Breathing for Performance

In the last article we discussed the overall process of breathing, what happens when you breathe poorly and one method to work on to help restore your natural breathing. In this article we’ll talk about Mouth Breathers.

Mouth Breathing – inhaling and exhaling through the mouth continually even at rest. It may sound like it’s no big deal, but constantly breathing through the mouth causes significant changes to the bony structure of the skull, allows more irritants into the lungs, increases the likelihood of asthma or makes it worse among other things.

59322531 893c 414c bdab b88c7c1d5e4d

When the mouth is always open the weight of the jaw stretches out the muscles in the face resulting in an elongated structure (think Napoleon Dynamite – the classic mouth-breather). You can’t take in enough air when breathing though the mouth which tends to make you breathe quicker and shallower, resulting in even less oxygen coming in. It’s a vicious cycle and be very tough to retrain. 

People learn to mouth breathe for many reasons but it typically starts out with nasal congestion as a child. Having severe allergies and colds where the sinuses are so congested no air can pass forces you to breathe with your mouth open and after a while it becomes the default method. If you find yourself mouth breathing get some of those Breathe-Rite strips that help open the nasal passages (,

use a Neti Pot or this :

1d4f6a6d ac25 44b6 84bd da5457ad6002

There are chin straps that force the mouth closed if you can’t breathe with the mouth closed even after using the nasal strips and Neti Pot.

Let’s talk about mouth breathing during physical activity. When you workout hard you will probably be mouth breathing towards the end, that’s normal and it’s the body’s way of getting rid of Carbon Dioxide quickly. However the longer you can breathe through the nose the longer you will be able to sustain whatever activity you are doing.

Mouth breathing leads to panting which can turn into a fight or flight response meaning you get tense and you fatigue faster. When you train, try to maintain nasal breathing for as long as possible; your performance should improve. If you do find yourself mouth breathing, try to get back to nasal breathing quickly.

There are times when mouth breathing during sports is ok, but it isn’t a relaxed breathing pattern. The example that comes to my mind is breathing during the kettlebell snatch or jerk especially when doing the kettlebell sport “style”. In these lifts you actually exhale through the mouth but it is somewhat forceful. You blow out the air through puffed cheeks, like a squirrel. That allows the body to absorb the kettlebell but also allows for the core to remain just tight enough to control the bell. 

With the snatch there can be either two or threes exhalation points, typically at the end of the backswing and at the top at lockout. The third point is during the swing phase as the bell starts to come up.

You may be wondering where the inhale occurs and how you can exhale so many times. The inhale occurs naturally. As the body opens air will rush in due to the vacuum created by the exhale. There’s no need to worry about inhaling, it just happens. As for exhaling that many times, well it’s something you get used to and the breathing pattern should be dictating your pace. Breathe slowly and you’ll slow down your pace, if you need to speed up just increase the breathing cycle.

In fact your breathing should dictate most of your movement not the other way around.

Think of the lungs as bellows or an accordion. When you push the handles of the bellows together or squeeze the accordion, air blows out (exhale on body compression) as you open the handles air rushes back in (the chest opens and air fills the vacuum in your lungs). So during exercise you may want to look at your breathing patterns and see if you are exhaling as your body contracts/compress (anatomical breathing) or the opposite (paradoxical breathing). 

Another way to think of this, especially for martial artists, exhale when you get hit, it’s natural you can’t change it. Then you inhale sharply and hopefully hit the other guy harder while exhaling. If you are punching you will also exhale upon making contact. While this sounds wrong, your body is actually compressing to generate power for the punch or kick. The same applies to hitting a tennis ball or baseball. Exhale on compression/squeezing of the lungs.

Breathing during exercise is different than breathing while at a desk or relaxing, so don’t get too wrapped up in it. You may need to re-train your breathing if you’ve been mouth breathing or find yourself holding your breath when training (sometimes holding the breath is ok) and you can find out how when you attend our Breathing with Lucy workshop on July 12 from 10:30-12:30.

For more info visit our website IronBody.Com

Subscribe to get the latest updates