What are those Actualize athletes doing lying on their back with their feet up, eyes closed and doing nothing on the training floor?

Parasympathetic Breathing

Whether you are a competitive athlete or fitness enthusiast who utilizes strength & conditioning training to accomplish your goals, it’s possible you place larger focus on training than on rest, restoration and regeneration from the stress of training.

Some of the different types of rest, restoration and regeneration methods people implement (and are not limited to) are:

  • Resting enough between training sets
  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Sleep
  • Mobility, flexibility & corrective work
  • Manual therapy
  • Prayer & meditation

I could list a whole bunch more.

There is a method that clinical studies are showing can help us recover more quickly to train harder at higher workloads, and actualize greater quantifiable results in our body composition, performance and strength goals—not to mention decrease the likelihood of injury.

Parasympathetic breathing enables us to transition from sympathetic breathing—a CNS (central nervous system) response during training—to a parasympathetic response which enable the recovery process to begin. If we’re not intentional about helping our body make this transition, our CNS will stay jacked up for hours during and after training, inhibiting our ability to optimize recovery.

By simply adding the discipline of 5-15 minutes of recovery breathing as a “last exercise” after training, you can quickly reduce the sympathetic drive and drastically improve recoverability via the parasympathetic response.

This from Dr. John Rusin:

“If it’s good enough for pro athletes who make a living based on the performance of their bodies, it’s probably good enough for you. Here’s the basics of how to simply execute recovery based breathing without having to check yourself into a meditation or yoga class.

The foundation of the sympathetic recovery breathing technique has a large focus on the position and setup. We want to position your body to make it as easy as possible for a few key things to happen to help spark recovery in multiple facets of physiology.

First, we need passive positioning of the arms and legs to ensure proper centralized drainage of lymphatic fluid. Second, we need to ensure that the spine remains in a relatively neutral position to reduce the threat response to the body. And lastly, we want to make these positions as comfortable as possible, again all for the goal of reversing the CNS response from training.

Here’s exactly how I setup my athletes for recovery breathing after each and every training session to spark the recovery process before they ever leave my watch:

  1. Lay on your back with the head resting on the ground.
  2. Elevate the legs to above heart level with knees slightly bent.
  3. Elevate the arms up overhead.
  4. Close eyes and relax the body reducing any tension of stress.

*A quiet area of the gym away from music or noise is preferable

From this position, you should be able to relax every single muscle in your body to allow a fully passive response to take place. From here, we will focus in on only one single movement, that of your breath.

Start off by using this set parasympathetic breath rhythm and tempo:

  • Inhale 3-4 seconds
  • Hold at Top 2-3 seconds
  • Exhale 6-8 seconds
  • Hold at Bottom 2 seconds

The main focus with the tempo of breath is about slowly inhaling and exhaling under control. Since most athletes and lifters have trouble slowing down, especially while in the presence of the iron, using specific tempos can be very useful when initially adopting this recovery breathing strategy.

Inhale for 3-4 seconds fully, hold for a few seconds at the top of the breath, and then really focus on extending the exhalation to around 8 seconds. We want this tempo to be slow and controlled, but also habitual to the point of being passive. The last thing we want to do during recovery breathing is to stress about exact numbers of the breath counts, so you have an excuse to chill and zone out a bit on this one.

The time of recovery breathing is about turning off the sympathetic switch before
we leave the gym, so techniques such as positive mental imagery can absolutely be synergized together out of this position to really get the most out of these few minutes. Set your iPhone timer for your prescribed duration in order to avoid checking the clock, and just enjoy your time on the floor in celebration of the ball busting work you just put into the weights.”

Challenge: for one month, take 5-15 minutes after training to try parasympathetic breathing. At the end of the month, consider quantitative metrics and qualitative feedback to determine if it’s working for you.

Your time will rewarded!

Coach Blaine

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Actualize Sports & Fitness is North Central Washington’s premier performance enhancement training, health and nutrition, and mental achievement coaching center. We exist to educate, encourage and empower Actualize Sports (competitive athletes, teams & coaches) & Actualize Fitness (fitness enthusiasts of all ages & abilities) clients to actualize their unique purpose and potential in athletics, fitness and life.


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