Diving Breathing Techniques

Diving Breathing Techniques

How many times have you surfaced from a dive only to be asked by your buddies, "How much air do you have left in your tank?" Remember, diving isn't a competition! Perfecting breathing techniques takes time and practice. Don't expect to master everything overnight. Rome wasn't built in a day, right? 

As divers gain experience, they naturally breathe less underwater as they become more relaxed and comfortable. Understanding the importance of wearing less weight, minimizing unnecessary movements, maintaining a streamlined position, and having good kicking techniques improve buoyancy control. This helps reduce air consumption, decrease carbon dioxide production, and increase the need for oxygen during dives. Yet, the most effective way to save air on dives is by mastering diver-specific breathing techniques.


First of all, here are some facts: 

Women tend to breathe less than men!

Apologies, guys. It's worth noting that women often have smaller lung capacities compared to men, mainly due to differences in body size and composition. Consequently, women inhale less air with each breath than men. Additionally, larger individuals have more muscle and body tissue that demand oxygen, prompting our lungs to grow in proportion to our bodies.

Some people have bigger lungs than others. 

I once had a guest, a lady the same age and size as me, using a 15 L tank and going through it super fast. She was excellent in the water, and her breathing rate was perfect. We were chatting, and she told me that once she had a lung capacity test, her lungs had a higher capacity than average. So I understood there was nothing else she could do. It might be frustrating, but that's the way it is. 

Don't simply rely on "normal" breathing underwater.

Contrary to what many new divers are told, breathing on scuba is different from breathing on land. Instructors might use the term "normal" to ease beginners' fears, but the reality differs. Underwater, you're breathing air under pressure, making it denser than the air on land. Additionally, you're using a regulator, which adds dead air space between your lungs and the air source. Breathing randomly won't efficiently deliver air to your lungs. To breathe effectively, adopt a controlled, slow breathing style. 

Stay Relaxed for Better Breathing

Many beginners take quick, deep breaths, thinking it will help them breathe better. However, this can lead to hyperventilation, which can cause dizziness or even unconsciousness. Instead, focus on staying calm and relaxed underwater. Slow down your breathing and take deep, continuous breaths. With each exhale, consciously release any tension in your body, allowing your muscles to relax. 



Koh Tao Diving - Chumphon Pinnacle

The Science and Technique

Improving your breathing technique involves understanding the science behind inhalation. Most gas exchange occurs in the lower third of the lungs, so it's best to inhale deeply; filling your lungs from bottom to top allows oxygenated air to reach where it is needed most.

The diaphragm muscle plays a key role in supporting your lungs. Learning to breathe using this muscle ensures that your stomach expands with each inhalation as the diaphragm contracts downwards, enabling full lung expansion. Utilizing your diaphragm expands your lung capacity, allowing you to breathe more air and prevent the gasp reflex.

What exactly is the diaphragm? A thin muscle beneath your lungs helps move air in and out of your body. When you breathe, your diaphragm contracts and relaxes, enabling air to enter your lungs.

Eliminating "dead air" is another essential aspect. When we breathe, we metabolize roughly a quarter of the oxygen in the air and produce carbon dioxide as a waste product. Proper exhalation removes CO2 from the body, while proper inhalation replaces it with fully oxygenated air.


Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing on the Surface

To practice diaphragmatic breathing, or abdominal breathing, follow these steps:

  1. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
  2. Inhale slowly, counting to two, ensuring that the hand on your abdomen rises while the hand on your chest remains still.
  3. Exhale slowly, counting to four, feeling your abdomen sink as you release the air.


Breathing patterns: It works! 

If you've ever smoked, you're likely familiar with the way smokers take a quick but deep inhale, filling their lungs with smoke, followed by a brief pause before exhaling slowly. It's not the healthiest example, but oddly enough, this technique is similar to scuba diving and can be pretty beneficial!

Here's how to do it:

  1. Take a quick and deep inhale, feeling your stomach expand as the diaphragm muscle contracts downwards.
  2. Then, exhale slowly, counting to 5 or more as you do. You'll feel the diaphragm muscle contract upwards as you exhale.
  3. Repeat this process. 
  4. As you become more comfortable, experiment with a 7-second exhale

Interestingly, many singers and wind/brass instrumentalists also use this breathing technique to control their breath and produce optimal sound. Give it a try next time you're diving, and see how it improves your breathing and overall diving experience! 


