Regardless of which sport you play, there is one movement that you make that is common to every athlete on the planet – breathing. The most fundamental movement of all is a reflection of many of your bodies functions and is also a gateway to improving them.
What does breathing indicate and what can improving it improve?
The amount of air you can inhale/exhale – a marker of cardiovascular fitness.
Your psychological state. Depth and rate of breathing can give us real insight, along with facial expressions, into how somebody is thinking and feeling at a given time if studied over a period of time.
The freedom of the trunk and its ability to transfer power from one end of you to the other. Using the ribs, the spine and the abdomen primarily, freedom of breathing will indicate freedom of all of these bones and their joints. Freedom of these will lead to greater freedom in the extremities. For example, imagine a right footed kick in a person with a stiff ribcage on the left and a stiff belly on the right. When that person goes to kick, they draw back their right leg and left arm. The portion in between these limbs will have to lengthen to allow them to move back maximally but these stiff areas will limit these movements.
The ability of you to rigidify through your trunk. Have you ever noticed when you perform a strenuous movement you exhale forcefully? Think of a weightlifter performing a clean or a tennis player hitting a big shot. This forceful expulsion increases pressure inside the abdomen (intra-abdominal pressure) to stiffen it so that it forms a stable centre for your attached limbs to move around freely, quickly and powerfully. Whether you are deadlifting, punching or jumping, the ability to increase your intra-abdominal pressure will have a significant bearing on your performance.
The ability to eject pathogens and waste from the body. Apart from carbon dioxide in breathing, think of actions like coughing, sneezing and defecating. The function of the breathing apparatus affects all of these functions that are a basis of good health and without good health, you will not even get in the game in the first place.
You get the picture. Breathing is as crucial to our sporting performance as it is to our survival.
Is there a particular way to breathe for your sport that you can practise? There may be. For example, some weightlifters and powerlifters utilise the Valsalva manoeuvre. It may be worth looking for some sport specific breathing methods but many sports will not have them. Whether your sport has a method or not, getting better generally at breathing will help as the more freely you breathe normally, the more freely you will be able to perform any specific method.
How can you go about bettering your breathing? Breathe in a way markedly different from how you normally do and pay close attention to how you do it. There are millions of different breathing techniques out there that you can play around with, just make sure that instead of purely counting repetitions, you take notice of what you move when to breathe in this new manner. Paying attention will lead to new freedom in your normal breathing. You can become more athletic without more highly physical training like this.
Freer breathing equals a freer, more powerful, more athletic you.