The breath hold test (not to be confused with the breath test) — is an easy and quick way to assess your body condition. It's not about how long you can hold your breath, it's about how long it takes before your breathing pulse naturally resumes.
It's not about how long you can hold your breath.
This test can be used to measure severity and type of breathing. In other words, it can provide valuable information about your respiratory function.
Breath test (no respiratory function test)
The breath test is often confused with the breath test, but they have fundamentally different applications. The breath test is based on bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract breaking down different substances. This produces by-products, such as carbon dioxide or hydrogen, which first enter the bloodstream and then — the lungs. After that they are exhaled, i.e. they are taken out of the body. At this time, we can measure their content.
The different breath tests have a similar principle: First, an initial breath sample is taken, then a special substance is injected and one or more exhaled air samples are taken for comparison.
Differences in the composition of the air before and after the administration of the substance can be used to draw conclusions about functional abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract (stomach or small intestine).
Breath tests thus involve breathing, but respiratory function itself is not very important — unlike the breath-hold test, where the focus is on the quality and type of breathing.
Breath-holding test (testing respiratory function)
There are different ways to do the breath hold test. Examples are the control pause (often just called the KP), the Stange test, or the breathalyzer (BOLT test). As a rule, they differ only in detail.
In these tests, the test is a test of the body's oxygen level.
In these tests, what matters is not so much how long you are able to hold your breath, but exclusively the time until the next spontaneous breathing impulse, the first involuntary movements of the respiratory muscles. This is because breathing — it is an instinctive process, a healthy person usually does not control it.
Breathing follows a clear pattern: a breath, an exhalation and a natural pause, especially in a state of rest and relaxation. Few people are aware of this pause, but it's an important one.
If the pause is too short or non-existent, it's not a good sign. If it lasts long, ideally 4–5 seconds, everything is fine. The same applies to measurements in the conscious breath hold test: the higher the value obtained naturally and without undue compulsion, the better. For most people, this is about 20 seconds; the ideal value —40–60 seconds.
How the test is done
If you're interested, try doing the test yourself. All you need is a stopwatch, like the one built into your smartphone.
Sit loosely on a chair to try the test. Both feet rest on the floor, and your hands rest loosely on your hips, or the back of the chair. Your eyes may be open or closed, – however you feel most comfortable.
Before starting the breath-hold test, take a few minutes to breathe quietly through your nose. Try to find a rhythm of breathing that makes you feel easy and comfortable. It is important that you do not strain, and the air passed through the nose naturally and without effort. It is better not to think about the technique of breathing too much, and just breathe calmly. Then start the test: breathe out deeply, as you normally do, and then clasp your nose with your fingers.
Measure the time from now until the first signs of a breathing impulse appear. It appears as a twitching of the abdominal wall due to contraction of the breathing muscles. Sometimes there is also a need to swallow. This is how the body signals that it needs to breathe again.
This is how the body signals that it needs to breathe again.
Now stop the stopwatch, open your fingers, breathe normally, and breathe again as usual. Important: you're not measuring how long you consciously hold your breath, but how long it takes your body to respond to the lack of air.
If at the end of the test you continue to breathe normally as before, you have done everything correctly. Then you have timed it correctly until the natural breathing movement occurs.
If you are still breathing normally at the end of the test, you have done it correctly.
What the results tell you
The results of the breath hold test not only allow conclusions about athletic performance, but also provide an assessment of health, sleep quality, ability to cope with stress and relaxation, as well as the quality and type of breathing. When you hold your breath, on the one hand, the concentration of oxygen in the body decreases, and on the other hand – the content of carbon dioxide increases. This creates a state similar to physical exertion.
The time to breathing impulse depends on how well the body copes with this stressful situation. The resulting value also reflects the energy reserve and tells you how you can increase it. The long-term goal — a result in the 40–60-second range, which, with the right approach, can be achieved by everyone: it is almost unaffected by age, health and fitness. For example, there are older people with high values and athletes with very low values.
How to improve
The most interesting thing about the test results — is that they can be used as a benchmark for personalized energy and breathing training. They show you what you can do to hold your breath longer. For many people, simply working on their breathing technique is enough.
The way you breathe
How do you breathe: through your nose or through your mouth, drawing your chest in slightly or taking in your stomach hard? Frantically, quickly and without stopping, or relaxed, with a long pause, following a calm breathing technique? The right workout, especially with low initial results, can be very effective.
The right workout, especially with low initial results, can be very effective.
Longer breath-holding will provide many benefits: after increasing your score by 5 seconds, for example, you'll have noticeably more energy for everyday activities. A 10 second increase generally results in changes in eating behavior, like an increased desire for fresh, healthy foods and decreased cravings for sweets and fatty foods.