February 22, 2015 by Anna Feeter
Back in 2014, the Seattle Seahawks practiced pranayama (the technique of rhythmic breathing), yoga and meditation alongside their traditional conditioning and practice. Later that year they went on the win the Super Bowl. Coincidence? I think not.
There have been a ton of studies done on breathing techniques and athletic performance, and it has been demonstrated that improvement in these techniques is directly correlated with your performance on the court, field, and even the gym floor. I bet you didn’t know that Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, and the entire New Zealand All Blacks rugby team practice yoga on a regular basis… and that’s just to name a few. A lot of the yoga they practice accompany some form of meditation, visualization, or pranayama, which they have stated allowed them to perform better in their sport.
One study in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, conducted by Kalepu Prasad, tested the oxygen consumption in athletes after one group practiced pranayama for one year compared to a control group that didn’t. According to his findings, “The results in both phases showed that the subjects who practiced pranayama could achieve higher work rates with reduced oxygen consumption per unit of work and without increase in blood lactate levels.” So what does this mean? By consciously practicing breathing the athletes were able to exercise at a higher capacity, or work rate before reaching a level of fatigue that would cause them to stop.
The practice of pranayama can also be directly correlated to strength training performance. While executing lifts like the squat, deadlift, and bench press, using proper breathing techniques is essential in allowing you to really “Raise the Bar” with heavier loads. In the strength and conditioning world we like to call this the Valsalva Maneuver – you inhale right into your stomach and hold your breath (basically filling an empty cavity) allowing your core to become incredibly stable.
So why don’t we do this naturally? We used to when we were kids. If you watch infants, their stomach rises and falls due to the fact that both lungs are filling completely. As we age, our bodies make an attempt to become more efficient, meaning we stop using our entire lungs and only fill the upper portion of each lung resulting in shallower breaths. Because we need enough oxygen to replenish ATP (chemical energy molecules in our body), we need to make sure all systems are working at maximum capability to allow us to work at a higher overall capacity.
This brings me back to the power of pranayama – or breathing techniques. If you sit for 10 minutes each day and focus on full inhales followed by full exhales, your body will re-learn how to breathe properly. Practicing mindful breathing may not make you the next Michael Jordan, but it will certainly make you feel more energized and powerful on or off the gym floor.
If you have any questions on what you should do in order to take advantage of these breathing techniques, or just simply how to do it properly, hit me up on Twitter @afeeter or come visit me at Halevy Life!!