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Tactical Tip: Holding your breath

You've probably been taught the value of taking deep breaths on your way to hot calls to reduce stress and enhance alertness and composure. But what about HOLDING your breath? In certain circumstances, retaining air can improve your survival odds, and the longer you can keep your lungs supplied the safer you'll be.

  • If you're shot, cut or stabbed, lengthening the time between breaths can counteract hyperventilation and slow your blood loss.
  • If you're being suffocated or choked, holding your breath may give your attacker the impression that you are unconscious, prompting him to relax enough that you can regain the upper hand.
  • If you're pulled underwater by dangerous currents or a dangerous suspect, extended air capacity may keep you from drowning.
  • And if you're in the water and an offender is tracking or shooting at you from a boat or from shore, the longer you can stay below the surface the better chance you have of using time, distance and surprising repositioning to your advantage. When you do come up, you can do so without panic in a physically controlled manner with your gun drawn, ready to defend yourself.

Trainer Dave Young, who teaches water-related survival techniques for the nationwide Tactical Training Division of Fox Valley Technical College, which is now part of the new PoliceOne.com Training Network, offers a simple drill for expanding your lung capacity and lengthening the time you can hold your breath whenever you need to do so. You'll be surprised at how quickly this can improve your air control.

First, establish your current baseline. Inhale through your mouth and hold your breath as long as you can, noting the elapsed time. "Fifteen to thirty seconds is typical," Young says.

For the next two minutes, repeat this action: Inhale through your mouth and hold. When you start to feel an uncomfortable tightness in your chest or a spasm to your lower diaphragm, release through your nose a modest "spill" of air--what you judge to be about 1/4 of what's in your. This will relax the muscles around your lungs and ease some of the pressure. Continue to hold the rest, repeating the pattern of "spilling" and holding until all your air is gone.

Rest for one minute.

Finally, inhale slowly through your mouth and hold. When you start feeling pressure to release, quickly let a short spill escape through your nose. Repeat until your lungs are empty.

"When you look at your time, you should see a vast improvement, with your holding time expanded by at least 50 to 100 per cent," Young says. Using this drill over time, Young has been able to extend his personal air retention to slightly longer than two minutes.

"This is an exercise you can do when driving, reading, flying or just sitting for prolonged periods," he says. "The more you do it, the more flexible and expansive your lungs become."

As you repeat the drill, practice controlling your mental focus as well. "If you concentrate just on time, you're going to run out of air fast," Young cautions. "I think about my kids. They're the greatest joys in my life--and a strong motivation for surviving."

He has found in his classes that when he tells officers to swim the length of a pool under water, not many can do it. But when he places a training gun at the end of the pool and tells them they can't surface until they have grabbed the gun, most are able to do so. "Their mind is focused on an important objective," he explains, "not just on retaining air."

Remember to inhale through your mouth and exhale through your nose. That tends to produce better results than directing intake and outflow through the same orifice.

Related Training:
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