A breath holding test has been used in the past as a measure of cardiorespiratory fitness. Early last century breath holding was used by the Royal Air Force of England as one of the tests of physical fitness. It was believed that more well-trained individuals would have adaptations to more efficiently use oxygen, and therefore could hold their breath for longer before the build up of carbon dioxide forced a breath to be made. Also, well-trained individuals may have larger lung capacity so more oxygen can be inhaled in a single breath.
For several reasons, the test is no longer in use. Studies have found that there is no correlation between breath holding tests and tests of fitness (Karpovich 1947). Also, the test is potentially dangerous, as there is a risk of blackout with prolonged breath holding.
Although this test is not used any more to assess fitness, breath holding has been used as a form of hypoxic training, but with some reservations. Also, Navy Seals have a need to hold their breath for long periods, and undergo training to increase the time they can hold their breath underwater.
purpose: This test was used as a measure of aerobic fitness, but this has since been shown to be not valid.
equipment required: clock or stopwatch
procedure: The participant makes a full exhalation followed by a deep inhalation, then holds his breath for as long as possible.
scoring: the result is a total time in seconds. When used as a test for the Royal Air Force, the passing time was set as 45 seconds.
- The breath holding time can be significantly improved with practice and willpower.
- Hyperventilation can also improve breath holding time. Breathing is stimulated by a build up of carbon dioxide in the blood. hyperventilating before holding your breath will blow off most of your carbon dioxide and it will take longer for the CO2 levels to build up to the point where you will be overcome by the stimulus to breathe.
- Karpovich, Peter V., Breath holding as a test of physical endurance. American Journal of Physiology (1947) 149:3, 720-723
- Henry J. Montoye (1951) Breath-Holding as a Measure of Physical Fitness, Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 22:3, 356-376
- Barnai M, Laki I, Gyurkovits K, Angyan L, Horvath G. Relationship between breath-hold time and physical performance in patients with cystic fibrosis. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005 Oct;95(2-3):172-8.
- More aerobic fitness tests
- Hypoxia Training — training at altitude or simulated altitude to improved oxygen delivery during exercise.
- Altitude Nutrition — Nutritional Considerations for Training at Altitude
- Breath holding Olympic Events: Plunge for Distance and Underwater Swimming
- USA Navy Seals fitness assessments
- More information: measuring heart rate