Buteyko Breathing for Improved Athletic Performance

The 1968 Summer Olympic Games were held 2,300 meters above sea level in Mexico City. In the weeks following the Olympics, after they had returned to lower altitude, many athletes achieved their best results. High altitude training was born.

The principle of high altitude training is this: at high altitude there is reduced atmospheric pressure of oxygen. The body compensates for the decreased available oxygen by increasing red blood cell production. Once back at lower altitude and higher oxygen pressure, the athletes extra red blood cells provide the body with more oxygen. Eventually the red blood cell count returns to normal if the athlete stays at lower altitude.  

Breathing exercises, developed by Buteyko teachers working with athletes, achieve the same results as high altitude training: 

In an informal survey of over 200 athletes conducted by Buteyko teacher Don Gordon the question was asked "At peak effort what holds you back? Is it your breathing or your muscles?"

68% replied that it was their breathing and another 16% said it was lactic acid/fatigue. Further Don noted high incidences of asthma, allergies, sleep problems (snoring, insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg), and anxiety among the surveyed athletes. Most athletes also had poor breathing mechanics, even at rest, breathing predominantly through their mouths and using the upper chest. In Buteyko we advocate nose/diaphragm. 

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross learned Buteyko from teacher Wendy Arbuckle. Below are three photographs of her, including one from the Buteyko Breathing Educators Association newsletter.


Sanya Richards-Ross: Buteyko increases red blood cell production, nose breathing enhances breathing efficiency. Note the calmness and focus in Sanya's face as compared to the mouth breathers beside her.

 Elite athletes and even those who work out occasionally can improve their performance by nose breathing. Strenuous workouts combined with mouth breathing are often the cause of  snoring, asthma, sleep apnea, allergies, as well as cramps and injuries. Rapid deep mouth breathing is also associated with the sympathetic nervous system, the 'fight or flight' response, and anxiety and panic.

Most athletes can't imagine performing at the same level with their mouths closed. A program of re-training to nose breathing is required. It is a gradual process. With the appropriate Buteyko breathing exercises elite level athletes to weekend warriors can achieve better performance with less likelihood of strain or injury. All aspects of health improve. 

 Image: Roger Sedres

Image: Roger Sedres