Breathing is the most crucial element of our existence. We can survive without food for a month, water for a few days but without breathing we would die in minutes. Breath plays a huge role in fitness. We have all felt that breathlessness from exercise, and often it is our loss of breath that causes us to stop mid exercise.
Our breath plays a central role in our nervous system. Our nervous system has two states;
Parasympathetic and Sympathetic. Parasympathetic is the state in which we are relaxed. This is where we digest and rest. On the other hand the sympathetic nervous system is our fight or flight state. This is where our senses and stress levels are heightened.
The way in which we live these days is often filled with stressors. Things are very hectic and cause micro stresses continuously. Phone calls, notifications, traffic, time constraints all of which trigger us to enter a more sympathetic state. Our own thoughts are also responsible for causing us to enter this state.
Panic attacks are basically the very extreme outcome of a build up of stressors. If you've ever had one or seen someone have one you will have noticed that it is the breath which becomes constrained. Also at a less extreme level when you receive bad news you would find yourself with a shortness of breath.
For general well being and sports performance it is crucial that you get in control of your breath. Through simply changing the way you breath when you are stressed you will change the hormonal response your body has. This is very important as a lot of diseases stem from too much stress.
The simple approach is to place a hand on your stomach and a hand on your chest. With each inhale try and expand your chest and stomach, breath in for the count of four and breath out for the count of four, as your central nervous system begins to calm you can increase the length of time you inhale and exhale for.
With sports performance it is crucial that you maintain control of your breath. Next time you are working out try and pace yourself so that you are still in control of your breath. As a coach I have found that an athlete's output drops the moment they lose control of their breath. This is often due to thoughts getting in the way of their natural flow, this is when we see oxygen debt and that sicky feeling comes along.
Our breath also helps protect our spine during heavy lifts. Lifting belts are often seen as support for individuals with weaker spines or injuries. However, they are actually feedback mechanisms. By placing a belt around your core, you are able to force your muscles on inhalation into the belt, this acts like a balloon protecting the spine from compression.