Train your breath to win big

Australian Olympians train their breathing for extra performance. In a Fitness First mag exclusive, their breathing coach James Fletcher reveals how to improve your breathing.

James Fletcher is bringing the science of breathing to sports. As a physiotherapist and exercise physiologist, Fletcher specialises in what it takes to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury in the gym, and a lot of it relies on how you breathe. Whether you’re lifting weights, doing Pilates or going for a jog, if you improve your breathing, you’ll perform better.

Working with the AIS he trains with world class athletes, including Cameron McEvoy, James Roberts, Madison Wilson and Ryan Hipwood. Exclusively for Fitness First mag, he’s adapted his elite training techniques for the regular gymgoer.

Training the diaphragm

Here is an example of how powerful breathing can be on your internal physiology: right now, take five big, deep breaths as quickly as you can.

Some of you may feel light headed, dizzy or have pins and needles. This is a direct effect of you “blowing off”, or reducing the carbon dioxide levels in your body, changing the acidity level of your blood.

This has important consequences for performance. The breath can control your physiology, and we can use science to tap into this to increase your performance and ability.

You can improve your breathing by strength training your diaphragm as you would any muscle, making breathing easier. Research shows that doing specific breathing warm ups improve exercise performance and your core muscle performance while reducing shortness of breath.

Below are two techniques for some diaphragm warm ups. It’s important to stretch your breathing system before you work out to make breathing easier. That’s what James calls one of his “Fletcher Technique core principles”.

Warm up for a strong core

Doing these exercises will switch on your core muscles, allowing you to maintain stability and strength during your workout.

Incorporating these exercises during your warm ups brings blood and oxygen to your diaphragm, reducing the oxygen debt that you have to repay later during your workout, making exercise easier.

Exercise 1: 10 stretching breaths

Stretching breaths are important to make breathing easier, so make sure you include them in your warm up. Sit down comfortably and place your hands on your belly. Take the biggest breath you can as slowly as you can, and fill your belly with air. You should feel your tummy stretch out. Purse your lips as you breathe in and out, taking your time.

Exercise 2: Diaphragm pumps 

Breathe in fast through your nose as you push your belly out, taking one second to breathe in. Do five of these short, sharp, strong breaths. Perform two sets.

You’ll be shocked at just how much breathing better can change. Here are a few examples of what breath training can do:

  • Making breathing easier to reduce shortness of breath during exercise and increase blood delivery to your muscles.
  • Improve your capacity for exercise and increase your performance, whether you’re a deep-sea swimmer or a skydiver.
  • Improve your health by reducing asthma symptoms and improving sleep, reducing snoring and nightly waking.
  • Improve your core stability by strengthening your diaphragm and creating intra-abdominal pressure.
  • Increase your tolerance to high-intensity exercise.
  • Increase your control of fight-or-flight responses to let you “pump up” for exercise and cool down to let your body recover and sleep more effectively.
  • Increase the time you can hold your breath for swimming, free-diving and surfing.

If these sound like something you want, you’ll definitely benefit from breath training.