How To Improve Your SCUBA Breathing Rate and Get More Bottom Time

5 Easy Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Breathing Rate and Get More Bottom Time On Your Next Dive!

What if I told you that there are four simple things you can do on your next dive that will absolutely help you maximize your bottom time.

You’ve invested time and money into your training, your dive gear, and even the dive trip itself. It only makes sense that you do what’s possible to safely maximize your time underwater.

Below are five simple steps you can take to help you become more efficient underwater and ultimately lower your breathing rate which will maximize your bottom time! Don't underestimate how powerful some of these steps are. Just because they are easy doesn't mean they aren't extremely effective!

Step 1: Be Very Mindful Of Your Movement! Motion Requires Energy and Energy Requires Motion

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be Isaac Newton to understand this. What you do need to understand is that one of the most important skills you need to master as a diver is how to move when you are underwater! As a diver, you should have a basic understanding of movement and how it affects us.

You See, the more you move underwater the more oxygen your body uses and the more oxygen your body uses, the more gas you’ll burn while diving.

Most of us rarely think about how efficiently we are moving on the surface because we don’t have a limited amount of oxygen while we go about our daily routine.

Unfortunately, that’s just not the case when we are visiting our favorite reef or wreck. Our gas supply is limited to the available gas inside our SCUBA tank.

That’s why things like kicking technique, weighting and even how you move become important if you really want to maximize your fun time with the fish.

STEP 2: Do a Proper Buoyancy Check! YOU MUST BE PROPERLY WEIGHTED

“You should use ten percent of your body weight in lead when you go diving.”

Have you ever heard this before??? It’s a common yet dangerous recommendation which I’ve heard on dive boats before.

I cannot begin to tell you the headache I get when I hear that!

Just to illustrate how wrong that recommendation is let me walk you through the following scenario.

I live in S. Florida (warm water all year round). Here we absolutely do not need this much ballast to go diving.

I weigh 195 lbs (88.5 kilos). If I were to blindly follow the formula above, I would need to dive with 19.5 lbs (8.8 kilos) of lead. This is an amount of lead that would surely make me sink like a rock were my BCD not fully inflated.

Currently I dive with nothing more than a steel back plate, which is about 6lbs (2.7 kilos) negative. So, if I were to use the formula above, I would be diving with almost 14 more pounds (6.4 kilos) of weight than I actually need.

How much do you think carrying an extra 14 lbs of weight with me on every dive would affect my air consumption?

The extra weight means I need more air in my BCD just to stay neutral. This extra air creates more drag. More drag = more energy wasted.

The extra weight also takes more effort to move, again more energy wasted.

Then there’s the more terrifying aspect of diving with so much extra weight which is that it can be dangerous!

What happens if you’re BCD is punctured? Or if the inflator hose breaks? Can you swim back to the surface with so much weight strapped to you?

Then there’s the more terrifying aspect of diving with so much extra weight which is that it can be dangerous!

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I know, you might be thinking you can always ditch the weight, but what if you can’t. What if you were to lose consciousness and it’s no up to someone else to bring you to the surface.

Even if you could ditch it, how does having un-needed weight benefit you?

Now, there are times and places where diving with 10% or even more than 10% of your body weight may be warranted.

The issue here is not the amount of weight, it’s how you determine how much weight you actually need. As divers we have to be aware of our weighting needs.

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The only way to know how much weight you need is to do a proper buoyancy check! It’s imperative to get weighted properly because carrying extra weight makes it harder for you to move underwater and causes you to burn more of your limited air supply, and that just sucks the fun out of our dives! (pun intended J)

If you want to see how to do a buoyancy check, see the videos below:

Step 1: Determine The Ballast Needed For Yourself

Step 2: Determine The Ballast Needed For Your Gear

Step 3: SLOW DOWN! Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Hey, it worked for the tortoise right?? Here’s the thing, when we dive we need to focus on how we move. As it turns out, the faster we move underwater the less we are likely to see while diving. It’s counterintuitive I know, but hear me out a second. Because water is so much denser than air, it is harder for us to move around when we ae immersed in our playground. Because of this, we are better off moving slowly and steadily when we dive rather than flopping around like mad people.

