In 2010, Danish freediver, Stig Severinsen, jumped into a pool filled with sharks and held his breath for 20 minutes and 10 seconds, breaking the previous Guinness World Record for the ‘longest time breath held voluntarily’. Two years later, the fearless Stig did it again, somehow breaking his own remarkable record by holding his breath for a staggering 22 minutes. If there’s such a thing as a real-life Aquaman, it’s this guy.
Severinsen – who has a PhD. in medicine and a master’s degree in biology, is known for participating in the most extreme challenges, including swimming in freezing water. Before setting his first breath holding world record, he swam 236 feet – about 72 meters (14.5 more meters than Wim Hof, the previous record holder), in the below-zero waters of the North Sea. After taking a few breaths of air, he dived feet first through a hole carved in the ice. As soon as he was in the water, he started swimming to the next hole wearing only his signature blue Speedos. The triangle-shaped hole was 72 meters away and there wasn’t another escape route mid-way, which made the challenge extremely dangerous. After reaching his destination in just 96 seconds, the 40-year-old daredevil lingered in the freezing hole a little longer, as if to prove the cold didn’t affect him very much. You’d think that after swimming that distance in heart-stopping water he immediately jumped out to find some warm clothes, but our hero just stood there with his elbows on the ice, smiling and thanking everyone as if he was in a hot tub or somewhere in the Bahamas.
After such an experience, the fact that he can hold his breath for dozens of minutes doesn’t even seem that extreme anymore. Nonetheless, nobody in the world can do it, except him. When trying to beat his own record for holding his breath under water, back in 2012 , Stig was accompanied only by his brother, a medic, who constantly monitored his vitals. Before starting the stopwatch, he did his signature routine called pre-oxygenated static apnea, which involves inhaling pure oxygen. By eliminating the nitrogen and carbon dioxide ,which make up over 78% of the air we naturally breathe, he was able to saturate his lungs with oxygen, which helped him undertake this extreme exercise. But in order to conserve the precious oxygen, Severinsen also arranged for the water in the pool to be around 30 degrees Celsius so he could lower his heart rate down to an impressive 30 beats per minute. After 20 minute and 10 seconds, this incredible human had already beaten his own record, but he decided to stay an additional one minute and 50 seconds just for fun. In the end, he managed to hold his breath for exactly 22 minutes.
Apparently, Stig is some kind of super-human or human-fish hybrid with a lung capacity of 14 liters, twice that of the average person. In addition to his incredibly strong lungs, the 40-year-old has also always had a thing for water, especially ice-cold water. When he was young, he liked to go “Viking Swimming” – diving in ice holes. He also played underwater rugby and underwater hockey. He is the author of a book called “Breatheology”, in which he describes the breathing routine that he goes through before any death-defying challenge. In short, meditation and control are key as panicking would require him to burn more oxygen. Using his technique, Danish Microsoft project manager Troels Hviid, a student of Severinsen’s, managed to deep dive in the Red Sea. He explained that he took a big breath and immersed himself in the water. “But the panic quickly grabs you, and I had to work on the mental side to stay calm. You have to generate a lot of positive thoughts to preserve oxygen,” he explains. Stig also teaches at the Breatheology Academy, where he trains other athletes, including cyclist Alberto Contador, the science of breathing. His lessons are not cheap as he charges as much as $10,000 per week to teach extreme breath holding to every adventurer who can afford it.