*This is article was originally written for our sister site, www.fit-moto.com.
In order of necessity, we need oxygen, water, and food. But we all breathe right? Sure we do, but by paying close attention to your breathing, you can optimize your racing performance and your recovery.
Breathing practices are not new. In fact, they’ve been around for centuries and can take on many different forms and techniques. One of the reasons that yoga is so effective is the focus on the breathing patterns. By taking some time to practice proper breathing techniques, you can learn to utilize more lung capacity, stimulate the nervous system, and control your heart rate. There are other benefits to having a dedicated breathing practice, but these alone are worth going into more detail on the topic.
Many people are chest breathers and when they inhale, the chest and shoulders will move with breath. This can become more pronounced during an extreme metabolic event, or perhaps a race day scenario. Imagine while squatting, you take a big chest breath. Besides only receiving a portion of the oxygen you could be getting, your chest expands, the shoulders rotate posteriorly (backwards) and your pelvis might also rotate a little anteriorly (forward). Compounded over sessions at high load, you could be hemorrhaging energy and performance. What is a better way?
The diaphragm is the key. Your diaphragm is responsible for drawing air into the lungs and does so by contracting during the respiratory cycle. We can increase the functionality of this movement by placing more focus on diaphragmatic breathing. Imagine filling up the lungs from bottom of your stomach to the top of your collar bone. The stomach will expand first and the chest will expand second. How can you practice breathing through your diaphragm? Perform all of your breathing through the nose. For most people, the nose breathing technique will immediately translate into better diaphragmatic breathing performance. Once you’ve practice this and get comfortable, try it during your next metabolic training session, run, or cycling session.
Another way to practice using the diaphragm is by using an implement called the Elevation Training Mask. This mask is designed to simulate breathing at altitude by restricting the flow of air through the mask. There are few reasons why the mask doesn’t simulate high altitude training like the fact that the concentration of oxygen in the air is not altered, and the necessity of altitude training can be debated, but that’s not really why this tool is useful anyway. The restriction of air flow through the mask forces the diaphragm to contract and requires more effort to draw in air. Remember this is breathing practice, not so much training. The resulting improvements I’ve seen while using this mask for breathing practice have been pretty remarkable. Is this mask 100% essential? No, not in the least! It’s just a tool and you can focus on drawing your air in slow using the diaphragm on your own.
One thing to note about the Training Mask from this strength coach’s point of view is that it is not really a good idea to actually train while using the mask. It won’t hurt you, but it can greatly decrease your output which can be seen as counterproductive. One way that you can utilize the mask during training is to use it during your recovery phase of interval training. Challenging your breathing recovery seems to have a great impact on performance.
Want to try the Elevation Training Mask? (affiliate link)
So by now I hope you are ready to get started practicing your breathing. How do you do that? There are many ways, and the only right way is to begin focusing on your breath. Here are a few things that I’ve found useful in staying focused and get the most out of my practice.
The Wim Hof Method (there are a lot resources out there and this is by no means the definitive method, just the basics…dig in to Wim’s website for more!)
A protocol from Brian Mackenzie’s of Power Speed Endurance and XPT Life. This sequence is generally written as 1-4-2 which means that you can choose the length of the inhale which determines the others. Play with a few to get started. I used 4 seconds below as an example.
Whichever method you choose to try, I believe it is in your best interest to pay close attention to your breath practice. Unlike the physical limitations of working out, breath training can be done much more frequently and has a wide array of health and psychological benefits. Have fun with your practice and set aside 10-15 minutes of warm up time to focus on breathing. If you feel out of breath during a workout, stop and settle into to a rhythm and challenge yourself to quickly return to a baseline breathing pattern. Learning how to breathe more efficiently can improve your performance by decreasing the amount of energy wasted through poor mechanics and position and also increasing the available oxygen to the muscles. Good luck and have fun with this one!