Breathe to Succeed: 11 Reasons Athletes Need to Learn to Control their Breathing

If you’re skeptical, I totally get it. I mean, you’ve been breathing without help for your entire life (and you’re still alive so it seems to be working alright). So what can some silly breathing exercise really do for you?

Well, your breathing patterns have implications for both your physical and mental ability. And conscious breathing is key to unlocking peak performance in both areas. Conscious breathing is the ability to bring your attention to your current breathing state and then purposefully make changes to it.

While the physical benefits of providing more oxygen to your muscles are great, I believe it’s the mental benefits that are the most useful. For this reason, I don’t think breathing gets nearly enough respect in the sports world. Athletes often gloss over it without realizing its immense potential to impact their game.

As any elite athlete will tell you, mental strength is absolutely vital in sports. The best players are the ones who don’t get flustered, can overcome obstacles, and can fight through mental fatigue. So if simply learning to breath differently can be used to increase your mental fortitude, what’s stopping you from at least giving it a shot?

Conscious breathing has two components: (1) being aware of your breathing and (2) being able to control it. If you can master conscious breathing, there are an insane amount of benefits associated with it. Here is a list of a few that I’ve come up with:


1) Reduce pre-game stress: If you’re feeling pre-game jitters or are nervous before a big game, slowing your breathing can help you relax. What your breathing does, your body follows.

2) Bring you back to the present moment: It’s easy to get lost in your last missed shot or think forward to the end of the game. Breathing can help you regain your focus on the present situation.

3) Calm your nerves at the free throw line: A few deep breaths can steady your nerves and help you recover, making you an assassin at the line.

4) Help you get sleep/rest: If you have trouble falling asleep the night before games because you’re thinking about every possible game scenario, try counting 1 on the inhale and 2 on the exhale for 5 minutes. It's a quick and easy strategy that usually does the trick for me.

5) As a tool to measure the time between sets: I’ll elaborate on this topic in a future post. The idea is that instead of measuring the time between sets, you can count using breaths. For example, after doing a ball handling drill, give yourself 15 breaths before beginning your next shooting drill. This way, you force yourself to practice quickly controlling your breathing and are rewarded with a longer break for doing so.

6) Increase your creativity: Stress and shallow breathing can inhibit your mental flexibility. Conscious breathing can help you widen your frame of mind and allow you to train and play with greater creativity.

7) Increase physical strength: Slow, deep breathing provides more fuel for your muscles.

8) Increase physical stamina: Same idea, more fuel for your muscles to work harder for longer.

9) Improve focus: Conscious breathing brings you back to the present, allowing you to funnel all your cognitive resources to the game or drill at hand.

10) Greater self-confidence: Research has shown that people who are more aware of their breathing habits tend to have greater self-confidence both on and off the court. My theory is that this is a result of feeling more in control of their physical and mental state.

11) Shorten recovery time: Recover faster during timeouts and stoppages by consciously focusing on your breathing patterns, which lowers your heart rate.


So, do you believe me yet? Are you going to give conscious breathing a shot? Either way, for the sake of brevity, I'm going to write about the implementation of conscious breathing in a follow-up post. In that post, I'll give concrete tips for implementing conscious breathing into your training and explain how you can use it to your advantage. In the meantime, just try and be aware of your breathing and imagine your Yoda-like domination when you master conscious breathing.


What do you think about the idea of conscious breathing? Terrible idea? Love it? Seem like BS? Let me know what you think in the comments below.