On average, a person logs in a whopping 20,000 breaths a day. Your respiratory muscles work nonstop, so they don’t have the luxury of taking a break. Although the act of breathing is automatic, you can improve upon the system. Take a look at a professional athlete and you’ll find their method of breathing is far superior to a regular joe, as they take the time to train themselves to breathe efficiently.
Learning how to breathe like a professional athlete will help you waste less energy and perform at a higher level. If you want to improve your athletic skills and perform more effectively under pressure, improving your breathing technique is of paramount importance. And a superior breathing technique will allow you to push yourself past your comfort zone, so you can transform into the best version of an athlete you can become. We’re here to teach you how to improve your breathing so you can hit the beast mode button in clutch situations and dominate the field.
Visit Your Physician
Before you get started, we recommend you consult your doctor about adopting proper breathing techniques. If you have asthma or another breathing difficulty, we suggest going to your physician first to come up with a plan of attack. Reading this guide is a solid start, but reaching out to professionals is the next step.
Just like any technique, learning how to breathe properly takes time. Conditioning our body to breathe a certain way during sports activities or under pressure takes practice, so don’t expect immediate results. Take a solid chunk of time to learn about how your lungs and body both work, and perform the exercises suggested with the proper technique. Once you get used to inhaling and exhaling properly, your athletic performance will start to improve.
The Importance of Breathing Properly
Let’s briefly go over how breathing works. Fresh inhaled air enters through the trachea, which is like the trunk of a tree. The airway divides like branches of a tree, leading to bronchioles inside the lungs which have alveoli aka air sacs. Oxygen within the air sacs passes to the blood, which is pumped throughout the entire body. Your diaphragm, which is a thin muscle separating the chest and abdominal cavities, tightens as you breathe in, opening your chest cavity for the lungs to expand. When you breathe out, your diaphragm relaxes, pushing air out. When done correctly, this process allows your body to function well, providing you with a feeling of balance and alleviation.
Why Breathing Correctly Is Important
Being aware of proper breathing is part of ancient warrior traditions and modern combatants, as it’s practiced by Shaolin monks and special forces soldiers. By conditioning your body to breathe in an energy-saving manner, you’ll improve your health, achieve a more focused mind, and control your physical responses. You may not be a fearless soldier on the field, but you can benefit from the appropriate respiratory technique that results in maximum performance.
One of the worst results of improper breathing is hyperventilation. When you’re breathing at an abnormally quick rate, it leads to low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, as well as a decrease in blood flow. Additionally, if your respiratory muscles aren’t working to their full potential, neither will your body. Tweaking the way you breathe, especially when you’re playing sports, will boost your overall health. And using proper respiratory method will make you feel like a superhuman when coupled with stellar training.
Breathing Through Your Nose
Designed For Inhaling And Exhaling
Before implementing strategy and technique in any sport, you need to enact a beneficial breathing method. By breathing through your mouth, you’ll be taking shallow breaths, and the oxygen will only go to your chest. Inhaling and exhaling slowly through your nose is the simplest, but most effective way to breathe during exercise or everyday activities. Take boxing, for example. A fighter who masters slow, relaxed breathing through their nostrils will be more calm during intense situations.
Breathing through your nose garners so many benefits for your athletic performance and health in general. It is by far the optimal way to breathe. If you think about it, the nose is designed to be the ideal mechanism for inhaling and exhaling. Yes, you can breathe through your mouth, but that is not its primary function. Check out some of the top benefits of breathing through your nose:
- Breathing through your nose slows down the air coming in, allowing you to relax
- The hair in your nostrils will filter out substances before they reach the lungs, so you can stay healthy and focused.
- Your nose is designed to warm the air, allowing you a natural defense during cold-weather training.
- There is 50% more resistance to the air stream via nose breathing, resulting in 10-20% more oxygen intake.
- Nasal breathing helps you maintain body temperature, as it recovers somewhere around 33% of exhaled heat and moisture and provides about 90% of the body’s air conditioning.
Now, breathing through your nose may seem easy when you’re doing everyday tasks, but it’s much more difficult when you’re in the middle of a punishing workout and your body is begging for oxygen. This is where conditioning yourself to inhale and exhale through your nostrils is imperative. Practice makes perfect, so try and catch yourself breathing through your mouth when you get exhausted and remedy the situation. When you’re gassed out, you will want to eat up oxygen the fastest way possible, which is through your mouth, but the act is detrimental in the long run. Here are some motivators to help you stop being a mouth-breather:
- Mouth-breathing makes you more susceptible to deadly bacteria.
- Inhaling through your mouth may weaken your lungs, as it can cause oxygen overstimulation or dried airways.
- Denying ideal oxygenation may lead to cardiac disease symptoms, such as arrhythmias.
- You’re at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea or snoring if you breathe through your mouth.
- By breathing through your mouth, you cause your blood vessels to constrict.
Relax And Let Stress Escape
There’s plenty of footage of jiu-jitsu legend Rickson Gracie doing intense deep breathing exercises, allowing him to stay razor-sharp on the mats when he’s flowing with opponents and putting them to sleep with a calm demeanor. Now, you may not be a martial artist, but deep breathing is still an amazing practice for any sport out there. It’s also a fantastic way to reach peak health and maintain it throughout your lifetime.
