I was so blown away from reading James Nester’s Book “Breath” that I wanted to write up a few “take aways” to help you out. I encourage you to go and get this book and tell me what you loved about it in the comments below!
The first 3 things that stood out the most to improve our respiratory system were the importance of these things.
2 things: proper posture and conscious breathing often come up in many types of practices such as pilates and yoga.
The 3rd thing that stood out was “chewing“! Yes chewing! James Nester talks about how our respiratory system can benefit from chewing properly!!! Our face structure has changed since human beings were “hunters and gatherers”. Now that we eat softer foods like smoothies, soups, cooked vegetables and softer meats, we don’t have to work as hard to break down our food. This has led to less “good” stress on our face which has led to a changes in our bones and our soft tissue which has a correlation with our airway and respiratory system. Quite fascinating!
Conditions that improve simply from incorporating proper breathing techniques are:
Each condition was improved by different researchers with different practices. There have been some amazing people helping others for many years and each condition is properly described in the book.
Nester discusses our 2 ways of breathing: mouth breathing and nasal breathing.
To sum up his research: mouth breathing is bad, and nasal breathing is good.
Here’s why: “Nasal breathing allows sinus’ to release nitric oxide, a molecule that plays an essential role in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen into cells. Immune function, weight, circulation, and mood can all be heavily influenced by the amount of Nitric Oxide in the body.” – Nester
“Nasal breathing increases Nitric Oxide sixfold which means we can absorb 18% more Oxygen” -Nester
Since we breathe on average 25,000 times per day without thinking about it, it might serve us to put some extra thought into this practice in order to get the best benefits from it!
“By focusing on nasal breathing we force air against the flabby tissue at the back of the throat making the airways wider and breathing easier. After awhile the tissues and muscles get “toned” to stay in this opened and wide position.” -Nester
Therefore, try and breathe through your nose as much as possible!
Here’s a few A-ha moments that I had:
The “Framington Study” showed that the greatest indicator of life span was lung capacity
We need to take FULL breaths, full inhale/full exhale which allows for us to change our lung capacity for the better at ANY stage of our life.
Moderate exercise like walking and cycling, has been shown to boost lung capacity by 15% (when performed consistently/regularly)
What our bodies really need isn’t more air, it’s more Carbon Dioxide (you’ll have to read the book to understand this one!)
The lungs are the weight regulatory system of the body, for every 10 pounds of fat lost in our bodies, 8.5 pounds of it comes out through the lungs!
For my athletes:
There were many references to athletic performance benefitting a proper breathing program in Nester’s book. Here are 2 references that show how impactful breathing can be in athletic performance:
1. A choir conductor changed the way elite runners at Yale breathed, which led to 12 Olympic medals, most gold, and broke 5 world records.
2. A swim coach used breath training which led to their team winning 13 gold medals, 14 silver and 7 bronze medals while setting world records in 11 events.
If an athlete wants to get an edge on their performance, breath could be the missing link!
Finally what is the ideal breathing pattern and how to do it? I’ve attached my “Lunch and Learn” about this topic at the end of this post to show you a few easy ways to incorporate breathing techniques into your daily life and in strength training.
Here’s what the ideal breath looks like:
5.5 second inhale
5.5 second exhale at rest for 5.5 breaths/minute.
“An engine doesn’t have to be in tip top condition to work, but it gives a better performance if it is” Stough
If you are a coach or phys Ed teacher you can easily incorporate breathing into your training sessions or classes. Simply follow the exercises that I demonstrate at the end of my video to gain the benefits of breath work without making it a big deal with your athletes and students!
Why we need to teach Deceleration before Acceleration:
With so much emphasis on speed sometimes we forget that we need to be able to stop! Many injuries are caused from “non contact” injuries when an athlete stops quickly in order to change directions.
I watched a young girl blow out her knee in her “injury prevention warm-up”. Yikes! The warm-up was designed to help the athlete decrease her risk of injury and sure enough she increased her risk of injury doing it because it wasn’t progressed or coached.
I watched a young hockey player plow into the goal post at full speed only to have the entire arena hold their breath to see if he was going to be able to get up unharmed…that stuff makes me shiver… it’s so scary.
Where does the fault lie? No one wants their athlete to get hurt doing something that they’ve designed.
Something that we should always think about is “why are we doing this” and “are we doing this well”?
Let’s talk about action steps rather than dissecting what’s not working.
In order to help our athletes we have to go back to basics. Athletes need to understand how to position themselves in order to keep their body safe, while also making them as athletic as possible!
“Deceleration” drills should be introduced before working on “acceleration” drills. There’s no sense in sending a race care driver out on the track if she/he doesn’t know how to stop or turn! They’ll hit the gas and then run right into a wall! What good is that million dollar car if it is crumpled in a pile of metal in the corner?
Think of our body in the same way! What good is our body hurt and in pain? This is exactly what we want to avoid!
Therefore, we can work on a few deceleration drills with our athletes and groove good “stopping” patterns and then progress them so that our athletes can then change direction well.
First of all, a coach can have an athlete run forward and stop well at a designated spot. Once all of the athletes look good, then you can progress them, while always emphasizing a controlled stop to finish the movement.
Here are a few drills that you can do with your athletes:
In order to easily incorporate “stopping” and “change in direction” drills into your practice you can simply add them in at the end of your warm-up.
Move through your different dynamic movement patterns and then have your athletes take a few strides forward and then come to a complete and controlled stop. Have everyone do this together so you can visually see the control of the stop at the same time. Once everyone is comfortable doing this forward, add one change in direction to back pedal and then stop.
