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The sport of extreme breath-holding is a controversial practice that pushes the body to the edge of its limits. When it comes to testing our body’s endurance, how far are we willing to go?
It’s not superhuman, it’s just a matter of training. We can always take it further.Aleix Segura Vendrell
In essence, static apnea is a breath holding discipline. It is a unique sport where athletes submerge themselves face down in water for as long as possible without a single breath of air. Typically practised by freedivers or swimmers, it is performed as an exercise to hone their breathing techniques and condition their lungs for ocean-based sports or competitions.
Out of the hundreds of active practitioners in the world, Aleix Segura Vendrell, holds the still unbeaten Guinness World Record of 24 minutes and 3 seconds. An architect by training, Segura’s journey into the world of extreme breath suspension began as an exercise to complement his competitive freediving pursuits.
Practice for Segura takes place in local swimming pools. As a regular part of his weekly schedule, the Spanish freediver joins other athletes who submerge themselves face down in the water for long durations of time. Throughout practice, individuals take repetitive plunges in an attempt to achieve longer breath holds. “We always go to our limits,”says Segura. “Everytime we’re in competition or practice, we go to our maximum attempt”.
Naturally slim, Segura’s slight frame is a competitive advantage. With his smaller frame, this translates to a smaller lung to mass ratio; a physical advantage in the sport. Through training alone, Segura has increased the elasticity of his lungs to contain an estimated 8.5 litres – 1.5 litres more than the average average capacity of 7 litres. “It’s not superhuman, it’s just a matter of training. We can always take it further and further”.
“The real limit is hypoxia (the condition of being starved of oxygen),” remarks Segura, “but your feelings of suffocation come from the increase of CO2”. Without its most fundamental need for oxygen, the body begins its desperate fight for survival. The breathing center in the brain frantically triggers spasms in the chest. Lungs and muscles start to tingle before the burning starts, pressure in the brain builds, and blood pressure peaks during exertion at over double the normal heart rate. “We learn how to detect dangerous signs,” adds the athlete, “but we lose perception of time, and control. There are so many small signs it becomes tricky. That’s why we have so many safety personal, in case we fail to judge it. In the ocean one small miscalculation and it’s all over!”.
“Physically you’re suffering,” remarks Segura, “so at some point, it needs to have a point.” For the Spanish freediver, it is the call of the ocean that urges him to reach beyond his body’s limitations. Reflecting on his pursuit of the sport, the multiple World Champion freediver muses, “when I’m training, I disconnect and think about nothing, I lose perception of time. It’s meditative”
Aleix Segura Vendrell is the World Champion in Static Apnea, setting the Guinness World Record in 2016 with 24 minutes and 3 seconds. He currently lives and works in Barcelona as an architect.
Watch the video of the incredible feat here.
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