Does Holding Your Breath Increase VO2 Max?

EndurElite Chief Endurance Officer Matt Mosman discusses if this method, referred to as voluntary hypoventilation, can help runners, cyclists, OCR, and other endurance athletes improve their maximal oxygen uptake.

  • Ever wonder if holding your breath while running, cycling, or doing other endurance exercises can improve VO2 Max?
  • One research study took 15 runners and split them into two groups.
  • Each group ran 12 times on the treadmill for 24 minutes at 70% VO2 Max.
  • One group breathed normally while running. The other group cycled breathing normally with short periods of exhaling and holding their breath.
  • Pre and post testing data showed no increases in VO2 Max, lactate threshold, or time to exhaustion in the group that held their breath.
  • Take home point...breath during’s important.

Full Video Transcription:

Good morning, EndurElite Family of FAST. You know what we haven't done for a while? We haven't busted the bullshit for a while. On the chopping block today is this question, can holding your breath while you're running, cycling or doing other endurance exercise improve your VO2 max?

I don't even know why I'm shooting this video because it takes a special kind of stupid to think that's actually good for you to hold your breath during the exercise and then also to think that it's going to improve your VO2 max.

What Is Voluntary Hypoventilation?

So, let's get right into this. So this technique of holding your breath during exercise is called voluntary hypoventilation, and it basically involves this, breathing out then holding your breath for sporadic periods of time while you're exercising for like 5 to 10 seconds.

And the whole theory goes is that just kind of simulates high altitude training and will create all these changes and physiological variables and make your VO2 max better, your lactate threshold better, or have you, you know, be able to exercise longer for harder.

But there's actually no truth to this in terms of improving VO2 max but it may be beneficial in other areas which we'll talk about here in a second. But let's look at the research on this first.

Have Any Studies Explored Holding Your Breath During Exercise?

There is a guy named Xavier Woorons that has actually done quite a few studies on voluntary hypoventilation. And one of the studies he actually did look at if it increases VO2 max. So, here's what he did. He took a group of 15 runners and split them into 2 groups. One group was gonna breathe normally during treadmill testing and the other group was gonna breathe normal while also cycling in this voluntary hypoventilation.

Now before the testing protocol, he did all this pretesting on them as far as like VO2 max, lactate threshold, and time to exhaustion. So he got the pretest numbers in place. Then what he had these runners do is come in to the lab on 12 separate occasions over the course of 4 weeks and had them run on a treadmill at 70% of VO2 max for 24 minutes.

One group breathed normal like they usually would while running while the other group breathed normal and had sporadic periods of exhaling and holding their breath and then breathing normally again.

So Does Holding Your Breath During Exercise Improve VO2 Max?

So at the end of this four weeks, they crunched all this data and guess what they found out? They found out that the group that had did the voluntary hypoventilation experienced zero changes in VO2 max, lactate threshold, or time to exhaustion. So, the point being that holding your breath during exercise is not going to improve your VO2 max.

Voluntary Hypoventilation May Improve Repeated Sprint Performance

But they did find something actually pretty interesting that may be beneficial for athletes who participate in the explosive sports like rugby or soccer where you have periods of extended running followed by like short repeated sprints.

They found out that the pulmonary or the voluntary hypoventilation somehow was able to create an acidity buffering effect in the muscles, so it buffered the accumulation of hydrogen ions as exercise intensity increases. And Xavier Woorons, the guy that did this VO2 max study, has done about three or four studies on other groups of athletes as it relates to repeated sprint performance in rugby players, swimmers, and cyclists.

So from one study, he did it on rugby players. He again split them into two groups. One group did 40-meter sprints while breathing normally and then the other group did 40-meter sprints while exhaling and holding their breath their whole time, which sounds absolutely miserable.

But at the end of this study, they found out that the group that did the voluntary hypoventilation was actually able to improve repeated sprint performance. So this voluntary hypoventilation may be beneficial in sports or activity where there is repeated sprints, again like soccer, rugby, maybe some other sports that require explosive movements from time to time, but in a no way is it going to increase VO2 max.

So, that is all I have for today, my endurance friends. If you have a buddy who thinks it's a good idea to hold their breath during endurance exercise in the hopes that they're going to increase their VO2 max, please share this video with them. Oh God, please share this video with them. If you want other videos like this on endurance training, nutrition, supplementation and busting the BS, subscribe to the EndurElite YouTube channel or head on over to the EndurElite blog at Get social with us on Instagram and over at the Family of FAST Facebook page. And until next time, stay fueled, stay focused, stay fast, and stay informed.


  • Woorons, X., Mollard, P., Pichon, A., Duvallet, A., Richalet, J. P., & Lamberto, C. (2008). Effects of a 4-week training with voluntary hypoventilation carried out at low pulmonary volumes. Respiratory physiology & neurobiology, 160(2), 123-130.

  • Woorons, X., Gamelin, F. X., Lamberto, C., Pichon, A., & Richalet, J. P. (2014). Swimmers can train in hypoxia at sea level through voluntary hypoventilation. Respiratory physiology & neurobiology, 190, 33-39.

  • Woorons, X., Mucci, P., Richalet, J. P., & Pichon, A. (2016). Hypoventilation training at supramaximal intensity improves swimming performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 48(6), 1119-1128.

  • Woorons, X., Bourdillon, N., Vandewalle, H., Lamberto, C., Mollard, P., Richalet, J. P., & Pichon, A. (2010). Exercise with hypoventilation induces lower muscle oxygenation and higher blood lactate concentration:


    of hypoxia and hypercapnia. European journal of applied physiology, 110(2), 367-377.

  • Woorons, X., Bourdillon, N., Lamberto, C., Vandewalle, H., Richalet, J. P., Mollard, P., & Pichon, A. (2011). Cardiovascular responses during hypoventilation at exercise. International journal of sports medicine, 32(06), 438-445.

  • Woorons, X., Mollard, P., Pichon, A., Duvallet, A., Richalet, J. P., & Lamberto, C. (2007). Prolonged expiration down to residual volume leads to severe arterial hypoxemia in athletes during submaximal exercise. Respiratory physiology & neurobiology, 158(1), 75-82.