We typically do it about 15,000-20,000 times per day – breathe. It’s the most dominant movement pattern for every human being, and it’s quite literally the foundation for movement and performance. A proper breath can be the difference between painful or normal movement, or athletic success and disappointment.
The only place where fitness comes before health is the dictionary. Before we can become fit, we must first become healthy. Our breath serves three primary functions focused on keeping us healthy. First, it regulates our fight or flight system, turning this on and off when necessary, thus allowing the body to adapt appropriately to the demands placed on it. Second, it provides the physical movement necessary to drive air into the lungs. Finally, it provides oxygen to all tissues in the body in order to optimize their function, changing along with the needs our body displays.
Properly utilizing these functions of the breath can improve an individuals movement patterns and performance before any training is even done. By optimizing our body’s base movement pattern, we can in turn properly set up more advanced exercises and movements. But how exactly?
My favorite breathing re-set is crocodile breathing. The primary goal is to establish good nasal breathing and diaphragm activation. To begin, lay completely flat on your stomach with the front of your ribs on the ground. A bolster can be placed under the legs for comfort, or you can lie on your back with your knees bent as an alternative. Take a breath in through the nose for about three seconds, followed by a six second exhale, again through the nose. As you do so, you should feel three things – the stomach expanding into the ground, the back rising away from the floor, and your ribs should expand equally to the left and right.
The key is to not force this breath, do not try to “muscle” your way through this. Simply allow the breath to happen, and notice whether or not those three factors occur. If they are not present, make minor adjustments until a breath like the one described above feels natural. If you have to force that kind of breath, it won’t carry over into the real world.
There is no specific number to perform, though I usually suggest starting around 15-20. Once you are good at this, though, it may only take 5 breaths to establish a good pattern. When you feel you have achieved a good breath you are free to train and will likely notice an improvement in power, performance, and function.