The BOLT test is a great starting point if you’re concerned about how your breathing might have a negative impact on your health, movement, and performance. It’s a quick and simple test you can do anywhere to benchmark your Co2 tolerance.
It’s possible to be exceptionally fit, but feel like you’re constantly out of breath. Whether it’s in your everyday life, during workouts, or when playing sports.
When you’re dealing with low carbon dioxide tolerance (Co2), your lungs are working overtime to remove the Co2. Paradoxically, this often leads to the feeling of breathlessness, something akin to driving with a handbrake on.
What is the BOLT test?
The BOLT (Body Oxygen Level Test), popularized by Patrick McKeown, the creator of Oxygen Advantage, is a quick and simple breathing assessment of your relative breathing volume.
Your BOLT score is the measure of how long you can hold your breath after an exhale. Making it a great indicator of how effective your breathing is and how well you are tolerating Co2.
The more Co2 you can tolerate, the more oxygen you can absorb.
How to do the Bolt Test
First, find a stopwatch or timer, or a friend with a stopwatch or timer. Once you have either one ready, follow these steps:
- Lie down or sit upright.
- Complete a normal breath cycle through your nose with your mouth closed. Starting with an inhale and finishing with an exhale.
- At the end of your exhale, pinch your nose.
- Start the timer.
- Time the number of seconds until you feel the first urge to breathe, or notice the first stresses of your body encouraging you to breathe. Some of the sensations to look for are the tightening of your airways, or your diaphragm, abs, or throat contracting.
- The number of seconds between pinching your nose and the first urge to breathe is your Bolt score.
The BOLT is not a measurement of how long you can hold your breath
It is simply the time it takes for your body to react to a lack of air. The test stops at the first sign of a desire to breathe. Your immediate breath after the test should be exactly as the one before pitching your nose.
Having to gasp for air or take a bigger-than-usual inhale is a sign that you held your breath for too long and voids the test.
To get an accurate average of your test score over time, we recommend doing the Bolt test first thing in the morning. Just like you would when measuring your resting heart rate.
What your score means
A low BOLT score below 10 seconds means that your Co2 tolerance is poor and likely has a negative effect on your overall performance and well-being.
A score between 10-20 seconds means your breathing might be affected by congestion, coughing, or wheezing. Negatively affecting your sleep, concentration, and overall energy.
20 seconds and above is good. Your breathing is effortless. And it carries over to your physical activities.
However, the ideal BOLT score for adults is at the 40-second mark.
The benefits of improving your Co2 tolerance
When your BOLT score improves, your breathing becomes more efficient, calmer, and quiet. And because your breathing is slower, the body can use the Co2 to release the oxygen from the hemoglobin into the cells.
This comes with a whole host of benefits, including improved sleep quality, better concentration, improved mental focus, reduced anxiety, and stress, increased physical endurance and recovery, and lower blood pressure.
How to improve your BOLT test score
There are various ways to increase your Co2 tolerance. And they all revolve around training your body to get more comfortable with reduced oxygen levels.
To improve your BOLT score to 20 seconds, focus on breathing through the nose. Both when sedentary and during light physical activity.
You can also do seated breathing exercises where you’re consciously taking in less air than you feel like you need. Keep your inhales shorter and lighter and exhales relaxed.
You can then move on to short breath holds similar to the BOLT breathing test itself. At the end of a normal exhale, pinch your nose for 5 seconds. Then return to normal breathing for 15 seconds and pinch your nose again. Keep repeating this cycl
To improve BOLT score from 20 to 40 seconds requires physical activity. Focus on nose breathing during moderate and intense conditioning. And practice lighter breathing similar to the seated breathing exercise. Consciously taking in less air than you need.
Once you feel ready, you can also incorporate the 5-second breath holds during physical activity. Pinch your nose for 5 seconds, breath normal for 15 seconds, and repeat.
All of the above breathing exercises are suitable for most people, excluding those with serious health conditions, and those in their first trimester of pregnancy.
How often should you do breathing exercises?
It takes about 60 minutes of daily breath practice to bring your BOLT score to 40 seconds. Including breathwork within the activities you’re already doing makes the 60 minutes more achievable.
We still recommend sharp and powerful exhales through the mouth when you need to create a strong muscle contraction in strength training. Such as the top position of kettlebell swings or when coming up from the “hole” in heavy squats.
Regardless of your BOLT score, we recommend taking deliberate breathing practice moments throughout your day. Similar to what you’d do with mindfulness and meditation. To improve both your breathing and your mental well-being.
The BOLT test is a way to measure your body’s response to carbon dioxide. A low score can indicate sensitivity to Co2 which has a negative effect on how oxygen gets delivered to the cells.
Improving your BOLT score might not be the cure-all solution to all your ailments. But it’s a way to improve and maintain a better balance in the body. And avoid milder issues snowballing into serious health issues.
To improve your breathing, here’s a free 7-day trial to our breathing classes inside the Elite Video Membership.