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Breathing as a Training Tool

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

Health minded athletes constantly seek ways to push their limits and achieve peak performance. Priming for performance also requires the enhanced skill of rapid recovery. The simplest tool to both elevate your performance and supercharge your recovery is always available to you. It's your breath.

We are going to review how your breathing can provide the boost you need during and after a workout or competition, and we are going to go over ways we train our clients to use the breath to get the inside edge over the opponent. Especially when that opponent is Father Time.

Breathwork has been practiced for centuries in various cultures worldwide. It's the practice of using specific breathing patterns to influence physiological and psychological states. When applied strategically, breath work can play a pivotal role in performance, recovery, and long lasting health.

Training with breath work, lung function, aerobic endurance, sleep quality, Stephen Burkert

Let's start this conversation with recovery. To have sustainable progress in any training program, you want to optimize your down time so you can challenge yourself when the lights and lifts are on. Good breath work can accelerate your recovery by:

  • Reducing Stress: Deep and controlled breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing stress hormone levels. Lower stress means faster recovery.

  • Oxygenating Muscles: Focused breathwork techniques ensure that your muscles receive ample oxygen, helping to repair damaged tissues and reduce post-workout soreness.

  • Improving Sleep Quality: Proper breathwork practices can improve the quality of your sleep, a crucial element in recovery. Better sleep leads to faster healing and muscle growth.

If that doesn't convince you that you should spend time working on something you do all day anyway, then we don't know what will!

When we have a client that needs to focus on recovery, we teach them this breathing technique called Breathe 360. The goal is to breathe through your nose and to get an expansion of your lungs in all directions. 360 degrees. Here's how we do it:

If you prefer to read it, we've previously written a blog that describes the technique in detail, including why breathing through your nose is the preferred choice.

Click here to read: How to Breathe

When we are talking about improving your performance, we're talking about training your breath to be a booster and not a breaker. Just like training any muscle or movement in your body, if you do it with intention and you do it will, it will make a difference in how you feel and how you function.

Box breathing is a popular technique we like to teach clients. It's a simple concept, and it helps you have smoother breath coordination while creating oxygen efficiency and building mental resilience. Again, we focus on breathing through your nose during this.

It's as simple as counting during your inhale, exhale, and the holds between each. Try this out to see how you can calm your nervous system and improve your focus.

Box Breathing: Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, and hold for four.

Repeat for 4-8 cycles. Bonus for gently closing eyes or having a soft gaze.

Box breathing, square breathing, inhale, hold, exhale, hold

When you get good control of your breathing, and your breath holding, all while being comfortable breathing through your nose, then you are ready to work on breath focused training. We teach these three techniques to athletes to help them focus on performance and recovery, which is all building long lasting health.

These techniques works best with a monostructural device (bike, rower, treadmill, etc.), but can be part of any workout. We like the monostructural device because you can be consistent with your speed or power, which helps you track your progress. We will use a bike for the example, but other devices can be exchanged.

Sustained Nasal Breathing: Start pedaling a bike at a consistent rate while breathing only through your nose. Maintain a rate that will challenge you and require you to transition to mouth breathing. Note how long you were able to last before switching to mouth breathing. Next time, try to last longer than that duration while only breathing through your nose. You could also try to increase the rate, but maintain the duration of nasal breathing.

Recovery to Nasal Breathing: After completing a workout which has you breathing through your mouth, time how long it takes to recover to nasal breathing. Next time, try to recover to nasal breathing faster. This can be done after any workout, although recovery times will be affected by the intensity of the workout.

Nasal Breathing Only: Start pedaling on a bike and find a rate that you can maintain while nasal breathing only. Try to see how long you can maintain a certain rate, and then challenge yourself to pedal faster, or for longer, while only nasal breathing.

These three techniques can add challenge and fun to any workout. Try one at a time, and see which is most difficult for you. Like many parts of training, whatever you're not good it, is the thing you should be working on.

Incorporating breathwork into your training regimen is a holistic approach to improving recovery and endurance. By harnessing the power of controlled breathing, you can reduce stress, enhance oxygen efficiency, and develop mental resilience, ultimately leading to better performance and a more enjoyable fitness journey. So, take a deep breath and elevate your training to new heights with the art of breathwork. #snowbeastperformance

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