Breathing Techniques for Athletes (Increase Performance & Recovery for MMA & Boxing)
If you’ve seen any of my videos, you may have seen my fighters doing something peculiar before and after their workouts. You’ll find them holding their breath, breathing at different tempos, on their backs breathing into their bellies.
These practices have sparked many questions like:
“What are the best breathing techniques for athletes?”
“How do I add those breathing techniques to my training?”
“Which breathing techniques should I perform every day?”
Today, I want to drill down all of those questions and share two of my favorite breathing techniques for athletes. The first breathing technique is for alertness, energy, and cognition. The second technique is to accelerate the parasympathetic response, speed up recovery, and relax the athlete.
Both of these techniques can be used every day. And though they’re not the only techniques I use (coaches can ask me about all of them here), they’re hard-hitting and they get the job done.
Let’s dig into them:
Four Key Benefits of Breathing Techniques for Athletes
The main goal of using these breathing techniques is to provide optimal patterns of respiration to elicit a stimulus response. In this case, the stimulus we want to elicit is increased performance and accelerated recovery.
However, there are also four key benefits of using breathing techniques for athletes. They each play into a different part of performance – recovery, body control, cardio, and more. I’ll go into them in depth below:
- Raises Alertness: Certain breathing techniques for athletes, one of which I’ll share below, raise alertness in the body by flooding the brain with acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a compound that play a role in motivation, attentiveness, cognition, learning, memory, and control over movement. Overall, it’s going to increase your energy output. This is a favorable stimulus before a workout, as you want to stamp your name on every workout you perform. You can also perform these kinds of breathing techniques in the morning, immediately after waking up to get a jumpstart on your day.
- Improves Posture: Many people are shallow breathers. When they breathe, they breathe with their chest and their shoulders rise and fall as they inhale and exhale. This creates tension in the upper body, shoulders, and chest that can lead to harmful postural adaptations. However, diaphragmatic breathing reinforces good posture as it requires you to relax the shoulders and breathe into the belly. This can also play a role in increasing core stability.
- Accelerates Recovery: Certain breathing techniques for athletes elicit a parasympathetic response. If you don’t know, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for rest, digestion, recovery, and relaxation. Thing is, your body is in the opposite state during your training. And it’s a good thing that’s the case, because we wouldn’t want to be in a relaxed state while training. But the body stays in that fight-or-flight state for a while after you’re finished training. But certain kinds of breathwork can actually jumpstart the parasympathetic response, allowing for accelerated recovery.
- Increases Oxygen Utilization: Breathwork actually improves your tolerance to high-intensity exercises as well as your aerobic metabolism. This increased energy efficiency carries over to all kinds of physical performance – in the gym, in the ring, in the cage, wherever you may find yourself. In addition, the improvements in posture will also improve your oxygen uptake, giving you a deeper gas tank without having to do any cardio.
Breathing Technique to Increase Performance
The first breathing technique I want to share is called breath of fire. Breath of fire is a rapid breathing technique that raises alertness, cognition, and control over movement. This occurs due to the flooding of acetylcholine in the brain during the rapid breathing.
I like to perform this with my athletes just before the dynamic warm-up so they go into their workout alert, energetic, and ready to attack whatever I throw their way.
Here’s How to Perform Breathe of Fire:
- Sit or stand tall with the shoulders down and back, chin in an optimal position (head shouldn’t jut forward)
- Inhale for one second then rapidly exhale for one second through the nose
- Repeat this for two minutes
- You may feel slightly light headed, and that’s okay. Just work through it. By the end you’ll feel more awake and energized
Breathing Technique to Stimulate Recovery
This second breathing technique is for recovery. It’s called box breathing. Box breathing accelerates recovery by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. As I wrote above, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for rest, relaxation, and recovery among other things. And activating it after a workout accelerates recovery.
Here’s How to Perform Box Breathing:
- Start on your back with your feet against a wall or resting on a chair
- Knees should be bent 90 degrees
- Get as loose and relaxed as possible
- Inhale for five seconds
- As you inhale, try to push your low back into the floor
- Hold for five seconds
- Exhale for five seconds
- Repeat this for five minutes to accelerate recovery
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