Better Breathing

Did you know that most people are in a chronic state of hyperventilation? Did you also know that most people have an inverted respiratory pattern also known as Paradoxical Breathing? Poor respiratory patterns/habits can negatively affect your athletic performance! Take the following tests to determine if you have a problem with your respiratory system:

Paradoxical Breathing Test – High/Low Test

Paradoxical breathing is a reversal of the normal body coordination required for efficient respiration. Paradoxical breathing can also be described as when some or all of the chest wall moves inward on inspiration and outward on expiration. Another example of this phenomenon explains that paradoxical breathing means that during inhalation the abdomen contracts, closing off the diaphragm, while the thoracic cavity expands. This is very common in athletes who focus too much on training their Rectus Abdominis! The ideal motion is to see the abdomen move forward during inhalation, followed with outward movement of the chest. This movement pattern allows the diaphragm to relax and drop, creating the space needed for the lungs to fully expand with air. The following is a test for Paradoxical breathing:

  1. Lie and or sit.
  2. Place hand on your upper abdomen and the other hand on the upper chest to monitor for correct movement.
  3. Watch as you inhale 3-5 times.
  4. During inhalation look for three signs of upper-chest breathing.
    • The upper hand moves first.
    • The upper hand moves upward toward the chin rather than slightly forward.
    • The upper hand move significantly move than the hand on the abdomen.

Breathing/Hold Time Test – Buteyko Method

This is one of the more subtle of the respiration tests, but it can be very valuable in determining a baseline of CO2 and pH balance in the body. Here are the steps:

  1. Breathe normally for 2-3 minutes.
  2. After two minutes of normal respiration, exhale normally and hold your breath.
  3. You should time how long it takes from the end of the exhalation to the first DISTINCT need to breathe!

Buteyko calls this measurement a Control Pause. A short Control Pause has been correlated to numerous conditions associated with hyperventilation. Any athlete recording anything less than 30 seconds needs to be trained.

Respiratory Exercise #1 – Pursed Lip Breathing

Also know as the “straw-breathing” exercise, this easy to perform drill is one of the best ways to strengthen diaphragmatic activity and retrain breathing. The “target” of this drill is to focus on a slow, controlled exhale, breathing out through pursed lips. This is similar to blowing air through a straw. Here are the steps of the exercise:

  1. Lie, sit or stand in long spine (lengthen) position.
  2. Place hand on your abdomen and the other hand on the chest to monitor for correct movement.
  3. Breathe in through the nose for two seconds.
  4. Slowly breathe out through pursed lips for 4-8 seconds.
  5. Repeat 30-40 times, twice per day.
  6. It is suggested that you perform this exercise in all three positions listed in step 1.

Respiratory Exercise #2 – Reduced Breathing

After growing comfortable with the above exercise, have your athlete move on to this exercise. The goal here is to practice short periods of reduced breathing to help the body:

  • Regain cognitive control of dysfunctional breathing patterns, and
  • Reset the neural control centers for breathing.

The exercise is simple to perform in concept, but requires practice and a focus on gradual challenges that do not create a threat response. Here the steps:

  1. Lie, sit or stand in long spine (lengthen) position.
  2. Place one hand so that the index finger is lying parallel to the nose, above the upper lip, but not blocking the movement of air.
  3. Begin to breathe quietly and very lightly. The idea here is to feel as little warm air on your finger as possible from each exhalation.
  4. This will necessitate taking more breaths per minute for most people, but the volume should be very small.
  5. This exercise can produce many types of symptoms so it should be discontinued immediately if the athlete becomes uncomfortable or begins to exhibit startle (signs of stress) activity.

Some Facts to Remember!

  1. Mouth Breathing makes you prone to hyperventilation!
  2. Mouth Breathing allows your body to take in too much air!
  3. Mouth Breathing does not filter the air and warm the air up prior to use by the lungs!
  4. People with allergies who mouth breath have more health problems than those who breathe through their nose!
  5. You can die from too much oxygen, a 100% oxygen environment is toxic!