Deep breathing has hundreds of proven benefits. That’s why some of the world’s top athletes practice it regularly. 


We all know we should take more deep breaths. But doing it is another story. Here are some reasons you may want to consider practicing deep breathing, what the yogis call, “pranayama” (or breathing techniques) and some practical methods to get you there.


Oxygen is the key to unlock the energy in the food we consume.

Without oxygen, the energy from food molecules is useless to our cells. A mixture of oxygen and nutrition derived from food is carried to every cell in the body through our blood. This is why when you are injured you put ice on the area – to draw more blood to – which brings with it oxygen and nutrition – which brings healing.


The bottom line is that breath fuels the body. The yogis say that without breath we are like a dry riverbed waiting to be filled. Practicing deep breathing is one way you can easily oxygenate you body.


Athletes already know that we must work on “the three pillars” of strength, cardio and flexibility. But adding a fourth pillar of deep breathing to your routine has scientifically proven benefits.


Deep breathing has been shown to reduce the duration of sore muscles, reduce pain, and improve injury recovery time by decreasing inflammation. Deep breathing also works to improve your lung capacity and heart function.  As athletes, this should interest us a great deal. Many athletes like Kelly Slater and Travis Rice already hold a daily yoga practice that incorporates deep breathe work into their morning routine.


Deep Breathing for Athletes


Thinking of breathing exercises as part of your workout may help you to actually do it. Most athletes feel strange if they don’t get in some minutes of physical activity at least 5 days per week. Adding breathing exercises into your warm up, between sets or after your cooldown is a practical way to check it off of your daily todo list and may actually aid in performance and recovery.


Here are our top recommended ways to practice breathing for maximum.

#1 Try 1:1 Breathing. The following steps are about as simple as it gets. Practice 1:1 breathing for a long as you are comfortable with. Start with 5 minutes before or after a workout.

  1. Sit straight up or lay comfortably.
  2. Take a long slow inhale while counting the approximate number of seconds you are inhaling.
  3. Pause briefly at the top of the inhale.
  4. Excel slowly and calmly while counting approximately the amount of time as you inhaled.
  5. Pause briefly at the end of the exhale.
  6. Repeat at least 10 times.


#2 Practice the Wim Hof Method. Wim Hof is a person is better known as the “Ice Man”, A title he earned by being able to withstand extremely cold temperatures for long periods of time wearing only a pair of shorts. His secret? He uses a breathing technique that has since come to be known as the Wim Hof Method. The method itself is quite simple as demonstrated by the following steps.

For a more complete guide click here.


The Ice Man performance superhuman feats using just his breath. Photo: The Australian.
The Ice Man performance superhuman feats using just his breath. Photo: The Australian.


How to do The Wim Hof Method

  1. Sit erect or lay comfortably
  2. Take strong deep inhalations
  3. Relax on the exhale but only release about 70% of the air
  4. Repeat about 40 times
  5. On the last exhale, no not inhale, simply hold your breath out for as long as you can.
  6. After a short break, repeat the entire process again 2-3 more time.
  7. Enjoy the euphoria! Normally, the more rounds you do the more stoned/high you feel.


#4 Trigger breathing. Before every meal or at another “trigger point” in your day, take three deep breaths and think about something you are grateful for or someone you love. It doesn’t really get any easier than that!


#4 For surfers/divers practice apnea. Apnea is breath-holding. If your sport involves a necessary level of comfort under the water, then apnea is one of the best things you can do your confidence. Keep in mind to always practice on dry land and never push yourself while underwater. Never dive alone. Free dive tables are the preferred method of training for static apnea.

Here is how:

  1. Static Apnea:
    1. To start you will need to find your personal “minimum” time. This is how long you can help your breath before small, benign convulsions, almost like hiccups, automatically occur in the body. With a timer, take a deep breath and hold it in. When your body starts to make these small hiccups you are done. Release your breath and note your time. This is your “minimum time”.
    2. Next breath comfortably and deeply for the same amount of time which you just held your breath plus one minute. So if your minimum time was 1:30, you will rest and re-breath for 2:30.
    3. Hold your breath again for the same minimum time as the first time. (1:30 in this example)
    4. Breath deeply for the same amount of time you rested in the previous instance, minus 15 seconds. So in the previous example you would be resting and re-breathing for 2:15.
    5. Continue the cycles of breath-holding and breathing, resting 15 seconds less in each cycle.
    6. The last cycle occurs when there are only 15 seconds remaining to rest in between cycles. For a good example and other similar methods click here.


#5 Dynamic apnea. This is much harder and more beneficial for surfers. Dynamic apnea is breath-holding while moving, which is more like real life for surfers and divers. Here is an exercise that will not only give you loads of confidence in the water but will also become one of your most loved/hated workouts of the week:

  1. Get on a cardio machine or go for a run. (Please do not try this on a bicycle or while swimming due to the risk of passing out.)
  2. Sprint (use 100% effort) for a short burst of 10-15 seconds. (This simulates paddling for and catching a wave.)
  3. At the end of the sprint, right away, without taking a deep breath, hold your breath out for as long as possible. (5-20 seconds). During this time continue walking or slowly moving (20-30% max effort). (This simulates a wipeout and time underwater getting thrashed around.)
  4. Take three deep breaths, continue walking or slowly moving.
  5. Hold your breath again for 5-20 seconds. (This simulates having to endure the next wave in the set and another hold down.)
  6. Repeat the process of three breaths and another period of apnea at least 3 times (simulating a four-wave set).
  7. Walk or move slowly for 1-5 minutes at 40-50% effort, breathe normally. (This simulates paddling back out and getting ready for your next wave).
  8. Repeat 5-10 times.


Breathing exercises for surfers


As with most endeavors in life, the more you put into practicing pranayama (breathing) the more you get out of it. It isn’t easy and often isn’t comfortable. Just like exercising and eating healthy, it is a discipline and a practice. But it is a discipline which becomes easier the more you do it. Over time you may even find your body craves it.  Take a deep breath right now. See didn’t that feel great?


I am a writer and wanna-be big wave surfer. Surfing is my muse. I write about it and how it’s teaching me to live better. I hold certification as a nutritionist, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and lifeguard instructor. My story “100 Days in Mexico” of how a solo road trip surfing my way through Mexico changed my life can be found here


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