ratio breathing that we used in the first exercise. Remember that while practicing ratio breathing we don’t want to feel dizzy or tingally at any time.

How to Practice Segmented Breathing – TO BE PRACTICED DRY


  1. Start with the stomach first.
  2. Sit or lie down on a comfortable, flat surface
  3. Relax your shoulders, try to release any tension within the body
  4. Place one hand on your stomach and one hand over your chest
  5. Using muscle isolation inhale slowly through your mouth, filling your stomach and your stomach only, over a 5 second duration to 50% – 60% capacity (or 50-60% of your TLC – Total Lung Capacity)
  6. Exhale slowly and passively through your mouth for 10 seconds letting your stomach slowly lower. Try not to hold tension.
  7. Repeat this process, inhaling and exhaling with the ratio that works best for you. See first exercise to work out your ratio.

Repeat this exercise using the chest

  1. Sit or lie down on a comfortable, flat surface
  2. Relax your shoulders, try to release any tension within the body
  3. Place one hand on your stomach and one hand over your chest
  4. Using muscle isolation inhale slowly through your mouth, filling your chest only, over a 5 second duration to 50% – 60% capacity
  5. Exhale slowly and passively through your mouth for 10 seconds letting your chest slowly lower to a neutral position

All exhalations are passive meaning we just let the air slowly come out of our body we never blow the air out.

Square Breathing – TO BE PRACTICED DRY

Woman swimming towards surface

What is Square Breathing?

Square breathing, also known as Box Breathing, is a technique used as a pre dive relaxation routine for freediving. Square Breathing will help with calming any pre dive or breath hold nerves including panic and worry, helps with lowering the heart rate and also improves lung function.

When practicing Square Breathing our breath is to be fluid and slow as we are promoting relaxation, nothing forced, just nice relaxed breaths. You will find it mildly challenging at first but then this becomes so relaxing, even after a few cycles! Start with 3 minute durations in the beginning, over time you will be able to extend the durations and experience deeper levels of mindfulness and relaxation.

How to Perform Square Breathing

It’s quite simple to perform square breathing, just follow these steps:

  1. Inhale deeply and slowly, filling your chest without strain and counting to 4
  2. Hold your breath while counting to 4
  3. Exhale slowly relaxing your chest whilst counting to 4
  4. Hold the breath on exhale while counting to 4
  5. Repeat steps 1-4

Lung Stretching – TO BE PRACTICED DRY

What is Lung Stretching?

Lung stretching is a great way to improve your freediving, flexibility, equalisation and increase your TLC (Total Lung Capacity). It is also great for helping the body deal with lactic acid.

Lung stretching should only be performed when the body is warm to avoid stretching or harming any muscles and it should be done with caution. When we stretch our lungs we want to be super gentle. Lung stretching is very personal so don’t try to match the person next to you.

Basic Full Lung Stretching

  1. Sit on the floor crossed legged with a nice straight back
  2. Place your right hand on the floor to your right side
  3. Take a light breath into your lungs and hold
  4. While holding your breath extend your left arm up into the air and slowly move over the top of your head to the right side while keeping the right arm on the ground next to you.
  5. You will feel a full feeling within the chest
  6. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds
  7. When you reach your desired time slowly exhale and move back to the
    starting position
  8. Repeat the exercise on the left hand side

Light Exhale Stretching

Exhale stretching is a powerful tool that we use to gently increase our lung capacity. We call this residual capacity or residual volume. To reach this we simply exhale as much air out of our lungs as we can. Then we shut our vocal fold (also known as epiglottis) and while keeping the vocal fold closed we suck against it, almost like trying to take a breath in while keeping the epiglottis closed. This will suck your diaphragm up and in turn lighty stretch the diaphragm.

If you are struggling to gain control over the epiglottis/vocal fold or to keep it closed for this lung stretch, a simple exercise to help is to take a breath in and open your mouth nice and wide and then not let any air out. The thing that’s stopping the flow of air is your epiglottis. By practicing this exercise and extending the time that you hold your breath, over time your epiglottis will strengthen.

Now that we know how to use our epiglottis we are now ready to try the light exhale lung stretch.

  1. Sit or kneel in a comfortable position with a nice straight back
  2. Release the body of any tension
  3. Take a nice big flowy breath in and then release passively letting the air
    flow out.
  4. Once the air has stopped and you are at the point where you would have
    to push to get any more out, hold your breath (only for a short time 3 – 10
  5. When you are ready, open the epiglottis and allow the air to flow back into
    your lungs.
  6. Repeat this at least 5 times

Note: do not over stretch your lungs, always do this when warm and

If you would like to learn more about lung stretching check out our Wave 2 and Wave 3 courses or our SSI Level 2 and SSI Level 3 courses or if you would like to master these skills check out our SSI Instructor course.

Both of these methods are effective ways to improve your freediving. If you are just starting out, it is best to start with the first method and then progress to the second once you feel more comfortable holding your breath. No matter which method you choose, be sure to practice regularly so you can see the best results.

CO2 Tables and O2 Tables – TO BE PRACTICED DRY

Freedivers practicing breathing techniques

What are Breath Holding Tables

When training our breath the main aim in any exercise is to train with higher levels of CO2 or Carbon Dioxide. CO2 is what gives us the urge to breathe and learning to deal with higher levels of CO2 will increase our breath hold duration, comfortability and hypoxic threshold. CO2 tables will give you higher levels of CO2 from the beginning of the exercises, whereas O2 tables take longer to build CO2 within the body.

C02 Tables

Take your maximum breath hold time and halve it. That will be the breath hold time you use for this exercise. For example, if your max breath hold was 4 mins you would halve it to 2 mins and that is the amount of time that you hold your breath for this exercise. We always do 8 breath holds.

Please be aware you should only attempt a maximum breath hold once every 3 weeks and only train breath holding no more than 3 times per week. It is very easy to over train breath holding.

Only after the C02 table becomes easier should you increase the breath hold time. We recommend keeping the breathing time at 2 mins for C02 Tables regardless of the breath hold time.

Breathe 2:00 Using tidal breathing (your body’s at rest breathing, the same breathing you do
before you go to sleep).
Hold 2:00 (half of your max breath hold time)
Breathe 1:45
Hold 2:00
Breathe 1:30
Hold 2:00
Breathe 1:15
Hold 2:00
Breathe 1:00
Hold 2:00
Breathe 45
Hold 2:00
Breathe 30
Hold 2:00
Breathe 15
Hold 2:00

02 Tables

02 tables are relaxing and fun way to increase your breath hold.

Breathe 2:00 Using tidal breathing (your body’s at rest breathing, the same breathing you do
before you go to sleep).
Hold 1.00 (Always nice to start with an easy breath hold)
Breathe 2.00
Hold 1:15
Breathe 2.00
Hold 1.30
Breathe 2.00
Hold 1.45
Breathe 2.00
Hold 2:00

Breathe 2.00
Hold 2.15
Breathe 2.00
Hold 2.30
Breathe 2.00
Hold 2.45

Master Your Breathing with Freediving Central

When it comes to freediving, breathing is everything.

If you can perfect your breathing technique, you’ll be able to dive deeper and stay underwater for longer periods of time.

Want to put your newly found breathing techniques to the test? Take your freediving to the next level with Freediving Central at one of our freediving courses.

Please get in touch today if you have any questions about any of the above

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3 Breathing Techniques From a Freediving Expert

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