Learning to Harness the Breath for Increased Athletic Performance
Do you feel like you struggle with your conditioning even though you’ve been physically active for a long time? Do you feel like you are performing well but want to get better? One area you are likely overlooking is your breath. Learning to breathe properly can help increase your aerobic capacity, improve your mechanics, provide you with the mental edge you need to keep pushing yourself, and improve your recovery.
“Control your breath or it will control you.”
A majority of people you see in the gym these days they are always breathing through their mouth with incredibly stressed looks on their faces. While breathing through the mouth during intense anaerobic work, it should not be your default mode. This is consistent with running a car in 5th gear when it should be in 1st. Nasal breathing is much more difficult at first, it is imperative to become adapt to it if you want to take your performance to the next level. When you breathe through your nose, the increased resistance will allow for more oxygen to be offloaded to your tissues based on the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. This is called the Bohr Effect.
When you immediately begin breathing through your mouth, you are effectively hyperventilating and not efficiently using the oxygen you are taking in. Mouth breathing typically leads to breathing into your upper chest taxing your secondary breathing muscles of the neck and shoulders. This will in turn send signals to your brain that your body is expending too much energy and needs to slow down in order to survive. This is also an added stressor on your body having a drastic effect on your intensity and length of workouts. Do you wonder why you want to quit well before you should during intense physical exercise? This is likely one of the main reasons.
Nasal breathing also releases nitric oxide opening up the airways and allowing for more oxygen uptake to the tissues. When you begin your workouts nasal breathing, you will activate the diaphragm helping to keep the mind and body in a more controlled state. The diaphragm is incredibly important for core stability due to increased intra-abdominal pressure. If you are not properly activating the diaphragm, which is much more difficult while mouth breathing, you are opening yourself up to spinal injuries and decreased mobility due to compensations in the hips and thoracic spine.
To Sum it Up
If you are looking to take your performance to the next level, start by focusing on your breath as you move. The first step is to use nasal inhales and nasal exhales in all of your warm-ups. Think about breathing horizontally into your core to activate the diaphragm. This will be difficult at first but be patient and it will gradually improve with time. Once your nasal only warm-ups start to get easy, incorporate nasal breathing in your aerobic work. For example, if you are go out for a jog, see how long you can hold the nasal inhale/nasal exhale pattern. At first, your pace will slow down at first but after a couple of weeks it will become much easier and you will be able to increase your speed, endurance, and efficiency. Incorporating nasal breathing will allow you to go much faster at a lower heart rate, giving yourself an extra gear towards the end of a workout or race. When everyone else is ready to quit, this will be your time to shine and power to the finish line full speed ahead. While this article is an introduction to adding a breath focus to your training program, in future articles I will discuss more advanced topics such as adding hypoxic work (i.e. breath holds) and intra-workout recovery breathing protocols to the mix.
Call to Action
If you are looking for more individualized help, check out my website www.symmetry.live I create individualized breath programs for my clients to help them achieve their goals. I also incorporate heat and ice contrast therapy, perfect for your recovery, taking you to the next level of your training.
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