Breathing is one of the incredible processes happening in our bodies : on one hand, it is totally unconscious and happens without us even realising it, on the other hand we can take charge of our breathing and control it.
The benefits of controlled breathing and breathing practices or training have long been known : you can find references on the importance of breathing techniques in the Bhagavad Gita dating back between 400 BCE and 200 BCE. Breathing techniques allow you to quiet your mind but also to improve your performance !
Why would you train your breathing ?
When you are reaching high intensities, the effort of heavy breathing may account for more than 15% of your oxygen uptake (Dempsey et al., 1996) : the muscles enabling inspiration, such as intercostalis, scalenes, sternocleidomatoids, or even pectoralis minor are like any other muscles : they need a bit of oxygen to contract. But if they consume 15% of the oxygen they enable the body to take in, it means it’s all that amount of oxygen which does not go into your legs to move the bike forward. Training your inspiratory muscles will thus allow for them to work more efficiently using less oxygen and leaving it for your leg muscles.
Being able to take in more oxygen and to use more of the oxygen you take in is the whole idea of your VO2max. A high VO2max is not only related to a large ribcage and large lung volume, it is also how you body uses the oxygen that the blood carries to the muscles. Methods such as those developed by Dr. Buteyko teach your body to use the oxygen carried in the blood in a more efficient way, simply meaning improving your VO2max.
With more awareness of the issues related to anxiety, studies have been conducted to understand the link between anxiety and sports performance. Anxiety is especially detrimental to performance, which has led many athletes to use drugs to relieve their anxiety since the 60’s. Whereas these medicines have side effects and can be banned, breathing techniques have been proven to be efficient ways to reduce anxiety, meaning “the higher the usage of breathing techniques, the higher the level of sports performance”.
How can you do it ?
The first step, like in many other instances, is to become aware of your breath, what is going on in you while you breathe, which parts of your body are active, what can you feel ? Then, you can start with voluntarily making your inhales and exhales of equal lengths and to start working on the way you breathe.
Once you feel comfortable with that, the overall idea is to lengthen your breaths -it is said in the first yoga scriptures that we are born with a finite amount of breaths, thus, while making our breath longer, we increase our longevity ! That being true or not, lengthening your breath can definitely support a more peaceful and quiet mind.
Again, once you feel comfortable with long inhales and exhales, you can start adding up moments of pause between them. In these moments of pause, you find ways to experience better high intensity anaerobic exercises. There are also many techniques of specific ways of breathing that you can then teach your body, such as alternate nostril breathing, which has supported Hilary Clinton’s during her campaign !
How do you include breathing techniques in your coaching packages ?
In pranayama, the yogic discipline of breathing, it is said that a practice of 30 minutes a day will lead you to great progress. With a simple 5 minutes daily practice, you will feel many evolutions on and off the bike.
I usually guide the athletes through exercises while on a phone or video call, and then write down the instructions or even send audios.