About a year ago I finished reading a book that would change my view on how breath and performance are related. It is called "The Oxygen Advantage" by Patrick Mckeown.
Today I want to go over two main principles and how you can apply it to your training. One principle is called "The BOHR" effect and the Other is about the "Body Oxygen Level Test" or "BOLT".
The BOHR effect
The BOHR effect is simple in concept but when applied correctly it has immersive power over athletic performance, sleep, and focus. In the words of Christian Bohr, the BOHR effect "If one uses carbon dioxide in appropriate amounts, the oxygen that was taken up can be used more effectively throughout the body."
In other words, less us more when controlling you inhale during specific training stimuluses. This is because "hemoglobin release oxygen when in the presence of carbon dioxide." This is important because if you are breathing too much you can rid the body of carbon dioxide and then in result not utilize the oxygen that you are in need of.
Body Oxygen Level Test
A good way to test your CO2 Sesnsitivity is through the Body Oxygen Level Test of BOLT Tests. This will be a good gage for you to see if you are improving your breathing efficency.
How to Perform the BOLT Test
A high level athlete and/or a healthy individual is able to record a BOLT score of 40 seconds. This shows that your breathing is efficient and will carry over to cardiovascular endurance during exercise.
If you record a BOLT score of under 10 second, this may be the cause of issues ranging from lack of energy, inability to maintain exercises, or even stress and anxiety.
HOW TO APPLY THIS TO YOUR TRAINING:
Lets break it down into 3 categories. Explosive training, which utilizes ATP as its main fuel resource, the glycolytic system which uses glycogen as its main fuel source and results in lactic acid as a waste product, and the aerobic system, which utilizes oxygen as its main fuel source.
The BOHR Effect and Steady State Exercise
The BOHR effect most direct related to the aerobic system so lets talk about that first.
When trying to sustain a steady state effort for greater than 20 min it is important to utilize the power of the BOHR effect. This can be done by utilizing a "Nose Breathing Only" technique. Because the nose is not capable of inhaling as much volume of oxygen as the mouth the BOHR effect begins automatically. No matter how hard you try, you are not able to push your body to what I like to call "The Red Line".
This in return will cause your body to stay out of the glycolytic system and in the oxidative system.
There then comes a question for training stimulus vs competion pacing. We will go into that in the next section and how to use the breath for each time domain.
Training should not leave you feeling completely diminished. This is why for many of my athletes I program nose breathing workouts, and tell them they should leave the gym wanting more.
Although it is good to push the limits mentally, physiologically this not the best way to create adaptations.
How to begin implementing into training: A great place to start utilizing the BOHR effect is through steady state or "Zone 2" Training (Typically a heart rate between 130-145 Bpm).
An example of this may be a 20 Min Bike, Run, or Hike. You could also begin to try to do CrossFit workouts with nose breathing only.
For example something like this:
20 Min AMRAP
20 Cal row (Moderate Output)
60 Sec Tall Plank Shoulder Taps
15 Push Ups
Transitioning Nose breathing into higher intensity exercises - The Glycolytic System
Once you have tried out some moderate CrossFit MetCons you can ramp up the intensity and see how it feels. For example last week I completed this circuit with Nose Breathing only.
30 Cal Assault Bike
25 Overhead Squats @ 40% (Of 1RM OHS)
While I would have been able to complete much quicker with mouth breathing, building up my CO2 tolerance was the intention and training stimulus desired during this workout.
After a while you too will begin the relationship and understanding of CO2 tolerance and the breath, and be able to gage during more intense workout when to nose breath and when to mouth breath.
How to apply nose breathing to a competition paced CrossFit workout:
Here is a Competition scenario:
20 Cal Row
15 Bar Facing Burpees
5 Snatches @ 185 (75% of 1RM Snatch)
Breathing strategy: Nose breath the first round of row and burpees, hold moderate pace, 1 deep exhale and inhale through mouth before first snatch rep, continue 2 mouth breaths between each rep, and after final rep of 5 take 1-2 deep exhales and then maintain nose breathing. This will continue for the first 2-3 rounds.
Rounds 3-4 I may switch to mouth breathing for the burpees based on how I am feeling at that time.
On the 5th round I will let it loose and mouth breath the full round. This will leave me gasping for air but will allow for a greater output, which is what i was looking for during this workout.
The concept of mouth breathing for the Snatches
Nose breathing can have immense benefits in and outside of training. Overall it can help you improve athletic performance, cardiovascular help, keep you mentally sharp and focused, and keep lower overall stress on the mind and body. Having nose breathing in your arsenal is must for all aspects of life. Try out the BOLT test, see where your at, and stay aware of what your breath is doing throughout your day and during exercise.
Drop a comment below or reach out via instagram @AustinRoweFitness and let me know any questions you have or health and fitness topics you'd like me to cover next!