I found an interesting article by Al Lee, co-author of Perfect Breathing (Sterling Publishing, 2009) which speaks about the importance for improved athletic performance if we paid a little more attention to our breath - something we take for granted most of the time! See what you think:
When noted Karate Sensei Keisuke Miyagi was training one of his students, he made it a point to teach this lesson: "Breathe in through nose. Out through mouth. Don't forget to breathe, very important." As it turns out, he was on to something when it comes to athletic training.
You work out to improve your cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility.
But have you forgotten to breathe?
“By learning to control your breathing, by understanding how the respiratory system is integrated with your body, by using conscious breathing in all your pursuits, you will improve nearly every aspect of your life,” explains Al Lee.
“Whether you’re a casual gym-goer, a mall walker, a mountain biker, an actor, singer or dancer, putting your breath at the core of your discipline will help you achieve far more than you ever thought.”
“During exercise, the body’s demand for oxygen increases and our breathing volume or ventilation must also rise,” explain Matthew Pine and Mark Watsford, both from the human performance laboratory at the University of Technology, Sydney.
“This requires numerous muscles surrounding the lungs to contract in a highly coordinated manner. As the intensity of exercise increases, these respiratory muscles must contract more forcefully and more rapidly to keep pace with the body’s substantial increase in metabolism.”
However, in the same way that a stronger heart can push out more blood with each pump and as a result doesn’t have to beat as often, a stronger diaphragm and intercostals mean you can slow your breathing rate down and even get more oxygen to your muscles.
“By increasing the strength and stamina of your respiratory system, your breathing becomes more efficient, requiring less energy—which leaves more energy for the motor muscles and whatever task or activity you’re involved in,” explains Lee. “Therefore, you can take slower, deeper breaths, getting more oxygen out of each breath; you don’t have to work as hard to get it, because you don’t have to breathe as many times to get the same amount of oxygen.”
As an example, Lee cites studies that he and co-author, Don Campbell, came across with competitive athletes that showed an efficiency improvement of about 10 percent with respiratory resistance training. That means that at the same level of performance, they were consuming 10 percent less oxygen. “There was also an associated performance improvement of about 5 to 8 percent,” says Lee, “which would shave about three to five minutes off the time of a runner in a 60-minute race.”
That performance improvement, he explains, may also be due in part to improved focus. “When you are focused on your breath, you become intimately in touch with your mind, body and emotions and very much in the moment, which improves performance.”
In a study performed at the State University of New York at Buffalo, subjects who followed breathing resistance training improved their snorkel surface swimming time by 33 percent and their underwater Scuba swimming time by 66 percent.
“This is in agreement with previous studies in cyclists, rowers and runners,” explains study author, Dr. Claes Lundgren. “It suggests that athletes in most sports could improve their performance by undergoing respiratory muscle training. It is also clear that the greater the stress on the respiratory system, the larger the improvement in performance.”
During high-intensity exercise, when the respiratory muscles become fatigued, the body switches to survival mode and “steals” blood flow and oxygen away from locomotor muscles. As a result, these locomotor muscles become fatigued and performance can suffer significantly. Increasing the strength of the muscles involved with breathing, say study authors, through breathing-resistance exercise, can prevent this fatigue during sustained exercise situations, resulting in better performance.
Lee goes on to explain that if the diaphragm and intercostals aren’t exercised, they atrophy—just like any other muscle in the body. “For most adults, their breathing has slowly moved higher and higher into their chests over the years, so they’re taking little sips of air into the tops of their lungs and are barely using the diaphragm. In fact, if you’re not actively exercising it, the older you get, the more difficult it is to get it unstuck.”