From Simon Clarke
Simon Clarke

Learn how to breathe regularly &do it like a professional!

Proper breathing is one of the most important factors for good sports results. Different sports disciplines might require different breathing techniques, but one is sure, and ALL sports psychologists (and other psychologists) will agree on that: breathing is one thing that can make you stronger & healthier, but also the thing that can make you weaker & anxious. So, let’s use some professional advice and learn – once for all – how to improve our sports performances and the quality of life in general.

First things first! – Diaphragm

Let’s make one thing clear at the very beginning – you won’t have any sports results if you don’t use your diaphragm while you’re breathing. The inactive diaphragm can cause you the shortness of breath, which can lead to anxiety and other health issues, so activate this organ crucial for your proper breathing & forget about those unpleasant feeling like you’re running out of air!

The diaphragm is a very big, dome-shaped muscle located at the bottom of the rib cage. Although it should be used and active 24/7 your whole life, it is a common thing to see in adults how this muscle ISN’T used or it is used – put improperly. How does it work? While you are breathing in, the diaphragm contracts so it gives your lungs space, and enables air to enter. While you are breathing out, this muscle relaxes and allows air to leave. “As we breathe in, we should see the stomach RISE slightly as the dome contracts and compresses the abdominal space”, says Simon Kidd, qualified cycling coach, and a personal trainer. It sounds pretty simple, but what happens in a huge number of cases is that adult people (because of the stress, tiredness or something else) do the OPPOSITE THING. “Their chest rises as the intercostal muscles contract. Yet, the stomach is drawn in by activation of the transverse abdominal muscle and the diaphragm is not engaged. Whilst this might present a more pleasing profile in a mirror, it reduces the volume of oxygen available by only partially expanding the lungs. This also results in weaker core stabilization.”

So, how can we solve this problem?

Here’s Simon Kidd’s very simple exercise for activating your diaphragm:

  • “Lie on the floor face up with knees slightly bent.
  • Place a small pillow under the head if that is more comfortable for you.
  • Place your hands lightly on your stomach.
  • Concentrate on breathing using the diaphragm, not using the chest, and feeling the stomach rise as the lungs fill from the bottom.
  • Let the stomach fall naturally when breathing out by relaxing the diaphragm.
  • Progress by placing a small weight on the stomach, such as a small book, on do it all again.
  • The next stage is to stand up and place your hands on your stomach again, feeling how you breathe. Surprisingly, you may find this step requires some concentration initially.
  • Finally, practice breathing correctly whilst on the bicycle.”

Take a deep breath! – It’s easier said than done

Dr. Jarrod Spencer, Sports Psychologist and founder of the Mind of the Athlete Company, has shared his advice for stress-reducing breathing. These advice are not only useful for people who need to improve their sports performances – but for EVERYONE.  He explained how deep breathing can really help you to calm down and to feel much better. This exercise is all about counting, and even if it sounds easy, it’s not so simple to get your body – and your lungs – used to it.

PS: If you’re trying this for the first time, and your breath is usually mush shorter – get ready for some dizziness! But don’t worry – it is perfectly normal & perfectly safe because you will exhale more carbon dioxide than you actually can produce, so the oxygen level in your blood will become a little bit shocking for your body.  So, don’t quit, it will pass with time, and the benefits of deep breathing will remain.

“Your coach has said this too before, TAKE A SLOW DEEP BREATH! Relax! But, how do you actually do that & get the real benefit from the deep breath?

Here’s the suggestion:

I want you to breath in slowly through your nose for 4 seconds,
pause for a second at the end of the inhalation,
and then slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 more seconds,
and pause for a second at the end.

So the whole inhalation and exhalation will take you about 10 seconds.
That’s not very realistic, to have ten second breath in the heat of the competition but if you try to reach those numbers and in that manner, what’s gonna happen is that your breathing WILL SLOW DOWN – from whatever your respiratory rate is at your moment when you’re stressed, it’s gonna come down. Slow deep breaths in, and exhale slowly.

That’s the proper technique for slow deep breath. If you can get your breathing slow and rhythmic, you’re gonna feel calmer, you’re gonna feel better. Your performance will be at the level you know it can be.”


Breathe & Run!

Young exhausted woman after a practice run

For many beginners it is very hard to imagine running without getting SO tired – that it makes you breathe with the open mouth & thinking you will fall dead any second! Understandable.

But don’t worry; there is actually a way to learn how to breathe properly while you are running. Once you learn, you will be able to run longer, without that horrible pain in your diaphragm.


Joe LoCascio, the Elite Performance coach gave super advice for inhaling & exhaling while running.

“We are wired to breathe in through our nose – out through our nose, with a tongue position that is very specific towards increasing signals into the brain. The resting tongue position is pressed to the roof of the mouth with the tip of the tongue just up the front teeth, the middle and the back of the tongue pressed lightly as well. While you are nose-breathing in and out, we have the most activation of what is called the insular cortex.

The insular cortex is supposed to take all of those signals happening inside that you don’t want to think about:


and connecting it to what you’re doing. So if you want to run longer, your physiology needs to maintain a level that can maintain your running without injury, and the performance that you desire.”

Ok, it sounds very good and optimistic, but how can you actually do this in practice?

“First start with the nose breathing in and out with that resting tongue position for as long as you can.
As soon that starts to get too challenging, then you regress to nose in – mouth out breathing.
And as soon as that becomes challenging you’re going into mouth in – mouth out breathing,
knowing that you can switch between that spectrum as much as you need to during the run that you performing.”

But you should be careful with one thing, once you change the way you breathing it’s hard to go back to the previous level – once you start to use your mouth it will become too difficult to nose-breathe again.

What about numbers?

Experts agree that the best rhythm to follow is a 3:2 breathing technique: 3 steps for inhaling, 2 steps for exhaling. Keep that rhythm (or start with 4:3) as long as you can, and then reduce numbers.

Learning how to breathe properly will definitely improve the quality of your performance and the quality of your life. Your results will become better, you will become stronger, and the most important – you will feel more efficient and more relaxed at the same time. Happy breathing!