June/July 2024 (Vol. XXXIV, No. 3)

Breathing drills offer a low-level, high-impact ritual for resilience and rejuvenation

As strength and conditioning coaches and performance enhancement specialists, we have cornered the market on high-threshold programming. We know full well how to rev our athletes up. But amidst all the 1RM testing, vertical jumps, 40-yard sprints, and other tests of intensity, have we forgotten a variable? That variable can be loosely referred to as […]

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Breathing drills offer a low-level, high-impact ritual for resilience and rejuvenation

As strength and conditioning coaches and performance enhancement specialists, we have cornered the market on high-threshold programming. We know full well how to rev our athletes up. But amidst all the 1RM testing, vertical jumps, 40-yard sprints, and other tests of intensity, have we forgotten a variable?

That variable can be loosely referred to as “recovery,” and is perhaps more appropriately called “resilience or rejuvenation training.” Without it, there is no fitness, no performance, and ultimately, no reason to train.

breathingThe goal of dedicated resilience training is to merge activities that promote down-throttling of the central nervous system (CNS) and facilitate long-term habit development. This means using modalities that are not too complicated and that don’t invoke a negative emotional response.

A good example of this type of practice is approximately two to three minutes of foam rolling before (or after) lifting. Although it is often a point of conjecture, the value of checking the body for inordinately sore or tight muscles is hard to argue against. While we understand that the effect on the physical structure of the tissue is minimal, the other valuable aspects of foam rolling, such as dampening neural tone and aiding the flow of blood into the tissue, create reason enough to devote a few minutes to this practice.

Breathing drills offer another low-level, high-impact ritual for resilience and rejuvenation. Breath training is becoming a much more mainstream practice in elite-level strength and conditioning as more and more coaches are educated on its impact on performance. Take legendary NFL strength coach Joe Kenn, for instance. One of the first activities on his Block Zero programming itinerary is breathing drills.

The relevance of this practice is easy to recognize once we start to consider the impact of a more efficient oxygen exchange in the lungs. An easy way to move forward with breath training is to have your athletes begin with simple nasal inhalation and emphasize the inflation of the stomach. Of course, the air isn’t actually filling the stomach, but the lower portion of the lungs, and this is where the alveolar concentration is located.

breathingAdditionally, breath work is another route to down-throttle the CNS so that stiff muscles might be more compliant, presenting a window of opportunity for mobility and dynamic warm-up exercises to have the greatest impact. Finally, breathing drills allow for a moment to declutter the brain before undertaking a very challenging order of work, and it’s fair to assume that all coaches would like just a little more focus in training.

Quite often, timing is everything when it comes to performance-based outcomes, and in an ideal world, we would be able to schedule separate sessions dedicated to resilience training. Olympic track coach Charlie Francis always reserved training days specifically for resilience and recovery. However, in the real world, this might be a challenge, depending upon the timing of classes or sessions, the mix of athletes, and their competitive schedules. Instead, it might be more effective to integrate this practice directly into the daily routine.

Intuitively, many would schedule this for the end of the workout, but that is also the easiest place for it to fall off the schedule. Therefore, I prefer using many of these methods specifically during the warm-up. Then, if time allows, I return to them to close the workout. I simply start with a two- or three-minute window of exploratory foam rolling followed by another two minutes of “crocodile breathing” (flat on the stomach with forehead resting on forearms) where deep nasal breaths are the focus.

» ALSO SEE: The evolution of the football speed coach

With everything a strength and conditioning coach needs to focus on, devoting time to resilience and recovery can be a challenge. But this component can be the key to the success of all of the other hard work you and your athletes do.

Cass Barrett, BA, CFSC, CPT, FMS, FRCmS, began his coaching journey teaching body position and breathing as a U.S. Marine Corps Primary Marksmanship Instructor (P.M.I.), and for the last 17 years has coached everyone from the weekend warrior to professional & international level competitors. Cass was a corrective exercise technician in a physical therapy clinic, and the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the 2016 PRO-Rugby North America Champion Denver Stampede. He now owns and operates his own private training studio.

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