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Can Holding Your Breath Under Water Increase Your Running Ability?

author image Meredith Crilly
Meredith C. has worked as a nutrition educator, chef and community health projects since 2011. She received a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from the University of Tennessee and is currently completing an MS/DI program in nutrition.
Can Holding Your Breath Under Water Increase Your Running Ability?
Running Photo Credit: Melpomenem/iStock/Getty Images

Running requires several physical attributes: strong, endurance-trained muscles, strong joints and tendons, and a high lung capacity. When your lungs don't function well, you may experience breathing problems during exercise such as shortness of breath. Athletes, especially runners, train their lungs to increase capacity and strength of the breathing muscles. Holding your breath underwater improves lung function, which also helps running ability.

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Increased Lung Capacity

Holding your breath underwater causes you to increase your lung volume. One athlete, David Blaine, who held his breath underwater for over 17 minutes, performed this feat after months of training. He built up his lung capacity slowly, increasing his time underwater in lower intervals over months. With underwater training, Blaine increased his total lung capacity, the amount of oxygen that your lungs can hold. Runners who similarly train may find that they breathe easier during runs and avoid feeling out of breath as much during an extended or high-intensity run.

Improved Diaphragm Control

The diaphragm is a muscle nestled immediately below your lungs that helps you inhale and exhale. Training in the water teaches you how to gain improved control over this muscle. When swimmers hold their breath underwater, the diaphragm may spasm, causing them to breathe heavily to regain their breath. However, with training, you can learn to overcome and gain greater control over the diaphragm muscle. Improving the strength and control of this muscle helps you to breathe more efficiently and also avoid gasping for breath.

Improving Lung Capacity Through Swimming

In addition to holding your breath underwater, swimming also improves lung function. A study performed in 1997 at the Universite d'Orleans in France studied two groups of girls who performed either a regular varied physical exercise program or who swam two hours a week. After a year, the swimmers had less airway resistance and greater total lung capacity. Researchers proposed that swimming in the water where breathing was limited increased lung volume and also improved oxygen absorption, leading to an overall more efficient body. Runners may experience improved lung function by incorporating swimming into their training regimes.

Always Take Caution

If you decide to hold your breath underwater, be aware of the dangers and risks involved. When not done carefully, you run the risk of drowning or causing tissue damage to the heart, brain and lungs. Depriving vital tissues of oxygen for an extended period may be dangerous. Starting off slowly helps your body adjust to decreased oxygen intake. Also, having another person present while you're underwater decreases your overall risk of passing out or drowning in the pool.

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