What’s a ‘Breathing Workout’ and Why Do You Need It?

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Control of breathing for physical training performance, overall workout recovery and stress mitigation is something uniquely in our control. We have the ability to control our heart rate and general physical state by breathing in a systematic way. A deep, relaxing breath can help us unwind and engage our parasympathetic nervous system and take our recovery to where it is needed in the central nervous system.

Breathing For Performance

Whether you are performing a speech in front of a large group of spectators, running a marathon or lifting weights, you can improve your performance be learning breath techniques for those activities. By reducing shallow breathing and instead focusing on slower, deeper and steady inhales and exhales, you can actually reduce anxiety, fear, and be in a better state to fully engage recovery from stressful work as well as intense physical activity.

Breathing can help you relax and re-engage the thinking part of the brain so you can focus on the immediate issue at hand. Learning to breathe for running can also make you faster with a lower heart rate, which can also make you better at any cardiovascular activity.

Breathing Techniques That Work

For performance breathing, you should inhale and exhale through your nose. You may need to inhale through the nose but exhale out the mouth to speed the process as you first get started.

A recommended book that thoroughly explains the processes is Patrick McKeown's "Oxygen Advantage" that describes this method of breathing that helps with not only recovery but also athletic performance. Another good book that is helpful is Dr. Belisa Vranich's "Breathe," which perfectly teaches a breathing method to make breathing stronger and help mitigate stress.

Many Ways To Breathe (Here are a few...)

There are many ways to breathe deeply, but I recommend starting out with simple box breathing or 2:1 breathing.

  • Box breathing is: inhale four seconds, hold four seconds, exhale four seconds, hold four seconds.
  • If you prefer something a little less rigid, try the 2:1 ratio method. Simply inhale 3-4 seconds in your nose and exhale through your mouth 6-8 seconds. Try exhaling through the nose if you prefer but mouth exhaling is fine too.

Running and Swimming Breathing

The less you can mouth breathe (inhale) the better. Inhaling through the nose and out the mouth has been a technique I have used for decades when doing all activities. When swimming, it is difficult to nose breathe - especially when wearing a mask like we do in SEAL/diving training.

During rest intervals I will lift my mask off my face and get as many nose inhales as possible as this helps to quickly reduce heart rate during interval training (running or swimming, etc).

Breathing For Recovery

Have fun with it by checking your heart rate regularly during exercise. Wear a heart rate monitor and watch the heart rate increase and decrease by adjusting your breathing rhythm and cadences. Check your resting heart rate immediately upon waking before you get up out of bed to get a baseline. Take a few minutes and breathe deeply using the 2:1 method (or others) to see if you can adjust it even more.

Breathing is a powerful tool and is literally done everywhere at all times. So, get good at it. Improve it by working it and monitoring progress.

For me, the number one recovery tool is sleeping. Using a relaxing breathing method for a few minutes prior to sleep will help you calm down and fall asleep faster.

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