This guy held his breath for 23 minutes. His name is Goran Čolak, it was 2014, and he broke the Guinness World Record for Static Apnea. 23 minutes!
Static apnea is when a person holds their breath underwater for as long as possible without swimming any distance.
Goran Čolak: “Basically I try to visualize a white wall l with a black dot on it. So I don’t actively pursue any thoughts. I just stare at the blank wall.”
Most people can only hold their breath for a minute or so before feeling the urge to breathe. It’s the excess carbon dioxide more than the lack of oxygen that makes this uncomfortable. Push through that discomfort and eventually the diaphragm and intercostal muscles will start to spasm in a series of painful contractions.
Goran Čolak: “I just concentrate on counting my contractions, I try not to think about anything else.”
David Blaine experienced these contractions during a stunt that aired on ABC. It can feel like being punched in the stomach. It’s the excess CO2, more than the lack of oxygen, that creates this reaction.
Goran Čolak inhaled pure oxygen for about 15 minutes to get his blood super saturated and ready for a long breath hold. For Guinness, that’s okay. It was an event for charity. But underwater sports organizations like the World Underwater Federation actually consider this to be doping.
In training, Čolak practices breath-holds with short recovery times to get used to all that built up carbon dioxide. Not to mention the cardio that he does to keep his resting heart rate low, because the faster his heart is beating, the faster his oxygen supply is used up.
For the same reason, Čolak practices staying calm under water, while the rest of us would probably start to panic. Competitive breath-holders take advantage of something called the mammalian diving reflex. It’s an automatic reaction that helps mammals survive underwater.
For humans it’s best triggered by cold water to the face. For static apnea, some of the most useful aspects of this reflex are when the heart rate slows to conserve oxygen. The capillaries also close off in the extremities so blood can be directed to the most important organs: the heart and the brain. At some point, the spleen shrinks, squeezing out precious extra blood cells. But Don’t try this at home.
If you don’t know your body’s limits and go without oxygen for too long, this can cause a blackout.