Ask any group of freedivers their opinion on lung packing, and you’ll likely get a variety of viewpoints on the subject. It’s a hot topic, and people tend to stand firmly on one side or other of the debate. Many divers claim that there are benefits to lung packing that can improve your freediving abilities, while many others state that the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.
One thing is for sure. Lung packing is not ideal for your average snorkeler. This exercise should be reserved for professionally trained freedivers with plenty of experience in the sport. Keep reading if you’re curious about lung packing as we dive into the specifics, including the benefits, risks, and necessary precautions.
What is Lung Packing
Lung packing is a breathing exercise that allows freedivers to increase their lung volume by forcing air into the lungs through specific muscle contractions. Essentially, divers can use their glottis to gulp small volumes of air and over-inflate their lungs, extending breath hold time.
The medical process known as glossopharyngeal breathing was initially developed for patients with weakened breathing muscles. It was first observed in patients with polio and has since been used to help any patient with failing respiratory muscles.
In recent years, competitive freedivers have adopted this breathing technique to increase their lung volume, allowing them to dive deeper for extended periods. For example, the world record holder for deepest the freedive, Herbert Nitsch, uses lung packing to reach insane depths up to 800 feet!
Who Might Consider Lung Packing?
Lung packing is an advanced technique for very experienced freedivers who have had professional training. But, to understand who may consider trying lung packing, we should start by understanding the difference between snorkeling and freediving.
Most of us have tried snorkeling at one point or another in our lives. When snorkeling, you use a mask and snorkel to be able to see and breathe while swimming at the surface of the water. Sometimes when snorkeling, you can dive underwater to get a closer look at some brightly colored sea creature. This is sometimes called skin diving.
Freediving, on the other hand, requires deeper education and training to learn proper techniques to dive vertically as deep or long as possible in one breath. When freediving, you’ll use different equipment such as smaller masks and longer fins. Freedivers use breathing techniques and exercises to increase their lung capacity.
The only people who should even consider adding lung packing into their routine are accomplished freedivers that have already spent a decent amount of time practicing the sport. First, lung packing can only improve your dive time if you’ve already mastered the basics. Plus, lung packing can be dangerous even for capable divers.
Reasons Divers Lung Pack
There have not been many scientific studies on lung packing just yet. However, one study found that a breath hold diver was able to increase their total lung capacity by one liter by using this technique.
We will likely see more scientific studies as freediving’s popularity continues to grow, but for now, the benefits are reported from personal experiences. Divers who use this technique believe lung packing can increase your lung capacity, which supplies more oxygen to the brain while diving and allows for easier pressure equalization.
Increases Your Lung Capacity
The same study mentioned that lung packing could increase lung volume by up to 2.59 liters. Considering that the average lung capacity is somewhere between 4 and 6 liters, that’s a very significant change. Through lung packing, record holder Herbert Nitsch has managed to increase his to 15 liters. While this improvement is pretty incredible, it didn’t happen overnight. Nitsch has been training his body for years.
Longer Breath Holds
With a larger lung capacity, you’ll have access to much more oxygen when freediving. This will increase your performance by allowing you to stay underwater for longer and dive to greater depths.
Easier Pressure Equalization
As you dive deeper underwater, the air in your lungs begins to compress. Finally, at around 30 meters, you reach a depth where there is not enough air in your lungs to help you equalize. By increasing your lung capacity, you’ll be able to equalize at greater depths and avoid the uncomfortable feeling of your lungs being totally empty.
How to Lung Pack
Before you start lung packing, take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and heart rate. Relaxing is one of the key techniques for freediving. Once your heart rate has slowed down and you’re feeling calm, take a slow, deep breath to fill the entire capacity of your lungs.
Now that you’ve inhaled to your lung’s limit, you need to seal your throat by closing your glottis and sealing the back of your mouth. Some people find it easier with a nose clip. Then, you must create a vacuum in your mouth to draw air in and fill your mouth. Next, close your lips, and use the tongue and pharynx muscles to force the air down. The goal is to create negative pressure to force more air into your lungs than they normally hold.
Some divers will pack small volumes of air many times, while others pack larger volumes fewer times. It’s essential to listen to your body and avoid overpacking. Always start slowly, only packing small amounts a few times.
Risks of Lung Packing
For every diver who supports lung packing, you’ll find another who recommends even the most experienced breath-hold divers don’t use this technique. That’s because many believe the benefits do not outweigh the risks you face when lung packing. Plus, many world-class divers have broken records or performed impressive dives without using this technique.
One considerable risk is experiencing a packing blackout. When lung packing, your blood pressure can drop too low, causing you to blackout. If this happens underwater, your body will immediately try to breathe air which can cause you to drown. This is especially common with overpacking, so don’t push your limits.
The risk for other injuries common among divers can also increase with lung packing. Some examples are:
- Lung squeeze (Pulmonary Barotrauma)
- Decompression Sickness
- Nitrogen Narcosis
- Collapsed Lung (Pneumothorax)
- Lung Over-expansion
- Arterial Embolism
Just like packing blackouts, many of these injuries can lead to death. This is why working with an experienced professional is extremely important before attempting to lung pack. In addition, you should take certain precautions as you consider lung packing.
Precautions You Should Take When Lung Packing
If even after reading about the potential risks of lung packing, you’re still considering trying it yourself, there are certain precautions you can take to help minimize the dangers.
- Understand the risks: Simply educating yourself on the dangers of lung packing is a great first step toward practicing the technique safely. By educating yourself on the potential adverse outcomes, you can prepare and take the necessary precautions.
- Wait until you’re ready: As we mentioned, this is not a beginner’s technique. Make sure you learn the basic skills needed to freedive, like the buddy system, proper equipment use, weighting, and breath work.
- Consult a doctor: Talk with your doctor or someone who is experienced with divers to ensure you don’t have any underlying conditions that can increase your risks and get medical clearance before lung packing.
- Practice with an experienced mentor: Don’t consider YouTube videos or blogs to be a foolproof method of learning lung packing. Training with a professional who has experience in the technique is much safer. They can point out your mistakes as well as keep an eye on you when you’re underwater.
- Advance slowly: Don’t push yourself too hard and listen to your body. Start by adding only a few packs of breath and work your way to more slowly. Don’t ever pack to the point where you’re in pain.
- Practice on land first: While you risk blacking out on land or in the water, the latter is much riskier. When you first start lung packing, practice on land. Ideally, train while sitting down so you won’t hit your head if you do fall unconscious.
The Verdict on Lung Packing
For most freedivers, the benefits of lung packing don’t outweigh the severity of the risks. In fact, most would argue that you can reach the same depths without using this dangerous practice.
That being said, if you have a lot of freediving experience and have learned to listen to your body, lung packing could dramatically increase your lung capacity.
At the end of the day, each diver has to make their own decision. If you decide to try out lung packing, make sure to learn about the dangers and go through professional training to learn the proper techniques. With the right precautions, lung packing could help you dive deeper and longer.