I don’t know a single curler, at any level, who wouldn’t love to improve something related to their cardiovascular and respiratory health.
Your cardio goals might be based on something like the following:
- You seek better endurance and overall work capacity
- You struggle with managing energy throughout a shot, game or tournament
- You want to be able to push harder and faster during a sweep, and/or when you stand up you want to be able to catch your breath quickly
- You seek ways to stay focused, calm, and sharp through a full game
- You experienced COVID-19 or other respiratory ailments and are on the road to regaining previous cardio-respiratory health.*
*The information provided in this article is not to be taken as a replacement for medical advice from your own personal medical team. Please seek out assistance from a Regulated Health Care Practitioner if you have questions, concerns or require further guidance to customize a cardio-rehab, or cardio-performance program.
If you’ve found yourself with a cardio-specific goal—whether it’s for curling, another sport, or just to improve your overall quality of life—here are five ways you can improve your cardiovascular and respiratory health that (likely) nobody told you about.
- Nasal breathing at rest (quiet and slow)
- Nasal breathing to dictate intensity
- Nasal breathing for recovery
- Work capacity first (aerobic system = recovery system)
- Work intervals second (= more gears)
I go into more depth on each of these tips in the following resources:
1. Nasal breathing at rest (quiet and slow)
Noses were made for breathing and smelling, mouths were made for eating, drinking, talking and kissing.
Nasal breathing has a multitude of benefits—it warms and humidifies the air, it captures foreign substances in hairs and mucus membranes, it improves oxygen uptake and circulation and improves lung volume and diaphragm/pelvic floor activity.
Your first priority is to bring your awareness to your breathing at rest.
Are you breathing in and out of your nose?
If not, this is now your primary focus, before you even worry about breathing during activity. When at rest, intentionally work to slow down your exhales, quiet your breath, and take air in and out of your nostrils.
2. Nasal breathing to dictate intensity
Now that you’ve been convinced of the benefits of breathing in and out of your nose at rest, it’s time to start to bring nasal breathing into your training and on-ice performance. The idea is that a fitter and healthier athlete is going to be more likely to do more work, with less air.
Imagine two people carrying their bags up a flight of stairs at the airport when the escalator is broken; the first person is someone you view as “unfit” and the second is someone like Kaitlyn Lawes (a very fit human). Let’s say they both get to the top of the stairs in the same amount of time, but can you visualize how their breathing might be different?
It is generally agreed that a more fit individual is going to be able to go up the stairs without their breathing getting very heavy (to the point that they can still nasal breathe), they are likely taking less breaths per minute than the unfit person, and their breathing is likely quieter.
So, the more effort you can put in, while still breathing through your nose, the more efficient your cardiovascular and respiratory health is.
Let’s say you’re reading this and thinking “but I’m super fit, I have a high VO2 max, but I breathe in my nose and out my mouth like my 2002 track coach told me to.” That’s perfectly fine, but a lot of our training recommendations have evolved since the earlier 2000s. We also don’t recommend hands on your head to catch your breath anymore (sorry to burst your bubble).
I challenge you to rely on nasal breathing at lower intensities; namely your warm-ups, cool-downs and easier activities, and if during anaerobic intervals you open your mouth to exhale, use the recovery period to try to regain nasal breathing. This translates on to the curling ice, because brushers won’t be able to do all of their breathing through the nose since they need to be able to communicate with the other players during and after a sweep.
The main message to take away from this is … if I can breathe in and out of my nose more often than not, I am creating a more efficient system.
3. Nasal breathing for recovery
Did you know that if you take a huge breath in, most of that air will be exhaled on your next breath out? During activity if we take in too much air—either too much in volume or in rate—our body will become less efficient at bringing oxygen to—and removing the acidic carbon dioxide from—our working tissues.
This strategy of using nasal breathing to dictate intensity can act as a linchpin if your goal was to manage your energy better throughout a game and tournament. If you find that after the first few ends it’s taking you longer to return to breathing through your nose, you are likely working at too high an intensity for your fitness level, and it is likely you will run out of steam heading into the final ends. This is where your training comes into play, to not only increase your work capacity and give you more gears, but to also provide an opportunity to practice finding a steady working pace; one that sets you up to finish strong in the final ends.
4. Work capacity first (aerobic system = recovery system)
I see it year after year … curlers step off the ice and then immediately go into intense interval training. Yes, curling requires you to work hard, rest, work hard, rest, and repeat over and over. However, if you don’t spend time improving your cardiovascular endurance—what I call “work capacity”—then you are missing out on maximizing your offseason training.
My recommendation is to spend the first two to six weeks of your off-ice season focusing on improving your endurance, aiming to be able to do more work for longer at an easy-medium intensity (bonus if more of it is through your nose!). You’re going to need this when you start back at high intensity intervals.
5. Intervals second (= more gears)
Once you’ve spent some time building a bigger engine, you now have “more gears.” This allows you to work harder than before, and your ability to recover will be faster. This is why hopping off the ice and straight into high intensity training only can be detrimental, since you miss building the bigger engine. As you get closer to the season start, increase the intensity of your intervals and slowly add in some dryland brushing work.
To wrap it all up into a tight little bow …
For items one to three, I care the most about your breathing at rest, and your breathing as you are recovering. Awareness is your first step. And when it comes to four and five, make sure you plan out your summer accordingly so you can be as efficient as possible with your time and energy.
Looking for more resources?
Just another friendly reminder that the advice in this article does not replace that which comes from your own Regulated Health Practitioner. Please seek further assistance if you are managing a cardiovascular or respiratory disease/disorder.