Do you struggle with sports induced asthma?
Are you looking for the extra edge to your sports performance?
In this interview, Tracey Howes explains how the way you breathe can improve your fitness, exercise endurance and recovery times:
How does nasal breathing improve fitness in sports and exercise?
In summary nasal breathing:
- Can help eliminate exercise induced asthma.
- Improve exercise endurance.
- Help to reduce lactic acid build-up and improved blood flow to the legs by up to 7%
- Reduces recovery times from training and exercise.
- Improves mental well-being.
- Improves the quality of your sleep.
- Has been shown to improve physical efficiency for both endurance and team sports.
- Improvement can be seen within a 6-8 week period
A Little Bit About Tracey Howes
Tracey Howes is a functional breathwork instructor and freediver based on the south coast of England.
Being a freediver means she goes diving without the aid of any additional breathing support. So knowing how we breathe and improving her capacity for holding her breath is somewhat important. That led her to explore more about breathing and the importance of how we breathe.
She trained with Oxygen Advantage and works with all kinds of individuals including athletes, those training for a big event or just generally want to get the most from their exercise
The article below is a summary of the interview. Please watch the full interview for all of the valuable information that Tracey shares.
What Is Functional Breathwork?
Functional breathwork focuses on two elements. One is blood chemistry, how oxygen and carbon dioxide interact in the blood. Secondly the biomechanics of the body, how the respiratory muscles move and the interconnectedness of this within the body. Between the brain, nervous system, organs, muscle, fascia, and understanding how to breathe to live an optimal lifestyle.
What are the benefits of nose breathing during exercise?
A lot of us breathe through our mouths. When it comes to sport and exercise you may think, well I’m going to end up breathing through my mouth because of the sheer exertion of the activity, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Learning to breath through the nose could have a massive impact and not just for your sport.
Here are some of the ways breathwork can improve your fitness:
Nasal Breathing Helps Exercise Induced Asthma:
If you’ve been a mouth breather all your life, you’ve never used your nose in the way it should be used. This has a major knock on effect on inflammation within the chest generally. A primary example of this is exercise induced asthma.
When you breathe in large quantities of unfiltered air through your mouth into the lungs, it causes moisture to pull away from the airways. This makes them to constrict, leading to inflammation which gives you that sense of wheezing and coughing. This is something that can be completely eliminated by relearning how to nose breathe.
Breathwork Improves Exercise Endurance:
By using nasal breathing when you’re running, you slow down the speed of your breath and reducing the breathing volume. That increases the carbon dioxide in the blood and stimulates an increase of oxygenation.
An increase of CO2 impacts on the haemoglobin proteins which then release more oxygen into the blood. When you have more oxygen you use less energy for your breathing muscles to achieve the same result. So for endurance athletes relearning to breathe correctly improves endurance performance because you are breathing more economically.
Reduced lactic acid build-up and improved blood flow to the legs
Doing any form of high intensity exercise places extra demand on our breathing muscles and the diaphragm can get fatigued. When fatigue sets in, blood is diverted from the legs to support your breathing muscles. This is why you end up with metabolic by-products, like lactic acid accumulating in the legs causing cramp and discomfort.
Changing breathing habits day to day, during sleep and when exercising, reduces the effort of taking an inhale and blood flow to the legs can potentially increase by 7%. If you’re a triathlete your legs are your winning limbs. Being able to increase oxygen and blood flow to the legs is crucial if you’re trying to break a PB for example.
Breathwork Helps Reduce Exercise Recovery Times
The long term benefit of nasal breathing during exercise is that it improves recovery. It also takes pressure away from the cardiac muscle so the heart doesn’t have to work so hard.
Even if you’re doing a series of exercises in a short space of time, this could be exercising at pace for 15 minutes followed by a recovery time and tracking how long it takes for the heart rate to come down, you can see the benefit.
Additional Benefits Of Learning Correct Breathing
Improved Mental Well-Being
During breathwork exercises you’re not just training the breathing muscles it also helps improve mental state. You can be physically able to do something but if the mind is not in sync with the body the performance doesn’t happen.
