How to Control Your Breathing During an Obstacle Race

STACK Expert Rob DeCillis says learning how to control your breathing during an obstacle course race can be the key to performing at your peak.

Tough Mudder Obstacle Race

During an obstacle course race, your heart rate spikes. As you climb over a wall or trek up a hill, you begin to breathe heavy. What you do from this point on can be the difference between performing your best in a race or not reaching your potential.

When you begin to exert yourself and your heart pounds, you may start to panic. This is a sign that your body is going into fight mode. To stay calm and in control at this point in a race, you need to train yourself to breathe the right way. Once you learn how to control your breathing, you will see better results in obstacle races.

So how can you learn to control your breathing during a race and remain in control?

Breathe the Right Way

Without realizing it, you may be breathing incorrectly. You should breathe from your diaphragm—"big-belly breathing" as I like to call it—instead of from your upper chest and shoulders.

If your upper chest expands and your shoulders go up and down when you breathe, you're overexerting yourself. Think of all those extra shoulder shrugs you do throughout the day, even while you're at rest. Imagine how much extra work you're doing when you're tired and your heart rate is jacked up.

With abdominal breathing, as your lungs fill with air, your stomach expands out. Your breaths lasts longer than with chest breathing, which is more shallow.

Breathe Through Your Nose

When your heart rate increases, your first response might be to breathe out of your mouth. This is not the best idea. Humans are meant to eat through their mouths and breathe through their noses. Breathing through your mouth only speeds up your heart rate and wears you out.

At first, breathing through your nose will feel weird. You will be uncomfortable and you'll keep trying to open your mouth. But once you get used to it, it will improve your performance and aerobic capacity.

Practice this during every training session. On long runs performed in the Obstacle Course Training System, place the top of your T-shirt or a handkerchief in your mouth and bite down. If you open your mouth to breathe, it will fall out, reminding you to breathe through your nose.

When you breathe through your nose in training, you will quickly realize that you have to scale down your workout. You may not be able to go as hard as you normally do—but it's all in the service of better performance down the road. If you learn to become a more efficient breather, you will be a more efficient obstacle course racer.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Just like anything else in life, breathing the right way takes practice. You don't need a special place or fancy equipment to practice breathing. Since you do it all the time anyway, why not do it the right way? While sitting at your desk, take nice deep breaths from your stomach and through your nose. Eventually, breathing in this manner will become natural. And as you become a better breather, you will see your race performance improve.

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