Breathing is one of the truly fascinating aspects of our bodies. It’s something that we naturally do without thinking, and it’s also something we can consciously control.
As you’ve experienced for yourself, maintaining control of your breathing can make a tremendous difference in performance and recovery (especially between sets or after a stressful experience).
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at how breathwork can impact your workouts.
What is Breathwork?
Breathwork describes any form of breathing exercises or specific breathing techniques.
Individuals often use breathwork to improve mental, physical, or emotional well-being, with many individuals reporting improved feelings of well-being along with less stress.
How to Practice Breathwork
Breathwork can take several different forms. The most common ones are:
- box breathing
- diaphragmatic breathing (aka “belly breathing”)
- alternate nostril breathing
- pursed lip breathing
- 4-7-8 breathing
If you’re not familiar with these various forms of breathwork, then we’ll discuss quite possibly the most popular form of breathwork -- box breathing
Here’s an overview of box breathing:
- Situate yourself into a comfortable position (seated, lying down, etc.) in a peaceful environment
- Close your eyes (and keep them closed for the duration of this drill)
- Exhale completely
- Inhale through your nose while counting to four slowly.
- Hold your breath while counting slowly to four. (Keep your jaw relaxed, but mouth closed)
- Slowly exhale for 4 seconds.
- Repeat this process at least three times and up to a total of four minutes (or until serenity envelopes you)
Potential Benefits of Breathwork
People practice breathwork for a myriad of reasons, and while research is still very much in its infancy, self-reported benefits of breathwork, include:
- Reduced stress
- Better immune function
- Greater creativity
- Increased happiness
- More confidence
- Less anxiety
- Better self-esteem
- Ability to process emotional trauma or pain
- Increased energy
When to Practice Breathwork
The great thing about breathwork, especially compared to certain recovery or stress-relief practices, is that it requires no expensive equipment, doctor’s offices, etc.
You just need to find a quiet place and go to your “happy place.”
With that in mind, there are sometimes when it may be more convenient or optimal to do breathwork, such as:
- First thing in the morning
- Immediately before bed
- After a stressful meeting at work
Along those same lines, there are also times when you don’t necessarily want to practice breathwork, such as:
- Driving down the street
- Swimming underwater
- In the middle of something that requires peak attention (e.g. operating heavy machinery, in the middle of a heavy lift at the gym, etc.)
As for total duration, as little as four minutes of breathwork is plenty to derive benefit, but many individuals report practicing breathwork for up to 30-45 minutes per day!
There’s no “perfect” amount for everyone. Just like with exercise and nutrition, experiment and find what works for you. For some individuals that could be once per day for four minutes, for others, it could be 2-3 times per day for 5-10 minutes at a time.
Slow or Fast Breathwork?
When discussing box breathing, we mentioned to inhaling and exhaling slowly, as this helps calm you down and reduce feelings of stress.
While breathwork can be helpful for promoting feelings of calm and taking the “edge” off, it can also be used to invigorate you. Professional athletes, such as mixed martial artists, often used fast breathwork to increase energy, focus, and alertness.
The reason for this is that rapid breathing increases cortisol and adrenaline, two “fight or flight” hormones that can be particularly helpful in stressful situations.
Again, whether you choose to use fast or slow breathwork will depend on the purpose for which you’re using it. Are you trying to calm down and relieve stress, or are you trying to get amped up for a big lift or combat session?
Better Breathing = Happier Heart
Breathwork can help reduce stress levels and cortisol, which has the downstream effect of lowering blood pressure.
Hypertension affects nearly half of U.S. adults, and high blood pressure can damage the:
Having high blood pressure can also impair sexual function and performance!
Breathwork can help lower blood pressure and stress levels supporting the health of your heart and cardiovascular system.
Breathwork is a simple, no-cost means to improve your mental and physical health as well as your performance in the gym.
It is backed by science and can be practiced virtually anywhere.
When you take all of this into account, it’s no wonder why breathwork has soared in popularity in recent times.