You probably read this headline and rolled your eyes. Clickbait, right? Can’t blame you. While you might consider yourself a “breathing expert,” since you’ve been doing every second of your life, there is a fair chance your breathing habits are putting a strain on your health, fitness and perhaps your golf game (go ahead and roll your eyes again, it’s OK).
Now that you’re ready to listen, let's hear from one of the foremost experts on breathing and athletic performance in the country—Michael Mullin. He has spent more than 30 years training athletes and providing help to virtually all the major sports organizations in America, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and yes, the PGA Tour. When top trainers want to up their games, they consult with Mullin. With that drumroll out of the way, he has some advice for you if you’re interested in learning how to breathe better. If you’re smart, you do, because breathing impacts every system in your body and can be the difference between hitting the ball farther, avoiding diseases and living an extra 10 years.
Pop quiz: How should you breathe? In through your nose and out through your mouth? In through your mouth and out through your nose? Any other guess? According to Mullin, resting-tidal breathing should always be through the nose only. Obviously when you exercise, that’s tough to do, but that is your goal whenever possible.
Here’s another tidbit. While breathing, your tongue should be resting against the roof of your mouth. This breathing strategy allows for the release of nitric oxide, which helps your cells get the proper amount of oxygen necessary to avoid fatigue and stress (two big factors in poor golf performance).
Here are some more tidbits from Mullin to help you breathe better: The first is to regulate the timing of your breaths. Ideally, as you rest, you’re taking in between six to 10 a minute (inhaling and exhaling for about 5.5 seconds each). Another thing to work on is the synchronization of breath. Contrary to what you might have heard, it’s not ideal to segment the order in which your body inhales and exhales. Ideally, your belly and chest should expand and contract together.
This breathing stuff gets even more interesting as it relates to exercise and sports performance. When you inhale or exhale during a movement really matters if your goal is to get maximum force output and maximum range of motion. You first have to understand the difference between eccentric and concentric muscle contractions. Eccentric relates to the elongation of a muscle and concentric relates to the shortening phase of a contraction. For example, in a dumbbell hammer curl, when you raise the weight up toward your chest, that is the concentric phase. Conversely, lowering the dumbbell is the eccentric phase. According to Mullin, you foster greater mobility when you exhale during the eccentric phase of a movement, and maximum-force output comes during the concentric phase. This should give you a clue about when to inhale during your golf swing (answer coming shortly).
Another thing to consider is how breathing impacts concentration. Your brain requires 50 percent of the oxygen you take in, so when your breathing is not optimized, you might find it more difficult to focus or even be able to perform the motor skills needed to execute a specific golf shot.
And speaking of golf, hopefully you've figured out how to breathe for optimal performance when you swing. You should be inhaling during the backswing and follow-through and exhaling during the downswing. Inhaling will help you coil better in the backswing, creating and storing more power, and exhaling during the downswing helps you transfer that stored power into the swing and golf ball. If you're holding your breath, you're probably leaving yards on the table.
If you're interested in learning more about Michael Mullin's work, he did a very interesting interview with the Stick Mobility training-aid staff.