In simple terms; lung packing is a method some freedivers use to inhale more air than their resting lung capacity can hold. Lung packing is a way of literally forcing more air than is normal into your lungs, so your body benefits from extra oxygen during a deep dive.
The end result: with lung packing you may be able to dive deeper, for longer. But this may depend on other critical factors explored later in this post.
What is lung packing? A deeper look:
Lung packing can also be known as carpa, air packing, buccal pumping, frog breathing or even glossopharyngeal inhalation (scientific name).
The breathing method has been researched thoroughly outside of freediving in people with debilitated breathing muscles and low lung volumes.
Glossopharyngeal inhalation (lung packing) is usually used by people with spinal injuries, polio and muscular dystrophy. The breathing technique lets disabled people breathe without using their lungs if breathing machines were to fail overnight.
The mechanism of inhaling air used during lung packing has literally saved the lives of thousands of people who cannot use their lungs properly. Disabled people with breathing issues use their tongue, cheeks and leverage pressure differences (more on this later) to gulp air into their lungs.
What is lung packing good for in freediving?
Lung packing is seen as a ‘shortcut’ method or ‘hack’ to every freedivers’ dream: more oxygen for longer, deeper dives.
When you breathe normally, your lungs take in about 4 – 6 liters (or 1.05 – 1.58 gallons) of air. Lung packing lets you add another 0.5 – 3 liters (0.13 – 0.79 gallons) of air into your lungs.
This is roughly a ~ 15% increase in lung volume, which means roughly 15% more oxygen for the body to use when diving.
The only other time I’ve ever heard of freedivers getting a +15% boost in oxygen levels, are maybe when training with something like an Air Restriction Device (to boost lung volume) or when freedivers switch to a low-volume freediving mask to save oxygen.
Overall with a 15% boost in oxygen; it’s not hard to see why freedivers are tempted to do lung packing.
Lung packing: How To
Please remember this information is for educational purposes only. If you are thinking of doing any lung packing – consult a doctor or medical professional first.
Secondly – What material is your weight belt made of?
If your weight belt is made of an in-elastic material like nylon, the inflexible material could be cutting off your diaphragm from fully expanding during your pre-dive breathe-up; thus lowering your total oxygen in take.
Before learning lung packing, I strongly suggest investing in a rubber weight belt that stretches as you inhale, so you get the most oxygen in your lungs possible. I recommend the Riffe Rubber Weight Belt – click here to view it on Amazon.
If you are completely new to lung packing, here is how you do it:
Step 1: Calm your breathing.
Start by taking 3 deep, yet comfortable breaths. Now adjust your breathing to its normal pace.
Step 2: Calm your mind.
Visualize something relaxing, like the slow splashing of waves against the side of a boat or a happy, warm and relaxed memory. Or, this can be as simple as focusing on being present in the moment by being aware of your surroundings or counting your breaths.
Step 3: Seal your nose.
Many freedivers skip this step as it’s optional. Try lung packing with and without a sealed nose and see how you go. You can seal your nose by pinching it shut or even better you can use a freediving nose clip.
Step 4: Breathe in deeply.
Breathe in slowly, starting with your stomach. Once your stomach feels full pause very briefly, then keep inhaling into your chest to expand it fully to its maximum volume.
Step 5: Close your throat
To seal your throat you’ll have to do two things: close your glottis (opening between your vocal cords) and close the back roof of your mouth. You may want to practice this by itself, before you start lung packing, so you can experiment with it.
Step 6: Create negative pressure in your mouth
While your throat is still closed; open your mouth slightly. Drop your jaw and move your tongue to the back of your mouth to create a ‘vacuum’ or negative pressure.
Step 7: Gulp the air into your lungs
Close your lips, open your throat and swallow the air down into your lungs.
Step 8: Repeat gulps
If this is your first time packing, take it easy and do a small amount. Start off doing 3 – 5 packs at the most or even better do what feels best for you.
Step 9: Exhale
Let all the air out of your lungs. If you are practicing in the water, make sure you have a safety diver or a freediving instructor with you, in case you do something wrong and blackout.
Step 10: Get a mentor (optional)
If it’s your first time lung packing, it can be difficult if you’re just following written instructions. So if you’re still struggling; get a freediving instructor to help you, or watch videos of experts doing it. Sometimes you can learn better by watching.
Below is a fantastic video on lung packing for freedivers by expert freediver Sarah Campbell (5:15 is where the lung packing begins. Ideally watch the entire video as it’s put together really well.):
Lung packing breathing techniques
All freedivers do lung packing in virtually the same way: you fill your lungs up to the max volume they can hold; then leverage negative pressure differences to gulp more air into your lungs. You should literally be forcing more air in than your lungs can normally hold.
There are many different lung packing breathing techniques, however they are all slight variations on the same thing. Some may prefer using their tongue to create negative pressure, whereas others use their cheeks more to do it.
Ultimately; use the lung packing breathing technique which comes naturally to you. If you really want to experiment with different lung packing breathing techniques; contact a freediving instructor or try it with a freediving group you can trust.
Who should do lung packing?
Only advanced freedivers should be doing lung packing, if at all.
