Breathe Through It

Proper Breathing Techniques for Optimal Performance

Breathing is the most essential function of our bodies. It’s something we do without ever being conscious of it in; fact we literally do it even in our sleep. But what happens if and when we do apply conscious awareness to the act of breathing?

Proper breathing techniques can be a source of power and strength during any physical activity. Breathing properly ensures that all your organs, cells, and tissues as constantly being re-energized by the delivery of fresh pure oxygen to the entire body. Proper flexing, stretching, holding and resisting must be aided by proper breathing techniques in order to experience the full benefits of physical exercise and exertion. Here are some tips for optimizing your breathing technique during workouts for maximum performance and health benefits.

I recommend inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth for maximum circulation of breath and purest oxygen delivery to the lungs. The nose filters toxins from the air and regulates the temperature of the air we inhale, while also naturally slowing down the act of inhaling, all of which ensure more efficient delivery of purified oxygen to the lungs. According to Roy Sugarman, Ph.D., director of applied neuroscience for Athletes’ Performance and the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, nose breathing also calms the mind and body by increasing the saturation of CO2 in the bloodstream, thus also increasing endurance.

Generally speaking, the inhale should happen during the least strenuous part of any exercise: So for example, if doing squats, inhale as you come up, and exhale on the exertion as you bend into the squat. Similarly, when doing crunches, inhale as you release, and exhale on the exertion as you bend into the crunch, and so on with other resistance exercises.

Inhale slowly by drawing in your breath from the solar plexus. Using the nostrils to draw in the breath, let the muscles of the diaphragm expand to allow for maximum expansion of the lungs, drawing the air in gradually and naturally. You will visibly note the expansion of the lungs dAnna Hartman, director of Performance Physical Therapy at Athletes’ Performance recommends “The rib cage should expand in a 3D pattern, top to bottom, back to front, and to the sides” during the act of inhalation.

During aerobic activity such as jump rope, running and jumping jacks, the trick is to maintain a steady and smooth flow of breath in and out of the body to keep the body oxygenated and assist with endurance. For some, a series of short shallow breaths done to a count of 2:2 works best to cool down the body and maintain endurance. This is done by inhaling two short breaths through the nose and then exhaling two short breaths through the mouth or nose.

During stretching exercises, the length of inhalation should equal the length of the exhalation, or the exhalation should be slightly longer than the inhalation. This technique calms the nervous system, lowers blood pressure, and reduces anxiety and stress, allowing muscles to stretch beyond their comfort zone.

In short: breathing is the key to staying alive. If we train our minds and bodies to do it properly, we really can use this basic automatic function to improve our quality of life.