If you want to maximize your WODs and perform at your peak, you need to make every breath count. You might think breathing is something you do naturally, but when you’re exerting yourself, mastering your breath might just give you an additional edge.
Breathing inefficiently during exercise can deprive your body of the oxygen it needs to function at its peak. Your blood starts to become acidic, and your athletic performance declines as a result.
In contrast, breathing efficiently during exercise can maximize your performance, improve your fitness level and speed up healing.
Here’s how to optimize your breathing to boost your CrossFit performance, and why breathing correctly during exercise matters.
Breathing is something that most of us take for granted, but it’s actually essential for maintaining good health, fitness, and strength. To understand why, you need to understand why you breathe to start with. The primary purpose of breathing is to deliver oxygen to your cells and remove excess carbon dioxide from your body.
There are two different forms of breathing: chest breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.
Chest breathing, or shallow breathing, is the expansion and contraction of your chest during intense exercise or times of stress. This type of breathing can encourage the body to become tense, which negatively impacts athletic performance.
Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing is also known as deep breathing. It’s characterized by deep, intentional breaths deep into the belly without moving the chest. This is the more beneficial form of breathing that brings more oxygen into your lungs and your body, helping to energize your muscles and cells and boosting your CrossFit abilities. This type of breathing is used in meditation, yoga and other mindfulness disciplines thanks to its powerful nature.
Diaphragmatic breathing oxygenates the blood, decreases blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety, and relaxes abdominal organs to improve digestion. It can relieve muscle tension to promote proper posture, and it improves your focus, allowing you to concentrate entirely on optimizing your performance.
According to researchers at the human performance laboratory at the University of Technology in Sydney, the body’s demand for oxygen increases during exercise, and our breathing volume rises too.
This demands that different muscles around the lungs contract in a coordinated way. As the intensity of exercise increases, these muscles must contract quicker and more forcefully to keep up with the body’s rising metabolism.
In the same way, a stronger heart pumps out more blood with every pump and has to beat less often. A stronger diaphragm and intercostal muscles allow you to slow your breathing rate and get as much oxygen to your muscles as possible.
The scientists explain that by increasing the stamina and strength of your respiratory system using breathing techniques, your breathing will become more efficient and require less energy. This leaves more energy for your motor muscles, and for you to focus on whatever exercise you may be doing.
A State University of New York study has proven this point. The study’s subjects, who followed breathing resistance training, improved their snorkel surface swimming time by 33%, and their underwater scuba swim time by a hefty 66%.
Study author Dr Claes Lundgren notes that these results mirror those of previous studies on runners, rowers and cyclists. The results suggest that athletes across sports can boost their performance by undergoing respiratory muscle training.
According to Scientific American, mastering deep breathing can have numerous benefits for your body and overall health. Benefits range from stress reduction and improved attention to better physical and emotional control.
Deep breathing offers these benefits through two key mechanisms: stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system and diverting your attention away from your thoughts. Additionally, inhaling deeply brings more oxygen into your lungs and your body, oxygenating your blood effectively and boosting your metabolism to yield greater energy and stamina over time.
Stamina is essential in CrossFit, but it’s just as important in all other forms of exercise too. From cycling with a heavy bag to hiking uphill, the correct breathing technique makes exerting yourself easier.
The key to performing well in CrossFit is to focus and keep good form to prevent injury and maintain stamina. There are many different breathing techniques that athletes use to achieve these goals, including popular options like:
- The Valsalva manoeuvre. This technique involves a forceful attempt at expiration when the airway closes at any point. It’s described as a conscious effort made to breathe while holding your nostrils closed and your mouth shut to test the patency of your Eustachian tubes, adjust middle ear pressure, and abort supraventricular tachycardia, or valsalva.
This method is best used during heavy lifting with low reps during the strength training portion of your WOD. It prepares the body for heavy lifting and protects the spine by filling the belly with air, and then slowly exhaling once exertion is complete.
To do this maneuver, pinch your nose closed and close your mouth, and then forcefully exhale. Bear down and hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat once if required.
- Box breathing. A Navy Seal developed this technique that starts with belly breathing. It then moves on to using the diaphragm to move and pull breath out of the lungs, and then to move the breath through the chest. This chain of events reverses on exhalation. This breathing exercise calms the mind and optimizes physical oxygen levels to prepare the body for strenuous activity.
You can start box breathing by breathing out slowly and releasing all the air from your lungs. Breathe in to your nose as you slowly count to four, hold your breath for a count of four, and then breathe out for a count of four. Repeat for three to four rounds.
- Expand-a-Lung. This is another breathing technique that can improve your oxygen intake and focus your mind. Practising it regularly strengthens the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles, allowing you to inhale more oxygen and exhale more CO2..
The exercise is conducted using a specialized Expand-a-Lung device, which is inserted into the mouth. Bite down on the mouthpiece to hold it in place, then breathe in and out while adjusting the valve to set your breathing resistance, making it challenging but not uncomfortable.
Once this is complete, inhale through the mouthpiece as slowly and deeply as possible. Hold your breath for a few seconds and then exhale through the mouthpiece slowly until you are almost out of breath. Remove the device and breathe normally until you catch your breath, and then repeat the exercise 10 times per set, 2 to 4 times per day.
With high-intensity training like CrossFit, there’s no single golden rule for breathing. Experts all have their own opinions on optimal breathing patterns. But studies show that there are definitely certain ways of breathing that are more comfortable and less energetically costly for athletes.
One study by McDermott et al. analyzed the connection between breathing patterns and stride rhythms. It found that athletes have a tendency to breathe in a 2:1 or 3:2 pattern, which means inhaling for 2 steps and exhaling for one in the former example, and inhaling for 3 steps and exhaling for 2 in the latter.
When breathing in sync with your body’s movement, you reduce sensations of discomfort which can hinder your breathing and performance.
The faster your breath rate, the less time your body has to absorb the oxygen you breathe in. This can cause anaerobic metabolism to kick in, causing the accumulation of lactate and decreasing your endurance.
Mastering your breathing can prevent the build-up of lactate. It encourages you to breathe more slowly, drawing more oxygen into your body. This gives your body time to absorb oxygen into the lungs to create energy and keep you performing at your peak for longer.
By following an optimal breathing pattern like 2:1 or 3:2 in sync with your footfalls, you can run faster for longer before maxing out your oxygen uptake and having to take a break.
The way you breathe during CrossFit can have a significant impact on your stamina and your performance. Mastering your breathing can help you reach your fitness goals while boosting your physical health and keeping your mind focused.