Packing is used as a way to push yourself deeper for longer. It’s a slight edge or enhancement that an already trained and seasoned freediver can use. But if you’re a beginner freediver…
There’s not much point lung packing if you haven’t learnt the basics yet.
Remember the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule: 80% of your freediving results comes from 20% of what you do. And that 20% are the basics every freediver works on: breath-hold training, getting into a Flow State (watch this video by clicking here if you don’t know how to get into your Flow State yet)…
And lastly experience at freediving is the best teacher of all. These are the aspects of freediving that you work on that largely determine your results in the sport.
It’s only when you’ve mastered these 20% basics that you should even think about moving on to advanced breath-holding techniques like lung packing.
In fact, any beginner to intermediate diver who packs, is putting incredible amounts of risk on themselves. Freediving is an extreme sport and dangerous enough as it is.
Lung packing makes it even more dangerous.
Note: beginners may use it carefully when dry stretching to help with lung volume.
Benefits of lung packing
By now the benefits of lung packing should be clear: it provides more oxygen to your brain so you can dive deeper for longer.
Aside from this; lung packing also:
- Boosts total lung capacity allowing for easier pressure equalization at great depths
- Relaxes your airway [link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16525813]
- Can boost overall apnea performance
Can lung packing lower your freediving performance?
Ironically, there have also been studies showing lung packing may decrease overall freediving performance.
- Lung packing can decrease cardiac output and lower stroke volume. To compensate for this your body releases adrenaline to increase your heart beat again so you don’t faint. But this also means your body uses more oxygen, which can work inefficiently against you by shortening your dive time.
- More time spent above surface holding your breath (to pack lungs), which is time you could have spent in the water diving deeper.
- Less relaxed before your dive.
- More buoyancy to struggle with (harder to go deeper).
Lung packing injury(s): What are the risks of lung packing?
Before doing any lung packing whatsoever, it’s always wise to get a good idea of the different lung packing injuries you could sustain. Here’s a list of injuries you’re more likely to get when lung packing especially when over-packing during deep breath-hold dives:
- Nitrogen narcosis (hallucinations, dizziness, loss of touch)
- Decompression sickness (dull aching in joints, confusion, paralysis)
- Lung squeeze (fluid in lungs, coughing up blood, chest pain)
- Pneumothorax or collapsed lung (chest pain, shortness of breath)
- Damage to heart muscles
- Complete stopping of the heart
- Death resulting from gas embolism
There are more lung packing injuries than those listed above. But these are the main ones.
The last one – ‘death resulting from gas embolism’ – is obviously incredibly serious. This can be a huge risk factor deterring freedivers from lung packing.
Lung packing and gas embolisms
What is a gas embolism and how does it occur?
An embolism can occur when you over pack – or put too much air volume in your lungs.
The air pressure in your lungs gets raised to such a high level that your lungs can no longer stand having so much volume held in them. Naturally, the air looks to diffuse to any area that has more space available.
At this point your lungs are like a balloon that’s been over inflated. Except instead of your lungs popping, air pressure inside your lungs is relieved by small bubbles of air squeezing through the lining of your lungs, straight into your blood stream. The air bubbles then float around your blood stream and cause blockages in vessels. This is incredibly serious and can lead to convulsions, fainting, strokes and death.
Lung packing blackout
Underwater blackout and above-the-water blackout are serious life-threatening risks of over-doing lung packing. It’s been said that lung packing and especially over packing boosts intrathoracic pressure.
Intrathoracic pressure lowers your heart’s cardiac output (which lowers blood pressure). When your blood pressure is too low, your brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen so you faint or blackout. And as soon as you blackout your body automatically inhales in a desperate attempt to get more oxygen to the brain.
But if you are under water during this blackout, it can be lethal. This is because losing consciousness under water means you end up inhaling water and potentially drowning. There has been at least one reported death due to over-packing in the pool.
Overall: lung packing and especially over-packing can cause blackout which causes death. So please be careful.
Can lung packing be dangerous on dry land?
As mentioned above, lung packing can lead to fainting or blacking out. When standing on dry land this isn’t a great risk. But if you pass out and hit your head it could turn lethal. To avoid falling and hitting your head when lung packing: always do it seated, laying on the floor or in a safe, padded environment where sudden fainting won’t hurt your head. Outside of blacking out; lung packing can still be lethal as at the end of the day, you’re still forcing air into your lungs and overfilling them.
It’s also worth noting: Lung packing on dry land leaves you susceptible to almost all the same injuries as in the water. You can still get: pneumothorax, lung squeeze, gas edemas etc, so be careful and never push things too far.
Is lung packing needed to go deep?
There are countless top freedivers who go incredibly deep without lung packing. Many of the deepest freediving world records have been set without lung packing.
If other freedivers can do it without packing, so can you.
If you’re really looking to learn an advanced freediving technique that let’s you go deeper; I recommend learning the Frenzel Method by clicking this link here.
What is Reverse Lung Packing?
Reverse lung packing is a dry land exercise which mimics the immense pressure your lungs and body feel deep underwater. It acts as a potential safeguard against the numerous injuries your lungs can sustain when put under huge amounts of pressure.
