When I used to teach scuba one of my biggest pet peeves was the following: a diver asks an instructor or another, more experienced, diver what they can do to reduce their air consumption. The standard response is that the more you dive, the better your air consumption will be.
While this is no doubt true, this answer teaches the novice nothing. When I taught scuba in the Florida Keys, I used to teach students methods to improve their air consumption. Now that I teach freediving, I’ve been exposed to even more techniques.
How to Improve Your Air Consumption
Let’s address two types of air-consumption issues. If you have really bad air consumption or are a new diver, start with method No. 1. Method No. 2 will work if you are a good diver who wants even more efficient air consumption.
Method No. 1
Sit on the couch and get a stopwatch, or use your phone. Breathe normally, just like when you’re watching TV, and count how many breaths you take in one minute.
On your next shallow reef dive, somewhere you feel very comfortable, kneel down on the sand in around 20 to 30 feet of water and don’t move at all. Sit there for a minute or two to relax. After you’ve gotten settled in a kneeling position, count how many breaths you take in one minute and compare this to how many you took on the couch. You’re probably breathing more heavily underwater, and the breaths you’re taking are also probably much deeper than you actually need.
I would argue that sitting on the couch and kneeling, unmoving, on the bottom of the ocean are similar in activity levels. Why should you breathe more often and use more air when you’re resting underwater? When I did this test with new divers, they took more, and deeper, breaths underwater, breathing tons more air. I simply asked the divers to kneel, unmoving, on the bottom until their breathing rate approached what it was sitting on the couch. The act of breathing heavily actually increases a new diver’s discomfort underwater — less is more.
Method No. 2
What if you’re not a brand new diver, and you have average air consumption? How can you improve? Steal some techniques from the freedivers — that’s how.
Most people don’t think about how they breathe when they’re underwater, which is totally normal; most just breathe in, breathe out. If you were to analyze how you’re breathing underwater, you would find that you probably spend the same about of time breathing in as breathing out, which means that half the time, you’re pulling air out of the tank. Wouldn’t your air consumption see a huge boost if you were only pulling air out of the tank 20 percent of the time underwear instead of 50 percent? Of course it would.
Try this on dry land first: take a breath, but from your diaphragm. Anyone who’s taken a freediving or yoga class will be familiar with this technique. When you take a breath, try not to let your chest move, but rather allow only your stomach to move out. This is a breath from the diaphragm only, and your chest is not moving at all. Using this technique means that you’re not taking nearly as a big a breath as you could.
Take a slow breath from the diaphragm as described, which should take 2 to 3 seconds, and then exhale very slowly for roughly 8 to 15 seconds, for however long it’s comfortable, and then repeat. Use your tongue and your teeth to restrict your exhale, so that you can easily do so for 8 to 15 seconds. This should all feel very comfortable. If you’re trying to exhale for as long as you can and then you’re dying to take your next breath, you’re not doing it right. This exercise should feel 100 percent comfortable and relaxed.
I created a short to video to demonstrate exactly what I’m talking about to help with your technique.
The idea is simple. Most of the time your scuba diving will be slow and relaxed, so it should be easy to breathe like this. At first it will take some focus to remember this technique, but after a dive or two it will become automatic. Breathing like this also lowers your heart rate, which will help your air consumption.
Ted Harty teaches two or three PFI freediving classes every month in Fort Lauderdale, Florida via his company Immersion Freediving. You can see his course schedule at