Since human beings can’t breathe under water like fish can, you’re going to need to hold your breath if you plan to spend much time below the surface. When kids play in the pool, at the lake or even in the bathtub, it’s usually not long before a contest breaks out to see who can hold their breath the longest underwater.

Holding your breath underwater isn’t just a kids’ game, though. Extreme athletes known as freedivers regularly have the same kinds of contests. This practice is known as static apnea. Apnea means a temporary stoppage of breathing and freedivers practice in order to increase the amount of time they can stay underwater without coming up for air.

Stéphane Mifsud of France currently holds the static apnea record with a time of 11 minutes 35 seconds. Can you imagine holding your breath for that long? Wow! To get a sense of how long that is, set a timer for 11 minutes 35 seconds and wait for it to expire. It’s a long time, isn’t it? To put it in perspective for a friend, see how high you can count during that time.

Believe it or not, there actually have been people who have held their breath for even longer than 11 minutes, though. The Guinness Book of World Records has a special category for holding your breath underwater. Unlike the freedivers who practice static apnea, the Guinness guidelines allow contestants to breathe pure oxygen for up to 30 minutes prior to their attempt.

With the benefit of breathing pure oxygen first, the current Guinness World Record for holding your breath underwater is held by Ricardo Bahia of Brazil at a whopping 20 minutes 21 seconds!

Most people in good health can hold their breath for approximately two minutes. Experts believe that even a little bit of practice can increase that amount of time quite a bit. However, they also warn that depriving your body of oxygen can have many negative effects, so don’t make a habit of holding your breath for very long!

When you hold your breath, carbon dioxide (the gas you normally breathe out) builds up inside you. Eventually, this gas must be released and a reflex causes your body’s breathing muscles to spasm. These spasms hurt and usually cause you to gasp for air after just a couple of minutes.

When Guinness World Record chasers breathe pure oxygen before holding their breath, they do so to force as much carbon dioxide out of their bodies as possible. The extra oxygen also helps them to go longer without breathing.

Being underwater also helps to fight the body’s natural reactions. Like dolphins and whales, our bodies instinctively conserve oxygen when we go underwater. This reaction — called the diving reflex — helps to conserve the oxygen in our bodies and enables us to hold our breath even longer.

Of course, if you want to explore underneath the sea, you’re going to want to spend more than just a few minutes underwater. Divers who want to spend an extended amount of time underwater usually use scuba gear.

“SCUBA” was originally an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Today, scuba is used as a regular word to refer to the practice of using special gear to breathe underwater while diving.

The first scuba gear was developed during World War II for U.S. combat divers, who were called frogmen. Frogmen used devices called rebreathers to stay underwater for extended periods of time while on underwater military missions.

Today, scuba divers use tanks of compressed air that attach to their backs. These tanks provide air to a device called a demand valve regulator. Scuba divers breathe through a mouthpiece attached to the regulator. It can take some time to adjust to breathing underwater this way, which is why people who want to become scuba divers must have special training before being certified to scuba dive.

70 Join the Discussion

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  1. Hi Wonderopolis!

    I absolutely adore today’s Wonder. This year at the pool, my sisters and I had a breathing contest under water. It is tempting to say I won, but I lost. At least I broke my record at 11 seconds. I will check in tommorow and read about What time is?

    • Hello there, Torey! It’s fun to swim with friends and family at the pool! We can’t always win every game or contest, though, but when we come in behind first place, it helps us grow as individuals and be ready to face obstacles later in life! Thank you so much for commenting today! “See” you tomorrow! :-)

  2. Hi Torey and Wonderopolis, I have practicing this skill all week at the pool but more important in the ocean. It is really hard to hold my breath but I always remember challenging my own children to contests. I don’t think I ever won though.

    • Thanks for letting us know how much you liked this Wonder about holding your breath underwater, Taylor! You are an awesome Wonder Friend for leaving us TWO comments today! :-)

  3. Hi! Tonight for homework, we got to pick a wonder an fill out a paper about it. I tried to find a wonder that interested me, and I found this one. One thing I learned was that scuba stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. I used to think it was just a cool word. I already new there was a record for holding your breath underwater, but I didn’t know that there were two separate records, one for holding your breath underwater with oxygen, and one for holding your breath underwater without air in your lungs.

    • It sounds like you learned a lot from this Wonder, Samia! That makes everyone here in Wonderopolis VERY happy! Thank you so much for leaving us this great comment! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing that you have to have controlled breathing for synchronized swimming, Charlotte! We think one of the reasons Wonderopolis is so much FUN is because of the AWESOME comments we receive from Wonder Friends just like YOU! Thanks for helping us make WONDERing FUN! :-)

  4. Hi! I’m Cody and I can hold my breath for 1 minute and 15 seconds, and I’m 11. For an 11 year old, is that good?

    • That sounds like a really long time to us, Cody! You are AWESOME! Thanks for sharing how long you can hold your breath underwater and THANK YOU for visiting this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • You’re very welcome, Cody! We’re glad you came back today to see our reply to your comment! We hope you have an AWESOME day! :-)

    • Hi, Anonymous! Thanks so much for exploring this Wonder and leaving us a cool comment! As you remember from what you read in this Wonder, holding your breath for extended periods of time can be super dangerous. Even the people who earned the world records for holding their breath have practiced for many, many, many years and are very careful not to push their bodies too much. Learning to scuba dive is a WONDERful way to be underwater and not have to worry about holding your breath! We think we would like to learn to scuba dive, wouldn’t you? :-)

    • WOW, Katie, that’s quite impressive! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today– we hope you have a SUPER day, Wonder Friend! :)

      • Hi Alyssa! Wow that’s still a very long time to hold your breath! Thanks for WONDERing with us! Have you ever tried to hold your breath underwater? What was your record? :)

  5. Wow this is really interesting I didn’t know you could even hold your breath longer than 6 minutes without passing out.

