No energy without oxygen: Breathe properly - and increase performance in sports?

Our body can breathe all by itself.

No energy without oxygen: Breathe properly - and increase performance in sports?

Our body can breathe all by itself. Still, it's worth dealing with. Whether in the chest or abdomen, through the nose or mouth: that makes a difference, especially in sports.

In and out: If we don't think about it, breathing works automatically. Even if the body needs more oxygen - for example because we work out during sports - the respiratory rate adapts.

"This is a vital process that initially takes place unconsciously," says Barbara Nützel, lecturer at the German University for Prevention and Health Management. In this way, the body ensures that it does not slip into an oxygen debt. Our cells need oxygen so that they can generate energy.

Keyword energy: Can we influence our breath to increase our performance in sports?

First some theory: "Breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system and the brainstem," says Sylvain Laborde. He is a research associate in the department for performance psychology at the German Sport University in Cologne.

The network of the brainstem can adapt our breathing to the external circumstances. When we are relaxed or asleep, we tend to breathe deeply and evenly.

"Our body regulates the oxygen supply very finely," says Laborde. "We have sensors, called chemoreceptors, that detect whether we have enough oxygen and not too much carbon dioxide in the blood, and then adjust the uptake accordingly."

But breathing is not the same as breathing. We can send the air into our chest - or felt very deep into our stomach. The latter - the so-called diaphragmatic breathing - is the archetype of breathing, says Barbara Nützel. The diaphragm is a large breathing muscle that sits below the lungs and contracts when you breathe from your abdomen.

In the course of life, however, we forget how to breathe diaphragmatically. Stress, for example, causes our breathing to become shallow. With one disadvantage: "Chest breathing is a waste of energy because it activates many muscles that we don't actually need for breathing," says Sylvain Laborde. In sports this means: we have less energy available.

So it's good if you, as an athlete, train abdominal breathing so that it becomes more and more routine. Instead of a breathing rate of 15 to 20 breaths per minute, breathing can be reduced to 6 breaths, says Laborde.

Along the way, it may be worth attending a yoga class. Because there the focus is on training diaphragmatic breathing, says Nützel, who is a yoga teacher herself.

Athletes can use different breathing techniques. The same applies here: this is a matter of practice. For example, when you get used to breathing through your nose. "The best way to breathe in any sport is through your nose, because the air becomes more humid and warmer that way," says Laborde. This protects the respiratory tract from drying out and cooling down. But also from dirt, as Nützel says: "The nose acts as the body's own filter for particles in the air."

During intense exercise, however, it is usual to breathe through the mouth to cover the oxygen requirement. "At high intensity you need a lot of oxygen and sometimes you don't have a choice," says Laborde. "If the amount of oxygen taken in through the nose is too low, performance also deteriorates."

Which breathing technique is the best for running or strength training in the studio? "It's always about the fact that I need as few breaths as possible in sport, no matter what is done," says Nützel.

When running, for example, it is not necessary for us to artificially adapt our breath to our steps. "It's best to let your breath run freely, because our body knows exactly how much air it needs," says Sylvain Laborde. In weight training, on the other hand, you can use a more targeted breathing technique. "When you work against gravity, you should breathe out and breathe in again in the relaxed phase," advises Barbara Nützel.

A well-known method in weight training is also forced breathing. "Athletes try to mobilize more power by pressing the air against a closed mouth and nose," says Sylvain Laborde. However, this makes little difference in performance.

In yoga you can train an increased breathing volume particularly well. "We learn to breathe deeper, and with a bit of training you can achieve that fewer breaths are needed for the same challenge," says Barbara Nützel.

Anyone who uses breathing to their own advantage not only provides the body with the optimal amount of oxygen in order to perform at its best. "Conscious breathing also has a beneficial effect on the immune system," says Nützel. Prolonging the exhalation also lowers blood pressure. The resting pulse slows down and the heart rate drops.

Psychological effects such as reducing stress can also be achieved through breathing training. So if you build more mindfulness into your everyday life, breathe consciously and slowly again and again, you not only increase your performance but also your quality of life.

Laborde advises incorporating slow breathing into your daily evening routine as a relaxation exercise: "In the long term, slow breathing is health-promoting and recommended."