"Dad, I've noticed that I don't start struggling with my breath like some of the other lads" said Son no 1 when I picked him up from his after school cross country running.
"Really?" I replied, "Why do you think that is?"
"It's because I do that hard blowing out, some of the boys think I'm a bit wierd, but I don't have to stop while they do"
This was a conversation in the car just the other day as I drove my eldest home.
It's his second week in the schools cross country running club, he's already a keen Hurler, but running for distance is new to him.
The breathing he is talking about is what I usually simp0ly call "Big Breaths"
Big Breaths is a call you will hear almost anytime I am pushing clients through a tough session, my kettlebell sport athletes will say it to each other and it's something all Wild Geese know implicitly.
So what is it and how does it work?
When we exhale, we exhale hard and forcefully. We don't pay any attention at all to the inbreath.
So "Big Breaths" is really "Big Exhales" but that doesn't have the same punch that we want in a short sharp soundbite.
How does this help?
The short answer is Carbon Dioxide removal.
We are blowing off the excess carbon dioxide, as we blow out forcefully and quickly we trigger a reflexive inhale. Reflex actions are faster than concious actions, so we let that do our inhale for us.
When working a cyclical event, be that running, cycling, kettlebell Jerk or Snatch, rowing etc, we can very easily sync our breath with our movement. If we do this well, we can extend our work time, we keep the heart rate a little bit lower, we keep our mental state a little bit calmer and we keep the blood pH balance a little bit lower.
Don't beleive me? Try it for yourself.
This is a test I have people do when I teach workshops:
Pick an exercise that will spike your heart rate. Burpees are the obvious choice, it could also be jump squats or Kettlebell Jerks. It's not important what the exercise is, it is important that you can safely do it at a high pace to drive the heart rate up fast.
Set a timer for a good old fashioned Tabata interval set, that is 20 seconds work, 10 seconds break for 8 rounds (20:10 x 8) Lets not get into an argument about the specifics of what the Tabata protocol is and is not, we're simply using this as a test.
Now, run the timer. Do the exercise hard for 20 seconds, rest the 10, repeat for up to 8 rounds (less is fine, this is just a test) What I want you to do is monitor your pulse in each rest period. How quickly does it come down, whats the lowest it hits in the 10 seconds. At the end of the test after the last set, monitor the HR for a full minute, how fast does it come down, what is it at the end of the minute?
Now, rest for a good 10 minutes or more because were going to repeat this test a second time. Only this time we will add our Big Breaths.
In each 10 second rest we will deliberately breath fast and hard, exhales only! Does this change how we recover?
If we can, we'll use deliberately exaggerated exhales during the exercise itself, does this prevent the HR getting out of control? At the end of the last interval, keep the exhales going and monitor the pulse for a full minute, how quickly does it lower? What does it reach at the end of the minute?
Give this a go, see for yourself. And get in touch to let me know your findings.
The Big Breaths method can be used at varying intensities depending on the activity, if our running at a lower pace for a longer duration, you may not want it at all, but should you hit a hill you want to get up quickly, or you want to up the pace to catch someone in front, you may use the bigger exhale to power the push and recover from it without dropping below your goal pace. If you're in a chaotic sport, such as the combat sports or a field sport, you can't really control the breath during the scramble / ruck, but once you break apart, you can implement the big breath method and you may just be able to maintain your intensity for the duration of the match.
Like I say, try it for yourself, and let me know.