Airflow and Performance: How Athletes Naturally Boost Performance

Better breathing can make a big difference in athletic performance

From amateur runners to Olympic swimmers and Tour de France-winning bicyclists, many athletes consider breathing technique to be a vital performance skill.

Dr. Mitch Lomax, who studies respiration and sports at the University of Portsmouth (UK), has published research showing that proper breathing in warmup and performance can improve performance by up to 15 percent.

Here’s a look at some ideas for improving performance through better breathing.

Buteyko Technique

This is named for the Russian scientist Dr. K.P. Buteyko, who believed that breathing too deeply – hyperventilating – is unhealthy, in part because it interferes with the optimal balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Buteyko claimed links between dysfunctional breathing and some 150 diseases, including asthma, allergies and emphysema. He developed exercises for regulating the breathing, in part to offer relief to asthma sufferers. The technique was controversial, and up to now there is no broad research that suggests it is effective.

Athletes have adapted and taken up the Buteyko method as a way to avoid hyperventilating and what Buteyko called EIA – exercise-induced asthma. There’s even a swimming technique that combines elements of pilates and the Buteyko method, called – naturally – Pilateyko.

Nose breathing and running

The famed long distance runners of Ethiopia might get some of their stamina from training in the less oxygen-rich air at higher altitudes. The capital city, Addis Ababa, is situated at an elevation of about 7,500 feet – nearly a mile and a half – above sea level!

In Mexico, Tarahumara native Indians are renowned for being able run as far as 62 miles a day. Studies show the Tarahumara breathe only through the nose, regulating oxygen, it’s believed that nose breathing can also improve uptake of nasal nitric oxide – a chemical which is thought to improve oxygen utilization and to boost the immune system.

Nasal dilators

Some athletes and some trainers believe they get a boost in performance by using external nose-openers the Breathe Right® nasal strips, to expand the nasal airways. Nasal strips have become a big business, which took off after NFL football players and other athletes started using them.

Many people, even those who use adhesive strips at night, are reluctant to use them for daytime exercise. That’s because they don’t stick well to sweaty skin, because the adhesive can irritate the skin, and because they’re a little embarrassed to wear one to the gym or the playing field.

Some folks who play non-contact sports, from running to swimming to cycling, use a small plastic device inserted in the nostrils to push open the airway from the inside. One of these, the Turbine, cites research stating a 38% increase in nasal airflow when using their product. Four-time Tour de France winning bicyclist Chris Froome is probably the best-known user (and commercial endorser) of the Turbine and devices of its kind.

Future treatments

Medical devices now under development, and possibly soon to be approved for use in the USA, are designed to remodel the nasal valve inside the nose. This in-office procedure is intended to open the nasal passage at its narrowest point, with the result that every breath pulls a greater volume of air through the nose.

If breathing is an essential ingredient of your regimen for maximum fitness and performance, consider one of these ideas for improving respiration and raising your game to the next level.

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