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Learn to Weaponise your breath

And I don’t mean eat more garlic!

It's a fact that many of the things we take the most for granted are often the things we can gain most leverage from.

Breath is one of those things

Here’s what I mean:

  • Moderate your arousal level Arousal is an easy way to describe our nervous systems response to stress. High arousal = sympathetic activation = ready for action low arousal = parasympathetic activation = rest & digest As we inhale, the space inside the rib cage is filled by the lungs as they inflate. Space is taken away from the heart, so the arousal level goes up just a bit, to speed the heart rate ensuring blood keeps pumping. As we exhale, the heart gets more space to stretch, so the arousal level lowers slowing the heart rate allowing it fully stretch and pump more blood per stroke. So, any inhale dominant breathing method raises our arousal level. Think Wim Hoff style hyperventilation work. This is great if you’re trying to wake yourself up, trying to bump up your attention, trying to get an boost of adrenaline. Over do this and you become hyperaroused and unable to focus. The opposite then would be inhale dominant breathing, a longer exhale than inhale. If you find yourself under stress, whatever the cause, focus on extending that exhale, stretch it out a bit longer and you can reduce your arousal level. By how much depends on the nature of the stress, your personality and your experience with that stressor. In training, if you’re looking to maintain a high work output, then focus almost all the breathing effort on the exhale, forget the inhale, trust it’ll happen. Blow out forcibly and rapidly on each exhale and you will extend your ability to maintain that output.

  • Get Tight for Strength Inhale, feel the belly expand. Hold that breath in and squeeze the body around that air. Tighten the whole core in all 360 degrees and feel the body get tight. The blood pressure will rise, so be careful here. If you also squeeze the fists and even the glutes, you’ll feel that tension ramp up even further. Let it go slowly be hissing the air out. A sudden drop in tension, suddenly letting the air out will cause a sudden drop in blood pressure and you’ll end up on one of those gym fails videos as you pass out. To avoid passing out, you can keep tight and slowly hiss out air, akin to a safety valve on a pressure chamber venting off excess pressure. For more on high tension breath and "power breathing" do see the Level 1 Kettlebell eBook where this is detailed:

Now watch the ladies as they Deadlift here, you will see the inhale before they lift, how they squeeze around that breath, only letting it go once they reach the top of the rep and no longer need that tightness:

  • “Sneeze” for power You’ve hear it said before, a sneeze is the most powerful action you do (it’s not, our sporting, lifting, fighting actions can and do generate much more force), so can we weaponise this? Listen to a boxer. Listen to a tennis player. Hear that sharp exhale, it may be a hiss, it may be vocalised as a grunt or sharp shout? That is the “sneeze” action we’re talking about. You want to create a moment of tension to slingshot power around, then this is how to do just that. People reflexivley do this, but we, as athletes can take it further by really forcefully exhaling, short and sharp. Feel the body tighten up as you do. Feel it relax again afterwards. So, of your hitting or being hit, “sneeze” for power. Listen as Jay hits the pads here, vocalising the short sharp "sneeze like" exhale that helps him generate power:

  • Physiological Sigh to reset yourself Have you ever been upset and done multiple inhales without exhaling in between? My dog does these when she’s settling down for a night, In-In-Oooouuuuuuttt and she’s gone… The physiological sigh is just that, in, in more and then a long out. The first in fills the lungs, the second opens up the little air sacs inside the lungs, then we blow it all out lowering the amount of carbon dioxide in the body and bringing our arousal level down. We feel immediately calmer. So if you feel yourself ramping up, try 1-5 breaths in this manner and see if it arrests that ramp up. If we’re looking to settle, like my dog, try one or two and feel yourself sink as your body relaxes.

  • Breath Holds or Apnea When we say Apnea, we think of the older or sick person stopping breathing in their sleep. But apnea done deliberatley can also be weaponised to make for a more effecient human animal. We think of two gasses when we think of breathing, Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide. We inhale Oxygen to use in the cells, and we exhale Carbon Dioxide as a waste product. There is evidence telling us that relegating carbon dioxide to simply being a waste product is doing the gas a gross disservice. It is carbon dioxide that both triggers our inhale and signals for the blood to release it’s oxygen payload into the cells for use. So, inale as normal, exhale as normal but now hold before your next inhale. Hold on empty. Allow carbon dioxide to build up, feel that urge to inhale build up. As you get used to this feeling, we term it “carbon dioxide tolerance” ie we get less sensitive to that inhale trigger. Why is that useful? In previous points we’ve used a longer inhale to bring down or moderate our arousal level. As we become aroused, our carbon dioxide tolerance naturally drops so we breathe faster, moving towards a more inhale dominant breath ready for physical action. If we increase our tolerance to Carbon Dioxide, we are slower to ramp up, or rather, we can choose to ramp up more slowly. We can become less reactive and be proactive instead. We may better prevent over arousal where we lose clear thought and act only on adrenalin and impulse. Better carbon dioxide tolerance increase endurance significantly, it reduces recovery times and keeps us level headed. Try starting your day with some apnea holds. Inhale, exhale, hold, inhale, exhale, hold and so on. Keep the holds short in the beginning, maybe only a couple of seconds, then in time extend them. Treat this as you would any other resistance training drill and make slow progress over time. 5 minutes should be long enough, although you can go longer.

Breathing is a hot topic at the moment, this blog post is far from a comprehensive over view of the current science backed information out there.

Why I love talking about breath is it is an area we can all make improvements, and in doing so quite literally any other area you want to improve will benefit in response. A runner will run more fluidly, maybe run further, maybe run faster. A lifter will lift heavier, potentially tolerating more volume. A meditator will settle quicker, go deeper. An executive will panic less, relax more, think more clearly. A fighter will be more explosive and more enduring, their mind will stay clearer for longer.

Of all the low hanging fruit, the breath is the lowest. So pick it. Feast on it. And watch other attributes grow as a result. Regards

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