If that title makes absolutely no sense to you whatsoever, then before you read this blog you first need to get out from the rock you’ve been living under and watch the movie Bull Durham. Kevin Costner, baseball, absurd 1980’s comedy -- it really can’t be topped. Among the great quotable moments in the movie, there is one important lesson. One of the main characters believes he is performing poorly during a game because he is “breathing through the wrong eyelid.” While this is just some joke from a ridiculous (but classic) movie, it does raise a good point. Your breathing is affecting your performance.
Now, you are not breathing through your eyelids, ears, or any other weird place of your body. But how you are breathing will have an effect on how your body is able to perform both in sport and everyday life. Especially when you consider that you take over 20,000 breaths each day! Diaphragm function and mouth vs. nose breathing play important roles in our ability to function and perform.
The diaphragm functions as the primary muscle for inhalation, but it also serves several other purposes. On top of its breathing job, the diaphragm also plays a role in blood flow, digestion and stomach functions (swallowing, vomiting, etc.), and due to its attachments to the ribs and lumbar spine, postural control.
Notice the attachments of the diaphragm to the lumbar spine and all across the lower ribs. This allows the muscle to be a strong postural/spinal stabilizer.
The role of the diaphragm in postural control is especially important, as it provides stability to the low back when it is contracted. While this is useful during things like picking up heavy stuff, it is not ideal during athletic or endurance-based activities. The diaphragm needs to be a dynamic pump for us to properly breath, and without it more accessory muscles need to pick up the slack. Upper back and chest muscles begin to assist with breathing and are not as good at doings things they were supposed to do, like move the arms. If the diaphragm is stuck in this position, the pelvic floor will also be affected, in turn limiting the ability of the lower body to function. Things like running, cutting, endurance, and hand-eye coordination become more difficult, on top of the already limited ability to breath.
Mouth vs. Nose Breathing
While a proper functioning diaphragm is essential for breathing and athletic performance, it is only half the picture. The avenue through which air is inhaled also plays a strong role in how your body is able to function and perform.
The Downfalls of Mouth Breathing:
- Over-exhaling CO2
- Levels of CO2 in the body are actually what drives the amount of oxygen in the tissues (less CO2 = less oxygen for muscles and other tissues)
- Increase in sympathetic (fight or flight) response
- Increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased stress hormones, increased pain levels
The Benefits of Nose Breathing:
- Improved oxygen delivery to tissues
- By not over-exhaling CO2, muscles and tissues get more oxygen
- Increase in parasympathetic (rest and digest) response
- Improved ability for recovery, improved ability for absorbing nutrients, improved sleep, decreased pain levels
- Improved endurance during running
- Nose breathing has been shown to make endurance exercise feel less difficult, so you can exercise longer
- Filtration and warming of inhaled air
- Reduce the risk of breathing in viruses and things that make you sick
How Do You Get Better at Breathing?
Step 1: breathe through your nose
Step 2: learn how to breathe with your diaphragm
That’s about it. The exercise below will teach you how to breath in through your nose while properly utilizing your diaphragm:
This is a fantastic exercise to begin learning how to get your diaphragm functioning properly, but it takes further training to be able to utilize these concepts while performing your activity of choice. Every sport requires different training and you as an individual will need exercises that are specific to your own needs. If you are interested in learning how improving your breathing can improve your performance during your favorite activities, give us a call at (469)626-7254 to schedule an assessment. You will learn exactly what your body needs to breathe and perform better than ever.
If you have any questions about the specifics covered in this blog, or about breathing and performance in general, please reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to answer any questions you may have and continue talking about this fascinating topic.