Sure, it feels unnatural to take deep breaths, however, the practice comes with tremendous perks that will serve you well for as long as your heart is ticking. So, why should you train yourself to take deep breaths? The short answer is that deep breathing is an ideal method of respiration. It allows your body to exchange incoming oxygen with outgoing carbon dioxide fully. This balanced exchange allows you to achieve a level of health that’s superior in comparison to the average joe.
Steps to Deep Breathing
- Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down where there are little to no distractions.
- Inhale through your nostrils, allowing your stomach to expand, and hold the breath for at least a few seconds.
- Exhale fully through your nostrils or your mouth until you push everything out to complete the cycle.
- Repeat steps 1-3 a few times to enter a relaxed state of mind.
When you are taking deep breaths, your stomach should push outward first. And if you take a very deep breath, your chest should rise. The focus is on causing your stomach to push out when you inhale. When you push the breath out, your stomach should collapse toward your backbone. Exhaling is just as important as inhaling, as breathing out properly will flush out toxins, such as carbon dioxide. Whenever you are practice your deep breathing, make sure you’re sitting or standing tall, engaging your core muscles for the best results.
There are many reasons deep breathing is beneficial for your body. For instance, it’s known to slow your heartbeat, which allows you to calm yourself down in stressful situations. Going back to combat sports, a boxer resting in his corner in between rounds will take deep breaths in through his nostrils and flush it out through his mouth to stay relaxed. Deep breathing can also help you stabilize or lower your blood pressure.
Upgrade Your Performance
There are several exercises you can practice to increase your lung capacity and power. By practicing these breathing exercises, you’ll be able to increase your endurance and stamina, improving your performance on the obstacle-filled playing field. We advise you to check with your primary care physician before trying any of these exercises for extra precaution. After checking with your doctor, if the exercise seems too challenging, compensate by decreasing the intensity or reps.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: For this respiratory exercise, you’ll want to relax your shoulders and sit back or lie down if you have enough room. Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. For two seconds, take a deep breathe through your nostrils and feel your stomach fills up with air. Take another two seconds to breathe out while pressing on your abdomen gently. Repeat this a few times to benefit from the exercise. This type of breathing engages the diaphragm, letting it do the heavy lifting, and is best utilized when you feel rested.
Pursed-lip Breathing: Inhale oxygen through your nostrils slowly, purse your lips, and then breathe out as slowly as you possibly can through your pursed lips. Repeat this action a few times, and remember to take your time with this exercise. By pursing your lips and breathing, you slow down the respiration process, keeping your airways open for a longer period. This act makes it easier for the lungs to function, improving the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. What’s great about this exercise is that you can practice pursed-lip breathing at any time and anywhere.
Standing Chest Expansion: Stand up with good posture and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Leave your arms at your sides and bend your knees slightly in an athletic position. At the same time, swing your arms out and up until your palms are facing each other. Exhale and lower your arms simultaneously until they are back to the starting position. Do this breathing exercise three to five times, focusing on deep breaths to open up your chest for maximum respiration and recovery. This exercise stretches your intercostal muscles, engages the diaphragm, and helps to balance breathing between both of your lungs.
The Hundred: While you lie down on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Leave your arms at your sides with your palms facing down. Inhale through your nose while lifting your shoulders, neck, head, and arms off the ground simultaneously. Raise your knees and extend your feet, straightening your legs at a 45° angle to the floor. Breathe in five short breaths and breathe out five short breaths while you pump your arms up and down. Continue until you finish a cycle of 10 full breaths, which means you will complete a total of 100 arm pump motions. This exercise will help you with balanced breathing and influence you to use your core to breathe.
Interval Training: When you are interval training, you’re not focused on breathing alone but using proper breathing technique during various exercises. Interval training is a series of low-to high-intensity workouts broken up by rest periods. You’ll be doing high-intensity workouts that are around the level of anaerobic exercise with recovery periods that involve activities with lower intensity. Through interval training, you’ll learn to control your breathing, inhale and exhale through your nostrils, and breathe deeply during rest periods. There are several exercises you can include in interval training, including jumping rope, burpees, sprints, and pull-ups. Create an interval training routine and do each interval from about 30 seconds to two minutes. Remember to take a minute between each rep to do an easier exercise like walking.
Put Knowledge Into Action
Breathing is part of what fuels us to perform daily functions in life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t refine the action. By inhaling and exhaling through your nose, taking deep breaths, and practicing beneficial breathing exercises, you can improve your respiratory system. And if you’re a fitness addict, breathing properly will help get you to the next level of athleticism. Now that you know the basic ways to improve your breathing, it’s time to put the knowledge into action. Use those lungs to their full potential and make every breath of fresh air count.
How Do High Altitude Training Masks Work?
Conditioning your body to breathe properly will help you evolve as an athlete. To take your endurance to the next level, you might want to consider an elevation training mask. Check out our guide on how high altitude training masks work and prepare yourself for the next challenge.