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Whether you are looking to sustain a faster pace over 100 meters or 10 miles, focusing on breathing technique can shave seconds or even minutes off your time. For athletes in explosive, anaerobic sports that allow for brief recovery between bouts of intense activity [football, basketball, tennis, hockey, etc.], proper breathing can help you catch your breath and lower your heart rate more effectively. This will allow you to recover more quickly and prepare to dominate the next play.
Proper breathing during training and competition provides a sufficient supply of oxygen-rich blood to your muscles to allow them to sustain performance. If you are not breathing effectively, your muscles will fatigue quicker, your speed will diminish and you won't be able to recover for the next challenge. The next time you're in the huddle, lined up for a free throw or in the midst of a personal-best run, make your breathing work for you. Incorporate the following keys to proper breathing to run faster and longer and recover more quickly.
Find a Rhythm
Slow, deep and controlled breaths are the goal. Most elite athletes operate with a 1:1 or 3:2 inhale-to-exhale breathing ratio. In other words, their inhalation is up to 1.5 times longer than their exhalation. While your personal cadence preference may vary, focus on finding a controlled rhythm when running or recovering. Some athletes, when they are out of breath, err by doing large, gasping inhales and short exhales. This slows the recovery process and inhibits catching your breath, because it limits the amount of CO2 [the waste product of breathing] you are able to expel. In addition, a full exhalation sets you up for a stronger, fuller inhalation [see Diaphragm Breathing below].
In Through Your Nose
Inhaling through your noise warms, moistens and filters the incoming air, making for a more comfortable and effective entrance to the lungs. Also, research shows that the sinuses in the nose produce nitric oxide, which enhances the body's ability to absorb oxygen when it enters the lungs. Exhaling through your nose and mouth has been proven effective in expelling more CO2 than either orifice alone. So, breathe in through your nose and out through your nose and mouth.
An effective inhalation does more than expand the chest and ribcage—it should also engage the diaphragm, the muscle just below the ribcage. Engaging the diagram fills the lower portion of the lungs, which are not involved when you use only your chest to take in air. As you inhale, your abdomen should engage and expand outward. As you exhale, your abdomen should contract inward to help expel the air.
Diaphragm breathing not only increases oxygen intake and CO2 expulsion, it promotes relaxation of surrounding muscles and prevents the dreaded side stitch—a shooting pain underneath the rib cage caused by a muscle spasm in the diaphragm.
Sources: livestrong.com, cptips.com