In this paper, the respiratory, circulatory and metabolic adjustments to human extreme breath-hold diving are reviewed. A survey of the literature reveals that in extreme divers, adaptive mechanisms take place that allow prolongation of apnoea beyond the limits attained by non-diving subjects, and preservation of oxygen stores during the dives. The occurrence of a diving response, including peripheral vasoconstriction, increased arterial blood pressure, bradycardia and lowered cardiac output, is strongly implicated. Some peripheral regions may be excluded from perfusion, with consequent reliance on anaerobic metabolism. In addition, extreme breath-hold divers show a blunted ventilatory response to carbon dioxide breathing, possibly as a consequence of frequent exposure to high carbon dioxide partial pressures during the dives. These mechanisms allow the attainment of particularly low alveolar oxygen (< 30 mmHg) and high alveolar carbon dioxide (> 50 mmHg) partial pressures at the end of maximal dry breath-holds, and reduce oxygen consumption during the dive at the expense of increased anaerobic glycolysis (rate of blood lactate accumulation > 0.04 mM.s-1). The current absolute world record for depth in breath-hold diving is 150 m. Its further improvement depends upon how far the equilibrium between starting oxygen stores, the overall rate of energy expenditure, the fraction of energy provided by anaerobic metabolism and the diving speed can be pushed, with consciousness upon emersion. The ultimate limit to breath-hold diving records may indeed be imposed by an energetic constraint.