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On the whole, when I introduce the concept of breathing for health and performance to an audience, no matter how seemingly captive beforehand, there is an audible sigh. The irony is not lost on me. This used to be my exact response also. I think the reason for that is twofold; it is still seen as a bit of a soppy, new-age topic, or worse still as fringe pseudoscience, and because people are genuinely in the dark regarding the high impact better breathing can have on both health and performance.

Rather than try to cover everything in this blog - this is a vast topic - I figured I would outline a few key points, which are also low hanging fruit and require very little effort to incorporate.

Tip 1

Breathe through your nose. All the time. Except when you are eating, drinking or talking, keep your mouth closed. To level up, even more, adopt a good resting posture with a relaxed jaw, teeth lightly touching, and the tongue resting on the roof of the mouth. To make sure you are not cheating when you have your eyes closed, you might want to consider taping your mouth for a few nights or using a nasal breathing protocol to fall asleep.

Tip 2

Use breathing to regulate exercise intensity, not intensity to regulate breathing. One of the key learning points on my own journey to better breathing was learning that the relationship is two-way, and taking back some of the control over my breathing. If we push ourselves when exercising, we tend to over breathe, making it more difficult to get oxygen at the site of the working muscles, where it is required, and our response to this is then breathing harder still. This is inefficient and leads us to both breathe and raise our heart rates well above the level required to sustain our actual level of physical effort.

Tip 3

Breathe into the diaphragm. I struggled with this and still do sometimes. I have a tendency, especially when breathing nasally, to suck air in forcefully, rather than draw it in. At rest or while walking, I find it useful to place a hand on the stomach, and the other on the chest, with the aim of moving the one on the stomach slightly, while the one on the chest remains still. This also gives me a focal point while I am running that helps me escape the downward cycle of over-breathing and inefficiency.

Tip 4

Try a breathing practice. Okay, I admit I left this one until last because I know it will be the hardest sell. I am not talking much time, or much effort, and no whale song is required, although you are free to choose any music or ambient sound that works. Around 5 minutes per day is enough, where breathing is your sole focus. For the first couple of weeks, I would suggest something as simple as slowing your breathing to 5 or 6 seconds each for the inhale and exhale portion, reducing your breathing rate to 5 or 6 breaths per minute. Contrary to the popular advice given, do not try to breathe deeply, rather gently and silently. You can sit or stand for this, but try to maintain a good posture throughout. As tolerance increases, you can try an app to improve your breathing, or even get a breathing coach or programme.

Regardless of your experience so far, you can improve. It may be a little uncomfortable at the start and maybe more challenging to some than others, but it is one of the simplest ways to improve health and performance without changing diet and lifestyle, or without actually getting any fitter.

This article is designed to introduce concepts and is not a prescription or recommendation. Please take medical advice if in doubt, and only attempt any methods or practices with which you are comfortable. More specific coaching, advice and programmes are available for those who wish to explore more deeply. Alternatively, for further reading, I would recommend "What Doesn't Kill Us" by Scott Carney, "Breath" by James Nestor, "The Oxygen Advantage" by Patrick McKeown and also following Brian Mackenzie, the HHP Foundation, and Shift State on Instagram.

1 Comment

Tim Truett
Tim Truett
Oct 17, 2021

Beginning with phrase “the relationship [with breathing] is two way,” Tip 2 is loaded with astounding physiological/anatomical assertions I trust are well grounded in your research & experience which are a personal epiphany. My lesson, in short, is that I can work harder & smarter while also being more kind and less judgmental to myself.

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