Breathing and Peak Performance

When noted Karate Sensei Keisuke Miyagi was training one of his students, he made it a point to teach this lesson: “Breathe in through nose. Out through mouth. Don’t forget to breathe – very important.” As it turns out, he was on to something when it comes to athletic training.

Many of the scores of experts that we interviewed in the process of researching “Perfect Breathing: Transform Your Life One Breath at a Time” are professional athletes or people who fundamentally rely on pushing their bodies to the limits – dancers, fighter pilots, archers, astronauts, etc. All of them use breathing techniques to not only elicit every drop of performance from their bodies, but to also focus their minds and keep their emotions in check.

The scientific and medical research continues to pile up as does the “on the track” feedback from athletes and others who continue to integrate conscious breathing into their training.

Recently Dr. Mitch Lomax and her team at the University of Portsmouth have added more research that shows how inspiratory (inhale) muscle training can lead to significant (some would say dramatic – me for instance) performance improvement. A number of studies have shown that our bodies are designed in such a way to prioritize the respiratory muscles over all others (that pesky survival instinct). So when you hit that wall where your breathing muscles become fatigued, the body diverts energy away from the major motor muscles such as legs and arms in favor of the respiratory muscles.

What Dr. Lomax and others have shown is that by specifically training the breathing muscles, they will become stronger and more efficient with greater endurance just like every other muscle in your body.
How does that translate to performance? Dr. Lomax’s research found that runners who warmed up their breathing muscles improved by 5-7%, those who strengthened their breathing muscles improved in the neighborhood of 12%, and those who did both experienced a 15% improvement! Dr. Lomax stressed that these were conservative figures and did not rule out even greater gains. This is perhaps borne out by the fact that U.S. Navy experiments saw gains of 30%-60% depending on the activity performed. Wow.

In my own practice and training, I continue to be amazed at the benefits of breath focus and training and am quite sure that I haven’t yet exhausted that hidden yet very accessible potential.

In a follow up post, we will dig deeper into the techniques and technology that you can use to train your respiratory muscles, but to start, practice deep breathing, and make breath focus a part of your training regimen.

We’d love to hear about your experience with breath training. What has worked for you? What kind of changes or results have you seen?

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