This is part of a series of videos talking about different elements of health, well-being and lifestyle that breathing has an impact in. Yes there’s the physical benefit of correct nasal breathing for exercise and performance, but breathwork can help emotional elements to, like anxiety and stress.
If you’re someone that perhaps gets performance anxiety before a competition or just has a general high stress level from work/life, nasal breathing gives you benefits in both worlds. The benefits of breathwork for your exercise and the benefits of breathwork for helping calm that stress level down as well.
Improvement In Sleep
Correcting breathing patterns outside of exercise also positively impacts your sleep. You want to be sleeping with your mouth closed too. Mouth taping can be hugely beneficial if you are a snorer or you suffer with sleep apnea.
Using a combination of self-awareness, practical exercises to create new habits and continuing to practice nasal breathing gives a much more holistic approach. The body will be functioning much more economically and optimally 24/7 and it pays off when you are doing your run, cycle, swim, your mountaineering, all of that. The benefit is felt when you are actually under stress because the diaphragm has been retrained to perform correctly
We have another interview that talks all about sleep and breathing techniques to improve you sleep. If you want to learn more about that follow the link to find out how to sleep better with breathwork.
Breathwork Exercises Specific For Sports Performance
The breathwork exercises used for sport are slightly different to the ones used for something like stress and anxiety. It’s still be good to incorporate those into a training program because you want to be able to have downtime for your nervous system. Also if you’ve been working at pace and pushing the breathing it’s important to balance that with slowing the breath down.
Sports performance clients our taught something specific called intermittent hypercapnic hypoxic training. It’s a more advanced breathing technique program where you increase carbon dioxide through breath hold and reduce oxygen.
It has been proven that sports like running, cycling, swimming and most team sports all benefit by incorporating breath hold training to improve physical efficiency. Tracey’s experience as a freediver adds to her skills in this area from the CO2 tolerance training she has learnt to become comfortable with diaphragmatic contractions when the body wants to breathe.
When you incorporate breath hold with movement, you cause adaptation in the breathing muscles. It could be breath hold walking, sprinting, during yoga type practice as well. These adaptations are what creates a stronger breathing respiratory system so that when you are pushing yourself your breathing actually performs optimally.
This provides the endurance that gets the heart rate lower so that you are still performing at pace. Perhaps still hitting the same time, but the body is not under so much duress because the heart is not having to take over from the diaphragm which is working correctly.
How Long Does It Take To See Improved Fitness Using Breathwork In Sport And Exercise?
We’re working with muscles, so just like you can train a leg muscle, arm muscle or stomach muscle, you can also train your diaphragm which is your main breathing muscle.
Whether you’re a top level athlete or just what to improve on a PB, employing nasal breathing during exercise over a 6-8 week period, you can see an increase in breathing efficiencies as the body starts to adapt.
For sport and exercise you need to practice nasal breathing and learning to breathe from the diaphragm under duress. When you are running and breathing through your nose, it’s not going to feel comfortable in the first instance, so start training in short spurts. You’ll also find because the nose is sensitive, it tends to stream so don’t go running without something to blow your nose.
Is This Just Practicing Things While You're Doing The Sport?
It’s all good and well to do nasal breathing when you’re exercising but you should be doing it 24/7. It’s about creating a new habit which can be challenging because habits don’t just happen overnight. We have to put little micro habits in place which starts with self awareness. You could be walking to the shop or taking the dog out or making a cup of tea for example. If you realize your mouth breathing, being self aware and switching back to nasal breathing is really important.
The key in the very beginning is getting the body to re learn to breathe properly through the nose. The exercises can be implemented a few minutes a day, learning to breathe light, slow and deep, really focusing on lateral expansion of the diaphragm and keeping the mouth closed at all times.
So if this information has meant that you are curious to find out more about Tracey Howes and her course options you can find out more from any of the means below
Taster sessions which are 60 minutes on zoom once a month.
3 week programme working in small groups.
She also does corporate work, wellness retreats, health and wellbeing festivals and works with other healthcare practitioners.