Imorovement Through Breath Training by Scoot Sonnon

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I have returned to gloat with pride at Alberto’s one week marker in his Circular Strength Training® (CST) 12-week program toward his comeback UFC victory! If you read Day 3: Tango Down, you know the results of today’s session and the improvements which the first week of CST conditioning.

  • Lowered resting heart rate (HR) by 10 beats per minute (BPM)!
  • Lowered performance HR by 30 BPM!
  • Lowered recovery HR by 20 BPM!

Now, even though this is only week 1 of the 5 week micro cycle of specific conditioning (Specific Physical Preparedness), and this could somehow be a high performance hiccup / anomaly, I find it difficult to contain my enthusiasm. This improvement speaks as much to the breathing techniques I’m teaching Alberto, as much as the conditioning methods, protocol and scheduling. Although breathing is relatively ignored by conventional coaches, it’s the window to the soul of one’s athleticism. I do understand why: almost all breath training resources are spiritual-centric, not performance-centric. It’s hard to find your breath, much less God, when someone’s trying to choke you unconscious (though masters say this is the ultimate challenge of martial arts). Most coaches view breathing as an inconvenience one must suffer or try and shackle. They speak about it in the same way as they do hunger, as if they could only get around it; when these mechanisms are both glimpses “under the hood” as well as performance evaluation data points.

Athletes who perform short, high-intensity activities benefit from training their lungs as well as their arms and legs. (Science News, April 16, 2005.) Here in Bellingham, at Western Washington University (WWU) where I once taught, exercise physiologist Lorrie Brilla and her colleagues trained 15 physically fit and healthy 22-year-olds to strengthen muscles that drive respiration. Five days a week, the volunteers would suck air forcefully through a training apparatus 60 times while their noses were pinched closed. No air entered the mouth until the suction reached 75 percent of an individual’s maximum sucking capacity. Before and after 6 weeks of this breath training, the men and women were evaluated as they pedaled a stationary bike as fast as they could for 30 seconds. Such short-term sprinting is powered largely by energy stored in muscles, rather than by lung power. Still, the volunteers demonstrated an average of 10 percent more peak power on the bike after the breath-training regimen. At rest, they showed a 25 percent increase in the amount of air they could move in one breath, a huge benefit to fighters!

In Russia, with their national and Olympic coaches, I learned many breathing techniques for performance enhancement and health improvement. At first, I thought we had been dedicating too much time to breath development research and not enough to the actual physical conditioning; that is, until the results started appearing. In the study at WWU, a breathing apparatus was used to constrain the breath. However, several of the teams in Russia demonstrated that these various apparati (wich were originally developed in Russia) were for non-athletes who didn’t have the respiratory conditioning to perform forceful breathing exercises. These forceful breathing techniques were among the many that they shared with me.

When I worked at a neurobehavioral clinic in Pennsylvania, we conducted a study on 12 college students of average physical fitness levels, using a very elaborate biofeedback computer. Four students did nothing differently. Four students used conventional relaxation breathing techniques. And four students performed the forceful breathing techniques that I had studied in the former Soviet Union. After one semester, the four performing my forceful breathing techniques significantly outperformed the other two groups in each of the stress-inducing evaluations. After this study, I started implementing these techniques with my fighters on a regular basis.

A variety of psychological and physiological factors affect heart rate, including hormonal responses, your central nervous system (CNS) and autonomic nervous system (ANS) which impact both the heart rate and rhythm. Hormones send chemicals into your blood which affect heart rate, and nervous stimulation can increase or decrease heart rate. The brain’s medulla controls the heart rate, speeding up or slowing down beats per minute. Our ANS has two components: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS releases hormones and chemicals (such as norepinephrine, epinephrine, and catecholamines) to increase heart rate. However, there is no trainable effect from these hormones and chemicals. This “tachycardia” is a frenzied response to excessive stress like throwing grease over your stove’s burners, rather than slowly turning the dial to a higher flame. Since there’s no positive training effect (though over time, there are negative effects of relying upon these chemicals), it’s important to stay under a certain threshold… so that all training stress has a positive impact on athletic development.

The PNS, located in the brain stem, slows your heart rate (called bradycardia) through chemicals such as acetylcholine. One of my yoga masters can slow her heart rates to the less than 20 beats per minute. I later found in traditional Indian yoga, forceful breathing exercises very similar to the one’s I was taught by my Russian national team coaches: called “fire breathing.”

The nerves and hormones in concert regulate our heart rate when we fight. As we begin fighting, our heart rate speeds up because our PNS is inhibited (gets turned off) initially causing our heart rate to increase. This is where the breathing techniques come into play. Forceful breathing exercises as the studies show above reclaim control of our heart rate.

For conditioning, this is imperative, because if we do not get our heart rate under a set target zone, then all of the exercise we’re doing isn’t being trained. It’s lost, because we’re just surging with a chemical burn, not actually turning the knob of the internal flame up.

For fighting, there is also the impact of “survival arousal syndrome” on our fighting skill. As that “chemical cocktail” gets dumped into our bloodstream, fine motor skill deteriorates, mental awareness diminishes, and emotional control goes down the drain. When this happens, all of the little mental demons start creeping back up telling us we don’t have the energy, we don’t have the ability, we don’t stand a chance. But those “voices” have been proven to be purely chemical. They’re not our true potential. And when they start to pop up, it’s a clear sign to start the forceful breathing exercise.

I actually published video of some of these techniques on the RMAX Monthly Fitness Tip. I can’t guarantee the same rapid and massive improvements that Alberto has demonstrated in one week, but I do promise you that if you practice it properly, you can perform better and become healthier.

GO TEAM CRANE!


Distinguished Master of Sport

RMAX International

COPYRIGHT© 2007, Scott Sonnon All Rights Reserved, Fair-Use Applies


Submitted by DMorgan on Thu, 09/20/2007 - 11:17am.

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