Spring is here, the sun is becoming a bit less anti-social (at least here in the Pacific NW), and we are emerging from our soggy winter hibernation. As you begin to get into shape for the active summer season, one of the most important things you can do is spend some time training your breath.
Why you might ask? Because there is nothing that will improve your physical and athletic performance more than improving your breathing. Numerous studies, as well as research done by the U.S. Navy, have documented performance improvements in the range of 10% and higher! As a side benefit, you’ll have more focus, be healthier, heal faster, and have much more emotional control!
More Focused & More Efficient
Improving your breathing affects your performance in two important ways: First, it makes you more efficient. You get more of the O2 energy every one of your muscles needs and you don’t have to work as hard to get it. Second, it improves your focus. By focusing on your breath you steer your mind away from rehashing past performance as well as what might happen in the future. That is why breath focus is so often used in meditation practice. It quiets the mind and keeps you in the moment, intimately in touch with your mind, body and emotions – and that improves your performance.
As I mentioned in the intro, there is also quite a trove of research now that shows that intentional breathing is perhaps the most powerful preventative medicine available. It also accelerates the healing process, and gives us powerful control over our emotions. I will dig deeper into those subjects in an upcoming post, but for now, let’s get back to improving your performance and stamina.
How to Improve Performance
So how can you use your breath to improve your performance? Here are a couple of quick tips to get you started:
1) Breathe slower, breath deeper
When we are exerting ourselves, most of us tend to take faster, shallower breaths. This is inefficient and uses up much more energy by overworking your breathing muscles (the diaphragm and intercostal [rib] muscles) That steals energy from your arms and legs.
The key is to breathe slower and deeper. Imagine you are breathing all the way down to your tailbone. Find a rhythm that works for you. For example inhale for 3 strokes/steps and exhale for 2. Adjust as necessary as you proceed through your workout.
2) Strengthen your breathing muscles
Your breathing muscles are just like every other muscle – you can make them stronger, more efficient, and improve their stamina. But they are different in one important way: the body prioritizes them (for fairly obvious survival reasons – every other function takes a backseat to breathing). When the breathing muscles become fatigued, the body diverts blood flow away from the major motor muscles to shore them up.
A simple exercise you can use is to lie on your back, knees up, feet on the floor, with a 5lb weight on your stomach (a 5lb bag of rice or beans works well). As you exhale, push the weight up toward the ceiling for a slow count of 3, pause for a moment, and then on the inhale, let it slowly drop back for a count of three, completely emptying your lungs. Try this for 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.
If you’d like to learn more – join me on April 17th at Hyatt Training to learn much more about improving your performance and health. As a bonus, Widmer Brewing will be hosting the following social hour!
I’d love to hear about your experience, results, and questions!