Most runners don’t think about their breathing except when they are puffed after running up a hill or sprinting for the line, after all breathing is primarily a subconscious activity and we should breathe more when we run hard. Right? There is growing evidence that improving your breathing can improve your performance and your health so here’s a sneak peek into what many respiratory physiotherapists have been working on, with patients and athletes alike.
- Ten per cent of people in Western society suffer from Hyperventilation Syndrome, 40 per cent of the public breathe incorrectly at rest and 85 per cent of people in a doctor’s waiting rooms have a breathing problem and not all of them will return to a normal pattern once their illness passes. Many of these people (and their doctors) will be unaware they have a Breathing Pattern Disorder.
- Breathing Pattern Disorders fall into two categories – Hyperventilation is a biochemical problem caused by over breathing; Dysfunctional Breathing Pattern is using the wrong muscles to breathe and is also a biomechanical problem.
- Many people are misdiagnosed of having asthma when they actually have exercise induced hyperventilation as many of the symptoms are the same.
- Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain/tightness, dizziness, pins and needles in the fingers, cramping, feelings of anxiety and disorientation/confusion.
- Triggers for bad breathing often come in groups rather than one single factor from a pool of over a thousand recognised physical, environmental, behavioural and emotional factors. Only when enough factors are present do symptoms appear so there will be a variable pattern of how you feel.
- Women are seven times more likely to experience hyperventilation than men due to changing hormonal levels at the different phases of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and the menopause.
- Long periods without food or fluctuating blood sugar levels can trigger hyperventilation, this is important to recognise when someone is trying to lose weight by combining diet with exercise.
- An inefficient breathing pattern causes both central and specific fatigue, making you feel generally tried all the time and working muscle groups “feel the burn” a lot quicker than they should. Both of these make people perform poorly physically and mentally.
- Breathing Pattern Retraining helps individuals modify their trigger factors, understand their symptoms and practice good breathing technique at rest and at low-level exercise to help reduce symptoms and improve performance.
- People with no breathing problems can use Breathing Pattern Retraining and other techniques like Inspiratory Muscle Training to strengthen their breathing base and improve performance by ensuring the correct breathing muscles are working and as efficiently as possible rather than stealing blood from the working muscles.
I’m Robin McNelis, a Chartered Physiotherapist, Athletics Coach and Marathon Runner. By practicing what I preach I achieved my 4th PB in 5 weeks in the 2014 London Marathon (2.48.50). If you would like to learn more about how you can Breathe-2-Achieve please contact me: