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Proper Breathing Techniques – Performance Tool or a Bunch of Hot Air?

By Chad Estes on 12/10/2015

Most athletes are unaware of their breathing patterns, except for when they are ‘sucking air’ at the end of conditioning drills.  Periods of fatigue shouldn’t be the only time they pay attention to it.

Athletes and coaches should be aware of proper breathing through all of practice, and it is my feeling that it should also be a regular part of training.  According to Al Lee, Co-Author of Perfect Breathing,  “By learning to control your breathing, by understanding how the respiratory system is integrated with your body, by using conscious breathing in all your pursuits, you will improve nearly every aspect of your life.”


What is Good Breathing?

The answer to what constitutes good and bad breathing is – it depends.  Based on the person, their movement, the scenario, and the present demand, the exact definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is variable.

Generally speaking, proper (or more ideal) breathing entails: youth sports breathing techniques

  • More “belly” and lower rib breathing dominated versus upper chest or neck dominated
  • Ribs show expansion in 3-dimensional movement outwards as they inhale, especially towards the side/back of the ribcage
  • Relatively relaxed neck and shoulders
  • Ability to coordinate core muscle activation while maintaining comfortable belly breathing
  • Ability to control breathing with core activation in various positions, under loading, and during states of fatigue

Try the following breathing lessons.  I call them lessons because, when done properly, there is quite a bit to learn.  For each of them, look to use less and less effort.  This allows your nervous system the opportunity to ‘self correct’ as it will be able to discern and weed out dysfunction.

Lesson 1

Lay on your back, knees bent with your feet standing.  Make sure you’re feet aren’t too far apart, too close together, too far from your glutes or too close.   It may also serve you, initially, to utilize two similar objects (say two shoes) and place one on your belly and the other on your chest for visual feedback.

As you lay there, begin noticing your breathing.  As you inhale, strive to have the shoe on your belly rise first, not the one on your chest.  Breath in for a slow 4 count, exhale for a slow 4 count.

Practice this pattern of breathing 8-10 times.  Do not rush…

Lesson 2

Again, lie on your back, knees bent with your feet standing.  Now, I’m going to draw upon your imagination:

As you lay there, imagine that your pelvis lies on the face of a clock.  Where it contacts the floor is the center of the clock.  That would make 6 o’clock down near your tailbone and 12 o’clock near the top of the back of your pelvis.

Again, do not rush through these.

There are 4 variations to Lesson 2:

1. Begin to roll your pelvis in such a way that it rolls to touch 12 o’clock and then roll it back to the starting point (the center of the clock).  Consciously exhale in an easy way as you initiate the movement, inhale upon your return.   Repeat 8-10 times.

2. Begin to roll your pelvis in such a way that it rolls to touch 6 o’clock and then roll it back to the starting point (the center of the clock).  Consciously inhale in an easy way as you initiate the movement, exhale upon your return.   Repeat 8-10 times.

            Combine movements #1 & #2. Repeat 8-10 times.

3. Begin to roll your pelvis in such a way that it rolls to touch 12 o’clock and then roll it back to the starting point (the center of the clock).  Consciously inhale in an easy way as you initiate the movement, exhale upon your return.   Repeat 8-10 times.

4. Begin to roll your pelvis in such a way that it rolls to touch 6 o’clock and then roll it back to the starting point (the center of the clock).  Consciously exhale in an easy way as you initiate the movement, inhale as you return.   Allow the abdominal muscles to be as relaxed as possible.  Repeat 8-10 times.

Combine movements #3 & #4. Repeat 8-10 times.

In Closing

The above breathing lessons will provide young athletes  (and athletes of all ages) very valuable sensory feedback, allowing them the opportunity to notice what it feels like to breathe in an efficient and effective manner.

Conditioning
Chad Estes

As a former collegiate football player, high school football coach, strength and conditioning trainer, and sales representative for Engage Sports, Chad Estes is passionate about sports, improving sports performance and helping youth sports leaders improve their operations.

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