Different breathing techniques and their importance in sports

As is evident to many elite athletes, the importance of relaxation, mental focus and self-care cannot be understated. Self-care, through many different kinds of activities such as yoga, positive affirmations, and deep breaths, is a way for your mind and body to reset– which is essential to keep performing your best. Although these approaches to self-care are exceptionally beneficial and calming, one of the most versatile and effective methods of it are breathing techniques.

Since I have employed breathing techniques into my sports and daily lives, I have found a new sense of calmness that has washed away the majority of my worries and fears regarding tennis. I used to be quite anxious over my tennis matches and other parts of life, and sometimes I still am–but since harnessing positive thinking and meditation centered around breathing, I have found much more success all around. Whenever I feel my mental structure straying from staying focused during a match, or finding myself anxious suddenly, I just take a deep breath. Instantly, a subtle feeling of calmness and confidence returns to me. The power of a simple deep breath is so profound, and I think it is important for every athlete to utilize that.

But there are deeper levels to breathing than just deep breaths. A world of breathing techniques aimed at bringing serenity and peace to your mind exists, with some being centuries-old, some from all around the globe, and some formulated recently, all centered around aesthetics. Personally, I do not employ any specific breathing techniques outside of counting my deep breaths, and benefits can still certainly be reaped that way. Nevertheless, here are a plethora to possibly apply to your own life:

The Wim Hof method

The Wim Hof method was created by Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete. This method is inspired by cold therapy and prolonged breath holds, inhales, and exhales. This method operates in “rounds,” and one round looks like this: You strongly inhale, and then give a relaxed exhale, and repeat that for thirty breaths–then, on the thirtieth breath, exhale to ninety percent and hold it for as long as you can. Then, when needed, inhale fully and hold for fifteen seconds before releasing.

Scientific-backed benefits include anti-inflammatory effects, reductions in altitude sickness, and improved oxygen delivery during exercise.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is breathing aimed at forcing your body to relax, by breathing with your stomach or diaphragm rather than your chest. By activating your diaphragm, this creates a gentle massaging action felt by internal organs such as the intestines and stomach, which can reduce abdominal pain, urgency, bloating and constipation– providing proof that breathing does not just positively impact your mind and oxygen needs. To do this, place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen, and only your bottom hand should move. Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for two seconds, and exhale slowly for six seconds; repeat for five to fifteen minutes.

Benefits of this technique also include decreased muscle tension, reduced stress hormones, and concentration improvements.

Pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing is a technique designed to make your breaths slower and more effective. This method is especially useful for athletes, most specifically runners. Firstly, inhale through the nose for two seconds as you try to fill the abdomen with air instead of just the lungs. Then, purse your lips and breathe out slowly, taking twice as long to exhale than you took to inhale.

These are just some of the breathing methods that exist, but their worth, especially to an athlete, is immense. Mental fortification, strength, and control are key to athletic success, and one of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to achieve that state is by utilizing breathing.

The next time you find yourself in a stressful position, especially on the field or court, just take a deep breath—it may lead you to success.