BOLT Breathing Measurements

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    Admin Mediterra

    Here are some insights and exercises from the book The Oxygen Advantage.

    From Chapter 2, some explanation of why you may be experiencing heavy breathing during what should be moderate exercise.

    When your breathing receptors have a strong response to carbon dioxide and reduced pressure of oxygen in the blood, your breathing will be intense and heavy. Your body will have to work much harder to maintain this increased breathing volume, but because over-breathing causes carbon dioxide levels to drop, less oxygen will be delivered to working muscles.

        Conversely, having a greater tolerance to carbon dioxide not only reduces breathlessness but also allows for much more effective delivery of oxygen to your working muscles during exercise. When breathing receptors are less sensitive to carbon dioxide levels, you will experience a reduction in breathlessness as your body is able to work harder with far less effort; breathing will be lighter during both rest and physical exercise. p.33

    It appears that for breathless athletes, our problem is not about getting more oxygen (more frequent and bigger inhalations during swimming) but to train the body to handle higher levels of CO2 and lower levels of O2 in the blood. Through certain kinds of training we can lower our sensitivity to this, which not only lowers the discomfort, it actually lowers our body’s response to that condition, so we just don’t feel the need to breathe as heavy. 

        It has been said that one of the main differences between endurance athletes and non-athletes is their response to low pressures of oxygen (hypoxia) and higher levels of carbon dioxide (hypercapnia). In other words, endurance athletes are able to tolerate a greater concentration of carbon dioxide and lower concentration of oxygen in the blood during exercise.

        In order to attain outstanding performance during sports, it is essential that your breathing does not react too strongly to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide and decreased concentrations of oxygen. p.34

    So, how bad is you situation really?

    It would be disingenuous to expect breathing to be efficient during sport if breathing during times of rest is inefficient. p.36

    Here is the main test that gives us the measurement that all subsequent choices for breath training are based on.

    The Body Oxygen Level Test (BOLT)

    As far back as 1975, researchers noted that they length of time of a comfortable breath hold served as a simple test to determine relative breathing volume during rest and breathlessness during physical exercise. The Body Oxygen Level Test (BOLT) is a very useful and accurate tool for determining this relative breathing volume. BOLT is simple, safe, involves no sophisticated equipment, and can be applied at any time. p.37

    • You will hold breath for a length of time until the first definite natural desire to breathe (air hunger).
    • You are measuring how soon the first sensations of breathlessness appear.
    • Measuring maximum breath hold is not objective because that time can be influenced by willpower and mental override.
    • The lower the BOLT score = the greater the breathing volume (which is a bad thing); the greater the breathing volume = the more breathlessness you will experience in exercise.

    The most accurate BOLT score is taken first thing after waking. p. 47

    Instructions for taking the BOLT Test

    • Rest for 10 minutes before measuring.
    • When ready, take a normal breath in through your nose.
    • Then allow a normal breath out through your nose.
    • Pinch the nostrils to prevent air coming into lungs.
    • Count seconds until first natural urges to breathe – sensations include need to swallow, constriction of airway, involuntary contraction of breathing muscles (in abdomen or throat).
    • Release the nose and inhale through the nose.
    • Inhalation should be calm – if you need to take a big breath at the end then you held too long.
    • Then resume normal breathing.


    What do the numbers mean?

    … a problem arises when a BOLT score is less than 20 seconds, as excessive breathing will eliminate more carbon dioxide than the amount that is produced through exercise, leading to a net loss of CO2, reduced oxygen delivery, and constriction of blood vessels and airways.

        The lower the BOLT score, the poorer the match between breathing volume and metabolic activity, hence the need to control breathing during rest and physical exercise. The closer the BOLT score is to 40 seconds, the better the match between breathing volume and metabolic requirements. p.44


    … the vast majority of individuals, including athletes, have a comfortable breath-hold time of about 20 seconds, often less. p.40

    The ideal BOLT score for a healthy individual is 40 seconds, and according to the book, this is a reasonable goal for most people, when following The Oxygen Advantage program. During the TOA training, in every 5-second increase in your BOLT score you should experience noticeable improvements in how you feel resting and in exercise.


    BOLT score of 10 or less

    • This person will often experience a hunger for air even when at rest.

    BOLT score of 20

    • This person’s breathing may be regular but heavy. There may be a natural pause of 1 to 2 seconds between breaths.

    BOLT score of 30

    • This person’s breathing is calm, gentle, soft, effortless, and quiet. The natural pause between breaths is longer.

    BOLT score of 40

    • This person’s breathing is calm, gentle, soft, effortless, quiet and minimal. The natural pause between breaths may be 4 to 5 seconds. The number of breaths during rest may be 6 to 10 per minute. 
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