The lesson here is that less is more. The more deliberate and methodical your movements are, the more you will be likely to enjoy your dive and the more you are going to be able to see while underwater.

Still not convinced? When do you think your breathing rate is higher, when you are sitting down reading, or when you are running in an attempt to break your own record for your fastest mile ever? It’s obvious that your breathing rate is lower when you are sitting, but why? Because you are barely moving. The same is true with your diving. The less you move the less gas you use.

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Don’t get me wrong, if sprinting around the reef is your thing, more power to you. Just know that you’ll be burning through your limited air supply much faster than those of us who like to cruise around.

This is a good time to mention that kicking technique is crucial to diving efficiency. If you do not know how to kick properly or which kick to use depending on circumstances, you’ll burn unnecessary amounts of oxygen just getting around the reef. Below is one of our videos on the Frog Kick, it’s just one of many kicks you need to master as a diver. It’s the one however that you should be doing most of the time because it’s the most efficient kick in terms of using less gas.

STEP 4: Trigger Your Mammalian Reflex!

This is a little known reflex which we all have, and believe it or not you can use this hack to lower your breathing rate.

Without getting overly technical, our bodies go through a process called the “mammalian reflex” when we descend into the depths. Once triggered, this reflex dramatically slows down our metabolism. Because of this, our bodies naturally use less oxygen.

I’m not going to go into the physiological reasons why this happens, but if you want to find out more here’s some info on Wikipedia.

The key thing to know about the mammalian reflex is that It seems to be triggered when water touches our face. So here’s how to take advantage of that.

First, take a minute or two to stop on your descent to let your body acclimate to the environment.

Second, let water enter your mask when you go into the water so that it hits your face. If you are comfortable it’s best to flood your mask so your face is fully exposed to the water. You’ll want to do this while holding on the descent line. Relax for a minute or two and then continue your dive.

Step 5: Focus On Your Breathing

This has always been a funny thing to me. When I think back to the time before I took my first dive class (AKA Before Diving, or BD), I remember thinking to myself that I never really thought about my breathing. Hell, breathing was just something I did…who thinks about the breathing?? As it turns out, SCUBA divers do!

Let me ask you something, as you read this article how are you breathing? Is it from your nose or your mouth? How long are your inhalations? How long are your exhalations? Are you breathing primarily from your stomach (Diaphragmatic breathing) or are you breathing shallow and from your chest?

All of this matters. The problem is most people don’t pay attention to it.

When you’re SCUBA diving you want your breathing to be slower and initiating from your stomach. You also want to be conscious of how long your inhalations and exhalations are. The easiest way to measure this is to simply count so that you become conscious of it.

If you want to make a game of it follow a buddy who you know has a great breathing rate. When they exhale you’ll see their bubbles. Now you exhale, who takes longer to exhale? Who takes longer to inhale? If you’re moving slowly and taking longer breaths, you’ll be able to stay down longer.

Try it on your next dive and you’ll notice your bottom time will get longer.

You’ve probably noticed that when you dive you tend to breath deeper and slower than when you’re on surface. If you haven’t, try to pay attention to it the next time you take a leap into the abyss. By focusing on slowing your breathing rate and breathing deeply, you’ll see an improvement on your overall air consumption.

Pretty interesting stuff right? I do not know about you, but I did not know about the majority of this stuff when I first became certified. I mean, I did not focus on things like my breathing rate or how important it was to be properly weighted fresh out of my basic or even my advanced class. I sure as hell did not know what the mammalian effect was or how it could help me conserve air.

Which of these techniques will you be implementing on your next dive?  Let us know in the comments below. Also, do you have a method, technique or hack which we didn’t cover here? What do you do to prolong your dives so you can stay down longer?

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