When it comes to athletic training and performance, one aspect of exercise programming that often gets overlooked is breathing.
For something fundamental to our health and well-being, you should not take breathing for granted as something that "we just do."
Like any other aspect of training, such as strength, flexibility, or endurance, a deficit in your breathing ability may be suffocating your physical and mental ability to reach your athletic potential.
This article will explain what breathing techniques are, how they can benefit you, and how to incorporate these specific types of breathing into your training routine to gain the maximum improvements to your health and performance.
What Are Breathing Techniques?
You may not have even been aware that there are different types of breathing. For the most part, breathing is something we do unconsciously. But like many physiological processes, there are optimal ways for your body to breathe.
Normal breath occurs in the range of what's called 'tidal volume', but as you can see from this diagram, your lungs have a lot more potential to fulfill!
Breathing techniques involve various inhalation and exhalation patterns to achieve different physiological effects on one's body, mind, and health.
These techniques are used widely by everyone from people practicing meditation to reach spiritual enlightenment, to sports scientists trying to gain every advantage for their athletes competing in high-altitude events.
How can improving your breathing ability help you, and what are some of the consequences of not employing an optimal breathing pattern?
Benefits of Deep Breathing Exercises
Employing breathing training into your routine can have many advantages. The first is improved strength and endurance in your respiratory muscles.
This adaptation to training also reduces fatigue in these muscles, improving your response to high-intensity exercise.
Regarding psychological benefits, controlled breathing techniques can significantly reduce anxiety and alleviate depression by way of mechanisms such as increasing your parasympathetic drive, calming your stress response systems, and moderating the release of hormones. It contributes to keeping your body calm and relaxed.
Not only can breathing techniques calm your mind, they can make it more alert! Studies have shown specific breathing techniques can enhance the stimulation of particular areas in the brain, which improves cognitive function.
Of course, there are many individuals and even athletes who deal with pulmonary pathologies. Breathing training is widely used in the management of ailments such as asthma, COPD, and even genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis. These techniques aim to decrease the respiratory rate and dilate the airways to make breathing easier.
Finally, deep breathing techniques have been shown to increase antioxidant defense in athletes; You do this by lowering the number of free radicals, which can cause oxidative damage to the cells over time.
The next section will explain how to do breathing exercises to reap these benefits for yourself!
5 Effective Breathing Techniques
The following are five of the more popular breathing exercises; some of these are based on yoga breathing techniques. Give them a try and see what combination works best for you!
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This technique is a subtle breath control practice that reduces stress, improves cardiovascular function, enhances respiratory endurance, lowers heart rate, and promotes well-being.
To practice this technique, sit in a comfortable position. Blocking your right nostril with your hand, breathe in through your left nostril. Then switch your hand to cover the left side, and breath out through your right nostril. Breathe back in through the right side, switch, and breathe out with the left nostril.
Alternating in this way, continue this cycle for up to five minutes. You can do technique any time you need to slow down, relax, and bring awareness to your body.
See the video below for a guided practice of alternate nostril breathing.
2. Yogic Deep Breathing
Full yogic breathing is a 3-part technique that is often one of the first breathing techniques taught in yoga; it involves breathing with a focus on the diaphragm, ribcage, and upper chest.
To begin this method, breathe in slowly through the nose. One inhale will be 8 seconds, consisting of the first 4 seconds breathing into the belly, followed by 2 seconds of expanding your ribs outward, with a final 2 seconds of lifting your upper chest and shoulders.
After holding the breath for a few seconds, reverse the process and breathe out of the upper chest first, followed by the ribs, then finishing with the belly.
3. Power Breathing
This technique uses powerful, fast-paced breathing patterns to influence your physical, mental, and emotional state. Combining it with breath-holding is an effective way to influence your parasympathetic nervous system to lower the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
One example of a power breathing routine involves several forceful breaths in through the mouth with increasing speed, followed by a maximal breath in, a full breath out, and holding the end of the expiration for up to 90 seconds.
It is a more advanced breathing technique, so for your first attempt, we recommend checking out the guided video below.
4. Box Breathing
Box Breathing is a somewhat more well-known technique that is useful for reducing anxiety, slowing the heart rate, and restoring calm.
This exercise involves breathing in through the nose for 4 seconds, holding the inspiration in for 4 seconds, breathing out through the nose for 4 seconds, and holding the expiration out for 4 seconds. Continue for up to 5 minutes.
5. Breath of Fire
The final technique is a quick and intense method that can release toxins from the lungs, increase endurance, strengthen the nervous system, and increase energy. It can be performed in a comfortable sitting position or lying down.
To practice breath of fire, perform a few deep breaths withholds to warm up. Then, perform 3 rounds of fast, shallow 'panting' through the nose for 30 seconds. Between rounds, take several deep breaths through the mouth.
Check out the example session below.
Other Considerations for Breathing
Be aware that if you are a female athlete, you will have a higher total work rate of breathing than males; this is due to having relatively smaller airways and a higher frequency breathing pattern.
We have focused on how to breathe correctly. However, there is an essential tip for how 'not' to breathe during exercise. The Valsalva manoeuvre (holding your breath) especially during resistance exercise should be avoided, because it can exaggerate your blood pressure response.
If you are looking for an amazing tool to help strengthen your inspiratory muscles and improve your ventilation rate, check out the Airofit breathing trainer.
Finally, if you have any significant health conditions, please consult a medical professional before undertaking any new exercise or breathing regime.
We hope this article has enlightened you to some new methods you can use to improve your breathing and to take your health and performance to the next level!
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