The life of professional athletes is one of hacks, technology, calculated recovery. When you’re competing against the best in the world, the gains and improvements made in performance are marginal at best. Most simply try their best not to plateau, while others curate their training so as to peak on the day of competition. It means that nothing is left to chance. Whoop straps are glued to wrists in an effort to understand recovery needs and performance output, while technology is utilised to better fuel ourselves and ensure we have the intake of nutrients we need. But while most look to food and gadgets to enhance performance, there’s another area that’s largely overlooked: breath work.
If you’ve overlooked the importance of breathing in training, you’re not alone. Not many of us are taking a discerning eye to the way we breathe. But if you take anything from Rich Froning, four-time CrossFit Games champion – otherwise referred to as the ‘Fittest in History – let it be the importance of breathing. While the CrossFit champion is known to have embraced numerous fitness trends over the years, having talked about the beneficial properties of intermittent fasting to his training (“it’s increased my testosterone in about six months”), recently he’s tapped into the world of regulated breathing and believes it’s key to staying ahead of the competition.
According to Froning, there are different ways to best utilise your breathing during certain exercises. Since finding regulated breathing, he’s now using it as part of his programming ahead of the team division of the CrossFit Games. In an interview with Barbend, he explained: “Recovery is king in a sport that’s based around a clock. When it matters most, if your heart rate and breathing are out of control, everything else falls apart.”
Alongside breathing exercises that pay special attention to his heart rate, Froning also uses AIRWAAV, a ‘performance mouthpiece’ that’s designed to “perfect the most efficient way of opening the airway and optimising performance.” That’s some dedication right there. If you’re rolling your eyes right now at the ridiculousness of a performance mouthpiece, know that there is smart science behind it. In a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, a “significant positive effect of respiratory muscle training (RMT) on sport performance outcomes of time trials [and] exercise endurance time.”
The performance mouthpiece was found to lower respiratory rate, impact lactate levels in muscles and even lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. According to AIRWAAV, the mouthpiece also “increases the width of your airway an average of nine percent.” Not too bad when it comes to marginal gains and a leg up over your competition.