Breathing for Health & Performance
Why would I want to look at how I breathe?
Breathing is something that we do all the time without thinking about it. But what if the way you breathe was affecting your health or performance?
It could be something that you have not considered, not realised, or not known about, that it was possible for you to train your respiratory system with exercises to improve your health or performance.
Some of the common things we hear are: - that you struggle to take a breath in, get breathless when you walk about, find it difficult to sleep, feel anxious, or struggle with your breathing when you run or play sport. These issues may be related to the way that you breathe.
How do you know if you are breathing ok? One test is to observe how you breathe, are you a chest breather, belly breather, mouth breather or nose breather or some mixture of these? And you might change your breathing method if the activity you are doing becomes harder. Other tests could include either a breath out test or a breath out and hold test. (Please note that breath holding exercises are only suitable for people in good health). A health questionnaire and breathing questionnaire are also used. This gives us an indication of how you are breathing. The term dysfunctional breathing or breathing pattern disorders is often used to describe breathing that is not normal.
At rest, breathing through your nose would be considered optional, but for some people with certain medical conditions this may not be an option. Breathing exercises can be done daily to improve your respiratory system, these can usually be added into your daily routine so do not have to cost you too much time. We usually look at three aspects to improve breathing -
1. State - affecting the mind and body 2. Physiology 3. Biomechanics. You will usually need breathing exercises from each area to help you improve your health & performance.
We use different breathing methods depending on what you need. The Buteyko Breathing Method has been very useful when looking at issues with sleep, breathlessness, asthma, anxiety, and stress related breathing conditions.
The Buteyko Breathing Method was named after Ukrainian born Dr Konstantin Buteyko, who used a series of breathing exercises to reduce a person’s breathing rate and depth of breathing to counter the effects of poor breathing habits or hyperventilation.
Over breathing (hyperventilation) can result in less oxygen delivery too your muscles and tissues. Even changing from mouth breathing to nose breathing which can take time and practice, but can help alleviate the symptoms of poor breathing. Sleep problems like snoring can be an effect of breathing through your mouth while asleep. Not getting a good night’s sleep can lead to tiredness the next day and reduced attention or focus at work.
Breathing exercises for performance will depend on different factors. If you move well, you may just need breathing exercises to train the respiratory system (Physiology – think energy systems). But if you have some restrictions with your biomechanics, we may have to use different exercises to restore breathing mechanics as well as exercises to train your physiology. Remember breathing better might not be the only factor to better performance but an important one to train, some research papers have shown a percentage increase in performance in running economy after respiratory training.
We also have various breathing strategies that we use for training mobility, stability, rehab, lifting weights, and training better movement for sport.
Why should I breathe through my nose?
Your nose was made for breathing, when you breathe through your nose it helps you to breathe lower and regulate breathing better.
When you use your mouth for breathing you tend to chest breathe and take air in faster as there is less resistance when you mouth breathe.
When you breathe in through your nose you also breathe in nitric oxide which follows the air into the lungs which can increase the oxygen uptake in the blood and may also help to reduce respiratory tract infections.
Breathing through your nose can also lower your risk of snoring.
There are times when you will need to use your mouth for breathing, swimming for instance, or at the end of a fast race when you need to breathe harder due to exertion. There may be some medical reason why you need to mouth breathe.
How long does it take to learn the breathing techniques?
Everyone is an individual and everyone’s health and fitness may be in a different place, and your breathing test score may be different. So, it is hard to put a time scale on learning the exercises and being able to put them into practice. Some people get it almost straight away, whereas others take a little time to develop an awareness. How often you practice is always a consideration.
How can breathing exercises help with running?
How do you breathe when you run? Breathing through your mouth, is usually associated with upper chest breathing and hence breathing less efficiently when you run as it could be that you over breathe. Breathing through your nose though, leads to breathing lower down and can help optimise breathing by giving a better flow of oxygen to the lungs and hence to muscle and tissues. Optimising breathing for running can help with running economy and better performance.
How often do I need to practice?
Daily practice is needed to improve. This can be done in small intervals throughout the day, which is usually easier to find the time. Some of the exercises can take from around 3-10 minutes to practice, trying to practice around 2-6 times daily but this is just an average, it might alter depending on your situation. Some of the exercises you will be able to practice while out walking or running depending on which breathing program you are on, others could be great to use on waking or going to bed. Once you become proficient at the exercises it is easier to fit them into your lifestyle.
How can I learn the exercises - join a workshop or class?
If you are local, we are able to do a 1-1 weekly session in person. We are putting some workshops on locally over 4-5 weeks for small groups around 4 -8 people for the Buteyko Breathing method and will be putting on workshops for runners to learn breathing using the Oxygen Advantage technique. We can also offer online sessions for anyone based in the UK
What to Expect from our Breathing Sessions or Workshop?
We feel that it is important to have some understanding of the theory and practice when it comes to learning different breathing methods. Knowing more of the "Why" can certainly help your breathing practice. You also need to be able to ask questions to improve your learning. This, we believe will give you the confidence to keep up with your training. But we know as soon as you get home you may need a memory jog; I know myself when I have been on a workshop "yep I've got that" only to get home and find that I have missed something. We also provide some handouts and can link you to videos where required. So, expect a mixture of learning and practice to guide you on your way.
Am I too old to learn this?
Breathing exercises can usually be done at any age, but if you have any medical conditions like diabetes, heart or respiratory conditions or are pregnant then this would have to be taken into consideration. Some exercises may not be appropriate for you. It would always be advisable to get into contact with us or discuss with your GP before practising any of the exercises.
What do you need to be able to Train with Us?
The common ingredients you need to be able to train with us are your
1. Interest or your need to learn for health or performance
2. Be able to attend our workshops or sessions
3. Be able to be consistent with your daily practice
4. Ask questions so that you can understand the exercises, theory and put the training into practice.
Breathing exercises seen on social media always look so easy to learn
When you see someone demonstrating a breathing exercise, it looks easy, smooth, and natural, but when you try it for yourself you may find it difficult to do. Where do you even start? Will it have any benefits for me? Will it help me to breathe easier?
Well, you might need to go through several small steps to be able to perform the exercise correctly, and it may take time and practice.
There are many factors that may need to be considered which can influence how you perform the exercise.
Your health and any medical conditions may well be a factor in learning new breathing exercises.
Being aware of how you breathe now
Developing an awareness and feeling of what's happening with your body with the new exercise may take a bit of time to get right.
How do you move or walk? Are you a relaxed person or do you find yourself quite tense? It could give a general indication of stiffness vs relaxed movement. If you have excessive tension in your muscles, you might find it harder to relax your muscles to get the right motion.
Do you find it a struggle to breathe in or out?
Consistency in practice is usually an important factor in learning new exercises, along with the understanding of the exercise, and finding the part of the exercise you may struggle with and developing a way forward to improve it.