I Started Nasal Breathing – Now What?
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt
So, you watched your favorite athlete on instagram tag #nasalbreathingforthewin and saw everybody taping their mouths shut. Being the active and engaged athlete you are, this sent you down a rabbit hole of WHY one would want to incorporate nasal breathing into their fitness routine. Now you’re all about 1) finding flow state 2) optimizing your breathing and bracing by connecting to your diaphragm and 3) increasing your CO2 tolerance for mad performance #gainz. **Gold Star for you!**
Knowing the WHY behind any behavior change you desire to make is step #1 in successful implementation. Step #2 is plotting out a course of HOW to implement the behavior change.
Why + How = Magical Results in the direction you want to go
Here’s a road map of things to consider when implementing nasal breathing into your workouts and how to be successful at developing this tool, so that you become a ninja-star-wielding nasal breather, and not a nun-chuck-to-the-nuts failure.
SET CLEAR INTENTIONS WHEN NASAL BREATHING
By far, the most important thing to do when going into a session where you plan to nasal breathe is to clearly identify your intention. If your intention is to develop the skill of nasal breathing, you must commit to moving at whatever pace allows you to maintain that even if your CrossFit-ego-brain chimes in with “I can go faster” or “I’d get a higher score if I breathe through my mouth”.
Remember, the purpose of this session is not about doing MORE (now). It’s about doing work BETTER, so that you have the capacity to do MORE (in the future). It is far too easy for any one with an ego (all of us), anyone exercising in a group (most of us), or anyone that finds it difficult to “slow down to go faster” to get frustrated while nasal breathing, quit, and never cultivate the benefits of the skill. *Insert nun-chuck to the nuts here*
WARM UP PROPERLY FOR NASAL BREATHING
Try connecting your breath to your diaphragm before you jump into nasal breathing workouts. Similarly to how we would take a muscle and joint through full range of motion prior to squats, let’s connect to a full diaphragmatic breath before ramping up intensity.
Lay on your back, preferably feet up flat on the wall with hips and knees bent at 90-degrees. One hand on chest, one hand below belly button. Take an elongated inhale through your nose. Try to focus on moving the hand on your belly primarily instead of the hand on your chest. Feel your lower trunk expand 360-degrees – outward, down into the floor, and up into your hand EQUALLY. Now we’re beginning to breathe optimally using our diaphragm.
HOW TO SIMPLIFY NASAL BREATHING
Your chances of successfully maintaining nasal breathing increase when you remove complexity from your workout. Initially, remove compound and high-skill movements (i.e. – clean & jerk, muscle-ups, etc) or decrease load. You will discover that some movements are harder to maintain nasal breathing during than others, this is specific to the individual. If it’s easy to maintain on the rower, but difficult on a run, start with the implement that is easiest for you.
As you progress your ability to perform work while nasal breathing, add complexity or intensity back in, in the form of load, skill, compound movement, speed, or power output. Make choices that stay within the scope of your intentions for each session.
GO LONG IN YOUR NASAL BREATHING SESSION
Settle in for a long enough time that you can actually find a rhythm. Some people’s heart rates, in anticipation of work to come, experience a drastic jump in heart rate in the first 3-5 minutes of working out. If you’re only doing 5:00 of nasal breathing in your warm-up, that may not be long enough for you to settle into a rhythm or benefit much from the practice. Of course, something is better than nothing, but I suggest 15-20:00 pieces to start, building to 30-40 minute pieces.
DISCONNECT FROM TECHNOLOGY TO IMPROVE NASAL BREATHING
A big focus in nasal breathing is to connect with the parasympathetic response to foster the ability to remain calm while imposing “stress” on the body. But many other factors besides our breathing can influence our state and shift us to a sympathetic response, such as:
- Performance Monitors – when our eyes focus on a short-distance in front of us, it triggers a sympathetic response, looking at a horizon or focal point beyond 20-30 feet triggers a parasympathetic response. Cover up your monitor screen and look to the distance
- Heart Rate Watches – these can cause stress when our expected HR doesn’t match our perceived reality. Take it off or ignore it until after the session.
- Clocks – Similar to HR watches, knowing how much time has elapsed and how much time is left to go can induce stress when we’re unable to control our anticipation of work to come. Try covering the clock and setting an alarm to beep when your time is up.
THERE ARE GEARS TO NASAL BREATHING
Nasal breathing doesn’t need to be entirely about long and slow (but you should be able to crawl before you run, grasshoppa!). As you increase your CO2 tolerance and ability to maintain nasal breathing, you can push the intensity and get creative with movement selections and intervals of work and rest. Your breathing rhythm may transition from a controlled, smooth inhale/exhale to a power breath – faster and more aggressive inhales and exhales, or eventually switch to inhale(nose)/exhale (mouth) as your work increases.
NASAL BREATHING WORKOUTS
Here are some examples of how I like to incorporate intensity or complexity while remaining under the umbrella of nasal breathing.
Assault Bike (all nasal breathing only). Maintain a pace that you could bike continuously for an hour. Every 2:00 for 20:00-30:00 (you choose the duration) perform:
10-15 sprint at +10-15 RPMs of that baseline pace
5:00 Work / Rest 3:00, 2-3 rounds
Assault bike x 50/35 cal (nasal)
Max effort Sandbag C&J (mouth)
Alternate monostructural movements with more technical movements or loaded movements, allowing the monostructural movement to bring you back to a flow as you experiment with breathing during the technical movement.
Row x 30/20 cal
DB walking lunges x 20
Bike x 30/20 cal
T2B x 15
Assault bike x 15/10 cal (nasal)
2-3 inhale/exhales (nasal)
Max distance farmer carry (light – medium) on a breath hold (after an exhale)
Repeat 3-5 sets
Stack cyclical movements that are easy to sync up breathing to eccentric/concentric portions of the movement (inhale on down, exhale on up, or vice versa)
AMRAP in 20 minutes:
Row x 400
Push Press x 15
Russian Kettlebell Swing x 25
SET A NASAL BREATHING BASELINE
If you want to know if you’re improving, have a variable to consistently measure against.
You can use your BOLT score (Body Oxygen Level Test) as a baseline. After a few weeks or months of nasal breathing work, you should see results in this score increase, demonstrating an increased CO2 tolerance capacity. Or pick a simple baseline test, 10:00 max calories on the Assault Bike while nasal breathing only is always a good one for ninja star status.
Got more questions? You know where to find us.
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