why cant mma fighters hold their breath during choke

why cant mma fighters hold their breath during choke

Why Can’t MMA Fighters Hold Their Breath During Chokes?

Chokes are a common submission technique used in mixed martial arts (MMA) fights. They involve applying pressure to the neck or throat of an opponent to restrict blood flow or airflow, ultimately forcing them to tap out. While some fighters may attempt to hold their breath to withstand the choke, there are several physiological and tactical reasons why this strategy is not effective.

1. Blood Chokes

Blood chokes, such as rear-naked chokes or guillotine chokes, target the carotid arteries on the sides of the neck. When pressure is applied to these arteries, blood flow to the brain is restricted, leading to unconsciousness. Holding one’s breath does not prevent the blood flow restriction and can actually accelerate the process of passing out.

Additionally, holding the breath increases intrathoracic pressure, making it more difficult for blood to flow to the brain. This can result in a faster onset of unconsciousness and potentially cause serious injury.

2. Air Chokes

Air chokes, such as the triangle choke or the anaconda choke, target the trachea and restrict airflow to the lungs. Holding one’s breath during these chokes can cause the fighter to panic and exhaust their oxygen supply more quickly.

When the trachea is compressed, exhaling becomes difficult, leading to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. This buildup triggers the body’s natural reflex to breathe, making it nearly impossible to hold one’s breath for an extended period.

why cant mma fighters hold their breath during choke

3. Oxygen Deprivation

By holding their breath during a choke, fighters deprive their brains of oxygen. The brain is highly sensitive to oxygen levels, and even a brief period of oxygen deprivation can lead to impaired cognitive function and increased vulnerability to further attacks.

Moreover, oxygen deprivation can cause dizziness, disorientation, and loss of muscle control, making it extremely difficult for fighters to defend themselves or escape the chokehold.

4. Increased Risk of Injury

When a fighter holds their breath during a choke, the increased intrathoracic pressure can lead to various injuries. The pressure can cause blood vessels to burst, leading to hemorrhages in the eyes, ears, or brain. It can also result in collapsed lungs or damage to the trachea.

Additionally, the increased pressure in the head and neck can exacerbate any pre-existing injuries or conditions, potentially causing long-term damage or even death.

5. Tactical Disadvantage

From a tactical perspective, holding one’s breath during a choke can be a strategic mistake. It limits a fighter’s ability to communicate with their corner or listen to the referee’s instructions. It also prevents them from exhaling forcefully, which can be used to create space or disrupt an opponent’s balance.

Furthermore, by focusing on holding their breath, fighters divert their attention away from potential escape routes or counterattacks, reducing their chances of successfully defending against the choke.

6. Training and Technique

MMA fighters undergo extensive training to develop their grappling skills and submission defense. Holding one’s breath during a choke goes against the fundamental principles taught in these training sessions.

Proper technique involves staying calm, controlling breathing, and focusing on escaping or countering the choke rather than attempting to endure it. By mastering these techniques, fighters increase their chances of survival and minimize the risk of injury.


While it may seem logical to hold one’s breath during a choke, the physiological and tactical reasons outlined above demonstrate why this strategy is ineffective. MMA fighters must rely on proper technique, training, and strategic thinking to escape or defend against chokes successfully. Understanding the limitations and dangers of holding one’s breath can help fighters make better decisions in the heat of battle and prevent serious injury.

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