Breathing is currently a pretty trendy topic. While our breathing is an automatic response that our body performs, by focusing on breathing techniques, runners can reap many benefits. Though it seems obviously simple, it’s a very important skill for athletes to have.
It is hard to speak about breathing without speaking about yoga. As part of my cross training, I love to cycle and practise yoga. For my first outdoor yoga class of the year, I rode my bike to a park in the city and enjoyed every second of a yoga class under the sun. It was impossible to count how many times the teacher instructed us to breathe. I also cannot believe how many “breathe” tattoos I see at yoga studios. I do have to admit, breathing is not over-rated.
When a runner is nervous or stressed, there are many detrimental physiological responses that occur, including an increase in breathing. When stressed, an individual’s heart rate goes up, breathing increases, muscles tighten, more oxygen is sent to the legs, sweating increases and body temperature decreases. These responses were designed for our ancestors to run from or fight a predator. In today’s world, these responses usually create a negative spiral of thoughts in runners and are of little benefit to a long distance runner.
Stress can occur right before a race, right before a run or during your work day. Not only do our bodies’ responses causes negative thoughts, but it takes a lot of energy to be stressed; this leaves less energy for running, working and enjoying life. If you can control your breathing, you can gain more control over your stress. Focusing on breathing, for at least five minutes, is beneficial either an hour before a race or a long run, or the night before or after your race or long run.
Here are some tips to help you de-stress through breathing:
1) Put one hand on your chest and one of your stomach, feel your chest fill up first and then your stomach while breathing.
2) Breathe in for a count of four seconds and breathe out for a count of six, resulting in six breaths per minute.
3) Start by breathing for five minutes a day at six breaths per minute, then gradually increase to breathing for ten to fifteen minutes a day.
4) If you find it difficult to focus and are distracted by your thoughts, say to yourself “I am breathing in, I am breathing out”
Simple One Breath Relaxation
When feeling stressed at work or feeling overwhelmed during a run, utilize one breath relaxation by taking in one deep breath before you continue what you’re doing. Breathing for five to 15 minutes will help your body recover from stress that is currently occurring or stress that occurred that day; leaving you with even more energy for running.
Jennifer is a former gymnast turned sprinter turned middle distance runner. She recently completed a Master’s in Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa where she studied sport psychology. She holds a Bachelor Degree in psychology from the University of Western Ontario where she was captain of the Track and Field team. She continued her running career with the Gee Gees and is the 2012 Canadian Interuniversity Sport Champion in the 1000m. She is passionate about bringing athletes to a new level of performance through mental skills training. Jennifer believes that enhancing mental performance is about sharpening these mental skills to help athletes constantly challenge themselves to be better.
Connect with Jennifer on Twitter, @jen_perrault!