    • Hi there, Adam, we’re glad you are WONDERing about underwater adventures with us today! We don’t recommend trying to hold your breath for that long– it’s a dangerous idea without using a special oxygen mask. However, we Wonder how long amphibians can stay out of water… when they breathe air it’s similar to when humans hold their breath!

      Thanks for sharing your comment– we’re glad you’re here! :)

  6. Hi Wonderopolis! I really loved this Wonder! It was very fun to read and I come here every once and a while to get information for projects. This was one of my favorites! My record is 5 minutes, but I’m a swimmer so I have practice holding my breath.

    • WOW, five minutes is really incredible, Emory! We’re so happy that you have been joining the fun at Wonderopolis! WOHOO! :)

  7. Hello Wonderopolis!! My question isn’t related to this topic but I desperately want to know. How can one drown if human bodies are meant to float?

    • Hi there, Joyce, what a great question! We are glad you’ve done some WONDERing on your own! You’re right- human bodies are very buoyant, but sometimes the rest of the body does not work together like it should. The lungs, muscles, brain, and limbs need to work together to keep the body working. If any of those stop working properly, or the body and brain do not receive oxygen, the body can drown. We think you’re doing a great job of thinking outside the box, Joyce! :)

    • WOW, that’s amazing, Sid! Thank you for sharing this news with us– we are so proud of you for updating us on underwater records! YOWZA! :)

    • PHEW, that sure is a long time, Wonder Friend A! It sounds like you have been practicing! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! Have a super day! :)

    • WOW, it sounds like you might be competing for the Guinness Book of World Records, Eli! We don’t recommend making a habit of holding your breath, because your body needs oxygen to function. However, we think it’s great that you have timed yourself! We learned that the World Record is held by Ricardo Bahia of Brazil; he can hold his breath for 20 minutes and 21 seconds! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! :)

  8. I’m 12 and can hold my breath for a minute and 5 seconds! I was wondering if it was a good record… Someday, I want to be a deep-sea diver for the US Navy! What do you think?

    • WOW, that’s impressive, Wonder Friend Whit! We think it’s very cool that you’re thinking of becoming a deep-sea diver, too! Keep up the great work and go after your dreams! :)

  9. I held my breath for 4 minutes and 30 seconds underwater. If I practice a lot over the summer, do you think I could gain a lot of time?

    • We’re not experts in underwater breathing, we have got to hand it to amphibians for that one! We bet you can get better with practice, Rachel, but make sure you’re practicing safely! You’ve already done a great job! We hope you have a super day! :)

  10. Is it true? Can you faint if you hold your breath for too long?
    By the way, interesting topic! It made me read on as I stumbled across it!

    • Hey there, Dylan, you’re right! We need to breathe to keep our bodies functioning. Our heart, brain and organs need the oxygen we breath to function properly. We are glad you’ve been thinking about how the body works today! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend! Thanks for sharing your comment and WONDERing all about the underwater world! We are very glad you’re here! :)

  11. Hi, Wonderopolis! I can hold my breath for 1 minute and 15 seconds. I can’t imagine somebody holding their breath for 11 minutes!! That is crazy! Me and my family are going to see Despicable me 2 either tomorrow or the next day. I can’t wait! Thank you for today’s wonder!! :) ;)

    • WOOHOO, that’s so much fun, Berkleigh! We hope you have a SUPER time at the movies with your family!

      Thanks for telling us how long you can hold your breath under water- that sure is a long time! PHEW! We think it’s incredible to learn about the world record for the longest amount of time underwater! We think it’s cool, but not cool enough to try holding our breath that long without adult supervision! Safety first!

      Thanks for saying hello to all of us here at Wonderopolis today, Berkleigh! Have a STELLAR Sunday! :)

  12. Hi wonderopolis! I went to the pool today to! And I asked my friend to count how many seconds I can hold my breath under water. And I held my breath for 60 seconds!! I can do all sorts of tricks under water

    • Hi Nina! Thanks for telling us all about your awesome day at the pool! How fun that you and your friends have been timing each other underwater! What a fun Wonder competition! :)

      What is your favorite underwater trick?

      Thanks for telling us about your 60 second record, Nina! Have a super summer and keep WONDERing! :)

  13. I stayed underwater for 21 seconds that is my time to beat I am trying to get to at least 1 minute the good thing is I’m going to the pool all holiday so I can practise a lot thank you for the information and the safety precautions

    • WOW! We hope you have lots of fun at the pool while you relax, Becca! Safety is the most important thing when it comes to holding your breath underwater. We want you to have lots of fun AND be safe! They’re a great pair! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • Wow! That’s a long time, Meredith! We WONDER if your time might increase or decrease while being underwater. What do you think? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How long can you hold your breath underwater?
  • What is static apnea?
  • What does scuba stand for?

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Ready to go for a dive? Dive into one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • If you could go diving right now, where would you go? What would you want to see? What types of sea life do you think would be fascinating to see up close and personal?  Email us to let us know where you’d like to dive and what you’d want to see!
  • If you don’t have scuba gear, no problem! All you’ll need is a computer to participate in these virtual online dives:
  • With the help of an adult, see how long each of you can hold your breath. Record your times on a sheet of paper. Over the next several days, try again once each day and record your times. With practice, does the length of time you can hold your breath increase? Plot out your times on a graph, so it’s easier to compare them and draw conclusions about the effect of practice on how long you can hold your breath. Write a brief summary of your findings, using your graph as an exhibit.


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