Another effective breathing technique is the "4 to 6 " method. Take some time to find the right breathing rhythm for you. Let's start with a count of "4".

Here's how it works:

  1. Inhale slowly, counting to 4 in your head, and feel your diaphragm muscle contract down, expanding your stomach.
  2. Then, exhale for the same count, trying to extend it by 2.
  3. So, count to 4 in and count to 6 out. 
  4. As you become more comfortable, experiment with a 5-second inhale and 7-second exhale

Experiment with different counts to find what feels best for you. It may take some focus at first, but with practice, it will become second nature. 


For the scuba geeks out there

Understanding our Surface Air Consumption (SAC) lets us estimate how much air we'll use at different depths.  

Here's what you do:

Start by doing several dives at different depths and in various conditions. Keep track of details like the depth, dive duration, amount of gas used, and cylinder size for each dive. Include a dive where you face challenges like strong currents or exert maximum effort, such as swimming hard for 5 minutes. Note your air consumption during these challenging moments to understand how it differs under strain.

Now, for the math:

METRIC calculation is "simple":

SAC= VT x VC / T / P 


  • VT is the Total Volume of the tank in liters,
  • VC is the Consumed Volume in bars during the dive,
  • T is the dive duration in minutes,
  • P is the pressure in bars at the average depth of the dive (or maximum depth if constant), and
  • SAC is the Surface Air Consumption in liters per minute.

Consider a dive to an average depth of 20 meters using a 15-liter tank filled to 200 bars initially, reduced to 150 bars after 20 minutes:

VT=15 litersVT=15liters

VC=50 barsVC=50bars

T=20 minutesT=20minutes

P=3 barsP=3bars

Substituting the values:

15 x 50 / 20 / 3 = 12.5 liters per minute

So, the SAC at the surface is 12.5 liters per minute. 

For future dives, you can calculate the required air using this value multiplied by the intended depth and time:

  • A 45-minute dive to 25 meters: 12.5×45×3.5=196912.5×45×3.5=1969 liters of air
  • A 1-hour dive to 10 meters: 12.5×60×2=150012.5×60×2=1500 liters of air 

IMPERIAL formula is a bit more complex, but it's still manageable once you get the hang of it! 

R x PsiC / WP / T / P

  • R is the cylinder rating in cubic feet,
  • PsiC represents the consumed Psi,
  • WP is the Working Pressure (the rated pressure the tank operates under),
  • T stands for time in minutes,
  • P is the pressure at the average depth of the dive (or maximum if you've stayed at the same depth the entire dive).

If you've done a dive to 60 feet for 50 minutes, using an 80 cubic feet cylinder with a working pressure of 3000 Psi, and you've consumed 2000 Psi of that air, the calculations would be:

R = 80 cubic feet

PsiC = 2000 Psi

WP = 3000 Psi

T = 50 minutes

P = 3 (pressure at 66 feet)

So... 80 x 2000 / 3000 Psi / 50 / 3 = 0.36 Psi of air per minute.

Remember that these SAC rates are based on individual dives, and various factors can influence air consumption. It's best to calculate the SAC for each dive in a series and then take an average. Additionally, periodic recalculations are recommended as our SAC may change over time due to experience level, streamline, finning technique, and physical fitness.


Koh Tao diving - Beautiful reef


When it comes to how long your air will last underwater, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone's air consumption varies based on factors like size, fitness, and gender. Scuba diving is all about maintaining a calm and relaxed state, so your breathing should reflect that. By practicing specific breathing techniques, you can become more efficient with your air consumption. Consider taking a Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty Course to master these skills. And most importantly, dive as much as you can!

If you ever find yourself in Thailand and plan on scuba diving in Koh Tao, come visit us! Let's discover the breathing technique that suits you best together!

PADI 5 Stars IDC Center

More than 50000 PADI Certifications


Our team is at your disposal for any questions about our articles or your order.


The management of our online payments is 100% Secure with Stripe


Free Shipping in Thailand

Nous utilisons des cookies pour nous assurer que nous vous offrons la meilleure expérience sur notre site.