When someone looks to get started with a health and fitness routine it’s always interesting where they put the emphasis.
Do they put most of their focus and effort on the training? Do they train as frequently and intensely as possible?
Do they put their efforts into their nutritional plan? Do they make most of their meals? Drink more water?
Do they focus on getting their sleep in order? Do they get to bed and get up at the same time daily?
There are lots of things that will lead to a positive result.
But often times we skip the one thing that is the most basic and can have a huge impact on results. Think back to the first thing and the last thing we’ll do in this world. And that’s breathing.
Breathing is vitally important to everything we do. Yet it gets skipped over or forgotten completely. Which is surprising when we consider we can’t go 3 minutes without it.
Below are 4 quick ways we can use breathing to help our training or sports performance
1. Calm Our Nerves
Think of the number of sports that require accuracy and precision. Imagine having to make an 8 foot putt in order to win a PGA tournament. Or having to make a couple of free throws with no time on the clock in order to win a basketball game. Or, the one I think that would the toughest, would be having to shoot targets from a standing position in a biathlon race.With all of these there would be benefit to slowing the breathing pattern and calming the nerves before having to perform.
2. Increase Mobility
These days everyone is looking to increase their mobility. They want to have greater stride length as a sprinter. They want to have greater shoulder turn on the tee box. And they want to minimize the pain that comes when mobility is restricted or limited. As we’re performing our stretches or mobility drills we can use our breathing to help reduce tension and open up new ranges of motion.
3. Increased Fitness
Breathing, or respiration, involves gas exchange to allow for the availability of fuel and the elimination of waste products. When we aren’t breathing optimally we limit both of these. When we are breathing optimally through the abdomen there is more opportunity for the diaphragm to descend and create the negative pressure to draw air in. When the diaphragm doesn’t descend as much e.g. when we breath more through the chest, we limit the amount of air we can draw in and the waste we can expel.
4. It Can Serve as Our Timer
It seems like when we’re given a prescription for stretching we are told to hold the position for 30-60 seconds. But if we don’t have a watch this can sometimes be hard to monitor. And it’s hard to know if we should give it more time or not. Instead of monitoring our stretching with a watch we can use our breathing. If we use the pattern of inhale, hold and exhale we could do each for 2 seconds, 2 seconds and 4 seconds. This 2:2:4 ration leads to balanced inhalations and exhalations. As we calm the system we can get deeper into the stretch and be more attuned to our limitations.
Going forward if you want to give this a try, keep the following in mind.
- Use a ratio of x:x:2x in terms of the time. As an example, inhale for 2 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds. The same ratio would work for 3:3:6 or 4:4:8 etc. Just realize that the longer ratios can get difficult to exhale that long.
- Breath through the nose only. When the goal is to calm the system and switch from fight or flight to rest and digest we want to breath through the nose instead of the mouth.
- Make longer exhales the goal. We live in a sympathetic state (stress) and besides involving the mouth and chest, more stress typically involves more inhalations. Pictures the overly excited or panicked person that is hyperventilating. With more stress we inhale more. Look to reverse this and exhale more and for longer.
- Inhale as though there was a balloon in the stomach. Limit the amount of expansion through the chest. On the exhale shrink the abdominals back as much as possible as though a corset was being tightened around the waist.
- Practice breathing on the back first. Progress to being face down. Eventually look to incorporate the patterns and cues into your stretches and exercises.
That’s it. Four ways you can influence, and potentially improve, sports performance and training with breathing. As the expression goes ‘if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it to your best’.