Reverse packing also helps you boost your ribcage and diaphragm flexibility (much like an ARD). This lets you go deeper and equalize effectively during deep dives. Most freedivers will agree that reverse lung packing is safe and almost a must to tap into your full freediving ability.
How does reverse lung packing work?
The exercise works by lowering or draining the residual volume in your lungs.
Residual volume is the amount of remaining air in your lungs after you have fully exhaled. As you can probably guess; reverse lung packing is similar to normal lung packing in that it revolves around making negative pressure differences in your body and pushing it passed its normal breathing state. Your goal when reverse packing is to make negative pressure differences in order to funnel remaining air out of your lungs (after you’ve exhaled completely).
When you do this, you also help stretch lung tissue and other tissues in your chest area. This in turn can lead to greater overall lung volume.
How To Do Reverse Lung Packing
Step 1: Lie down (optional)
Some freedivers prefer to lie down when reverse packing. The justification for this is that it’s easier to empty the stomach and lungs and allows you to open your chest up more. However there isn’t any evidence to support this, so this step based on your personal preferences. Some freedivers sit, tilted slightly forward to get maximum air out of their bodies. Do not do reverse lung packing while standing as it can cause fainting.
Step 2: Start with normal breathing
Don’t count your breaths or breathe to a certain pace or hyperventilate. Just focus on being present in the moment so you breathing adjusts to its normal rate.
Step 3: Take a deep breath in
Slowly and gently inhale through your mouth filling your stomach and lungs up.
Step 4: Exhale completely
Start with letting out the air in your chest, then your stomach. After all air is expelled; tense your muscles above your stomach to force even more air out. Don’t exert yourself too hard, but be sure to do a thorough job.
Step 5: Exhale more
Tilt your head slightly back and tense your diaphragm muscles even tighter to send all remaining air to your mouth.
Step 5: Relax
Briefly un-tense all the muscles you used to exhale.
Step 6: Seal lips and nose
Be sure to seal your lips tightly. Seal your nose as well. If you were wearing a nose clip, skip this step.
Step 7: Create negative pressure
With lips and nose sealed but throat open; lower your bottom jaw and your tongue. This pumps remaining air from your lungs into your mouth.
Step 8: Expel remaining air
Close your glottis. Move your tongue and jaw up again, apply tension to cheek muscles and push air out of the mouth.
Step 9: Repeat ‘reverse gulps’
Keep pumping air out of your lungs like pistons. Stop when you reach residual volume. You’ll know you’ve reached residual volume when you feel a little dizzy, your collar bones are poking out and the area around your diaphragm looks completely pressed in and very thin.
Step 10: Inhale air
Relax and inhale gently.
Again, reverse lung packing is difficult to describe in words. But there’s a great video below made by a Youtube Channel called ‘Freediving Training’. Check it out below:
Benefits of Reverse Lung Packing?
- Boosts ribcage muscle and diaphragm flexibility.
- Dive deeper, for longer.
- Less chance of getting lung injuries.
- Helps with equalization at greater depths.
- Helps your body cope with and relax under deep pressure.
Who should do reverse lung packing?
Reverse lung packing is a dry land exercise and commonly used to practice for deep diving. Therefore, reverse packing is usable for anyone, from beginner to advanced freedivers.
However, to be safe, you may want to get the help of a freediving trainer to assist you for your first time. This will make it more likely you do it correctly and won’t hurt yourself.
Dangers of reverse lung packing
Normal lung packing over inflates the lungs, which invites a great deal of potential problems to you if you decide to do it. Reverse lung packing, however, is much safer.
The main reason for this is that expelling air out of your lungs simply does not put as much stress on your body as over-inhaling does. Despite this, there are still risks involved with reverse lung packing, as seen below:
- Dry fainting: Standing on dry land while reverse lung packing is risky because you could fall and hit your head. Stay seated or lay down to avoid this.
- Wet fainting: If you’re underwater while reverse lung packing and you push things too far you could become incredibly dizzy and blackout under water. This is rare, but still a risk and could be fatal.
- Lung squeeze: reverse lung packing underwater could create a negative pressure difference resulting in lung squeeze. This is rare and lung squeeze isn’t seen as a super serious injury, but still worth watching out for.
Conclusion: should you lung pack?
Overall I do not recommend normal lung packing before diving. It simply carries too much risk and is not necessary to go diving. However, I do recommend reverse lung packing, provided you do it safely.
But at the end of the day: weigh up your personal preferences. If you want to lung pack and you know what you’re doing, by all means go for it. Just be careful!
So if not lung packing – what breathe up technique do you use then?
The answer here is that you shouldn’t follow any ‘plan’ for breathing up before freediving. The best breathe up for freediving is your normal, relaxed breathing state. Relaxed breathing trumps any sort of intricate “inhale for this long; exhale for this long” sort of advice.
The whole point of the breathe up is to get your body and mind ready and relaxed before you take a big plunge. Frantically counting each breath you’re inhaling/exhaling will only stress you out and overwhelm you before your dive, causing you to burn through your oxygen and dive less deep.