AT Month 2019: Part 3 – BREATH

Unless you live under a rock or even deeper back into Hillbilly land than I do, you have probably heard a lot of people talking about the importance of breathing in regards to health, healing, and performance.  Breathing has been one of the keystones to what we have taught in our graduate level AT (Go BEARS!) course since 2009. As all the new stuff has come out on breathing, we have been able to pick out bits and pieces of material that makes what we teach even better.  Full disclosure – I’m not a breathing expert.  Over the years, we have found a way to integrate breathing very easily into what we do every day as AT’s in both the rehab and performance world.  So, right here and right now I’m going to cover my typical 3 hour breathing lecture in less than 1000 words, and I’m going to relate it to YOU and helping you fell better.  

Quick task:

  1. Find a chair to sit down in.
  2. Pull out your smart phone and open the stop watch app.  If you want to use a real stopwatch, even better – I’m a fan of old school.
  3. Breath normally as you sing (in your head) the Star Spangled Banner (you hear it before every game, you had better know the words.)
  4. Get your stop watch ready and take a BIG breath in.
  5. Start the stopwatch once you complete the inhale (we are timing how long you can hold your breath).
  6. Stop the stopwatch once you begin your exhale.
  7. Look at your stopwatch and remember your time.

Here are the stone-cold facts that we know about breathing:

  • It’s kind of important.
  • Brings Oxygen into the body.
  • Expels Carbon Dioxide out of the body.
  • Direct tie into our Autonomic Nervous System.
  • Can magnify or reduce pain, stress, or muscular tension.
  • Nasal breathing increases oxygen delivery to the lungs.
  • Marks your entry into this world and your exit from it.

That is a very brief synopsis of breathing; there are literally weekend (or longer) workshops that get way into the weeds on this, but that depth is beyond this article.  Thankfully, there is a lot that is known about breathing and how breathing affects the body.  We know that if your breath hold time is less than 60 seconds and you are an athlete, your performance is being hindered.  We know that if your breath hold time is less than 30 seconds and you are alive that you are a chronic hyperventilator.  We also know that if your breath hold time is less than 15 seconds you are a compensated hyperventilator (in response to some stress).  So, looking back on your breath hold time, how many of you are redoing the breath hold test because you don’t like having an objective measure point out a breathing problem?

What I really want to focus on is the group of you in the less than 30 seconds group, the chronic hyperventilators.  Hyperventilation (HV) is a health problem that is affecting you at such a fundamental level that it will have a negative effect on everything you do – it should not be under appreciated (this is the awareness step).   HV shifts your CNS towards the fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) response.  HV decreases peripheral blood flow (will slow healing), decreases peripheral nerve conduction (will impair movement processing, and increase local muscle spasms), and decreases muscle contraction threshold (will have more difficulty resolving trigger points).  Alone, any one of these have a negative impact on movement and pain; together these adaptations stack the deck against you. And don’t fall back onto wishful thinking -if you HV, you have all of those going on right now.

As AT’s we already aren’t the healthiest group of individuals.  We are constantly under stress from multiple directions, are always out of time, and likely eat more meals at our desk or in our vehicle then actually sitting down at a table.  Fortunately, I kicked my 200+ oz of Mt. Dew habit back in 2002 (we did the math, that is likely an underestimate), but how many AT’s live off of Soda or Coffee.  Add chronic dehydration to the chronic HV and we literally are the walking epitome of what we are trying to help others NOT be.

In the last post, I asked you to find 5 minutes each day to detach.  Today, I’m going to ask you to keep those 5 minutes (I’m also good if you can expand this to 10, but I’ll take the 5 for now) but I’m going to fill that time with a task that will allow you to detach, but also allow you to work on your breathing.  First I need you to time one more thing – how long you can hold your exhale:

  1. Find a chair to sit down in.
  2. Pull out your smart phone and open the stop watch app.  If you want to use a real stopwatch, even better.
  3. Breath normally as you sing (in your head) the Star Spangled Banner (you hear it before every game, you had better know the words.)
  4. Get your stop watch ready and take a BIG breath in, THEN BREATH ALL YOUR AIR OUT AS QUICKLY AS YOU CAN.
  5. Start the stopwatch once you complete the Exhale (we are timing your exhale breath hold).
  6. Stop the stopwatch once you have to inhale again.
  7. Look at your stopwatch and then find your time under the CO2 Tolerance Column, or the closest to it (round down), on the following table: 

If your exhale hold time was 15 seconds, what I want you to do is inhale for a 3 count, hold your breath for a 3 count, exhale for a 3 count, and finally hold this exhale (pause) for a 3 count.  Continue this for the full 5 minutes of your detachment time.  Make sure that you are only breathing through your nose, and that your chest is NOT moving at all (make sure as you inhale your belly bulges to the front and each side). This video helps to explain the rhythm of your breathing. Try to make your inhale and exhale, smooth and continuous for the time frame; just hold for the breath hold and the breath pause.

Do this every day.  If you won’t, then you can no longer say anything bad about your athletes that don’t want to do anything to help themselves get better.  This is something simple that will help you every day and will lay the foundation of addressing your HV problem (this won’t fix it completely, but it is a great second step – step 1 was awareness).

If you want more resources on breathing look at anything Wim Hoff has done, read the book Oxygen Advantage, and/or check out www.powerspeedendurance.com.  I’ve also got a breathing packet full of research and practical application (bc everyone is all about evidence these days) on my website.

GO! and next time we will build off of the breathing stuff.

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