Work on lateral movements in the same way. In order for your athletes to come to a complete stop while preparing to change direction, they can practice stopping in what Bobby Smith calls the “sway stop”.
Here’s what the sway stop looks like:
As you can see the body is aligned in the best possible position to control the forces pushing in one direction. In order to absorb the lateral force, and then transfer it athletically to explode in the opposite direction the athlete learns how to “lean”. They absorb the force in a great way which sets them up for explosive speed while decreasing their risk of injury.
Teaching young athletes how to control their body will help them decrease their risk of injury while helping them develop athleticism that can transfer to their sport. This allows them to quickly change directions, stop and start to move with the play, and explode in order to be a dangerous player to contend with!
Here’s a quick drill for your athletes to get used to what this “sway stop” should feel like on both edges of the feet as the body moves from side to side:
Once this side to side movement looks good in this “skier drill” your athletes can start working on how to move laterally (side to side) and stop in the sway stop position. Once they can control the stop they can be progressed into more challenging drills to help them move well while decreasing their risk of injury!
Do you want more information? I’ve designed an entire course for Youth Sport Coaches to learn how to incorporate strength and conditioning into youth sport practices in order to improve their athlete’s performance while decreasing their risk of injury.
Everyone wants their athlete to run fast! In order to help young athletes we have to talk to them in a way that they understand. Playing games is a great way to teach kids without them knowing!
One game that I really like is a simple balancing drill. Better yet, a “balancing game”…call it a game and it’ll go over better!
If you were to ask a kid to “dorsiflex” their foot, they might look at you like you’re crazy! If you play this sock balancing game and then ask the kid to hold their foot the same way they did when they were balancing the sock, it might go better!
The set up is really easy. All you need is something light, like a pair of socks, to balance. In order to balance the sock on the thigh or on the foot they have to be parallel with the ground. This will help when you start talking about how to hold the body in order to produce the most power when sprinting.
Have a look at this video to understand how to do the drill.
The Sock Balancing Sprinter Drill:
Once your athletes master this balance drill you can add on another “game”. This game helps to coordinate the sprinter form with the movement in order to create a fluid and powerful athlete!
The Single Leg Balance Sprint Drill (Game):
Begin in the “Balance Single Leg Sprinter Stance”.
The coach will call out a number between 1 and 3.
The athlete will respond by switching their raised leg the amount of times the coach calls out.
If a coach calls out “1”, the athlete will switch to the opposite leg and hold the leg high up in the air working on their balance.
If a coach calls out “2” the athlete will switch the raised leg 2 times, which will return them to the same leg raised as when they began.
Continue to call out random numbers until you detect fatigue and poor form from the athlete.
Cue the athlete to keep their ankle, knee and hip at 90 degree angles.
Cue the athlete to brace their core.
Allow you athletes to rest and repeat for a few rounds.
These 2 games can be added into any warm-up! If you want my simplified warm-up that can help develop speed and strength you can get it free here:
When working with young athletes one of the first things that we can teach them is how to get into an “athletic position”. Watch the following video to understand what that looks like…
If a young athlete can learn to put their body into the right position to be able to react quickly they’ll be one step ahead as they build their speed and strength.
One cool concept that is simple to understand is that “joint position dictates muscle function”. What this means is that when our joints are positioned in certain ways our muscles can either work better or worse.
The “athletic position” sets the joints in a great way in order to have the muscles ready to adapt when called upon.
Sport is more than just being fast and being strong. There are so many qualities that make a good athlete. Having your athletes able to react faster than their opponent will give them the advantage even if the opponent is faster and stronger!
Here is a fun drill that you can use in order to help your athlete understand being “ready” in an athletic position and how it will dictate whether or not they can respond fast enough to make a difference in their sport.
The star drill:
Create a box with 4 cones 5-10 yards apart.
This box can be used from the grid during the warm-up.
The athlete will stand in the middle of the box in a good athletic position.
The coach will call out different cones “top right”, “back left”, etc, for the athlete to explode towards and then return back to centre.
Perform this game for a designated amount of time and then rest or have the athlete perform an “active recovery” exercise.
Repeat this activity after adequate rest.
The better conditioned athletes won’t require as much rest, those looking to build their conditioning will require more rest.
This game can be progressed by calling out multiple cones for the athlete to move towards before returning to centre.
You can get creative in so many fun ways to help your athlete get set, get ready, and explode! Here’s a few other examples to have fun at your next session:
The hinge is a really important movement pattern to master in order to perform exercises properly and decrease the chance of injury. By mastering the hinge pattern an athlete can set themselves up for success in many exercises.
Movement quality should be considered more important than how much an athlete can lift.
Perfect the foundation and then load it up!
Always consult with your health care team before beginning any new fitness program.
Here’s a simple way to perfect the hinge pattern: grab a dowel, a broom or a hockey stick. Place the stick on your back holding the top with 1 hand and the bottom with the other. Make sure there is contact with the stick at the head and at the glutes (your bum).
Brace the core.
Bend the knees slightly, shift the glutes back as the hinge begins to separate the upper body from the lower body.
Picture the hinge of a door. The centre of the hinge doesn’t move. The door swings open while the door frame stays still. Your body can move similarly. Plant your feet into the ground, this is the solid frame, rotate at the hips, and hinge the upper body as still as the door. The upper body doesn’t round. Picture your upper body to be as solid as a door and the movement will get better!
Once this movement pattern is mastered more exercises can be practiced.The deadlift, the single leg deadlift, the hang clean, the bent over row and more exercises will be safer and more effective once this movement pattern looks good!
Grab your stick of choice and practice! Your strength coach will be so impressed when you show them how good this looks!