Breathing Techniques For Sports Physios

Breathing Techniques For Sports Physios

This Week On The Mentorship We Have Been Discussing Breathing Techniques For Sports Physios…


One of the big talking points on the Pro Sports Academy Sports Physio Mentorship Course this week was the lack of conscious diaphragmatic coaching cues we use when helping people get back into the rest and digest state as sports physios. There’s a big reason for that which we will discuss in today’s blog…

When we actually step back and look at the respiratory system, there is a lot more to it than just diaphragmatic breathing…

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises

When I first started out working in pro sport and private practice, I was giving patients three sets of 10 diaphragmatic breathing exercises left, right and centre. I was influenced at the time because some guru on the internet was selling me the idea of lying on the floor and doing three sets of 10 was going to solve all my mine and my patient’s problems. Unfortunately, THERE IS NOWHERE TO HIDE in Pro Sport And Private Practice, and I figured out pretty quickly it’s not that simple.

If you have a patient or person in front of you who has been struggling to get to sleep, has stress, anxiety and pain then the realities of the situation are very different. Sure, don’t get me wrong here, the diaphragmatic breathing exercises may help short term in assist the person in control the overreactions of the system, but a better question may be why did they lose the ability to predominantly diaphragmatic breathe in the first place?

Is The Inability To Predominantly Diaphragmatic Breath Simply A Reaction To The True Stressors In That Person's Life


If we take a step back and look at the person, I think we need to take other variables into consideration also and comparing to reactions that happen/coincide with someone in pain; we can see some similar findings... 

When a person has a conscious experience of pain, then this does not necessarily mean that there is actual tissue damage. The pain could be a conscious perception of a perceived threat or the result of prediction errors within the system.

If we also look at the respiratory system, that output reacts very similarly in an anticipatory manner. That is our breathing rate and depth changes with anticipation of perceived stress to our system.

For example, if I am about to go on stage to do a talk in front a large audience, my heart rate and breathing rate may increase in anticipation of what is going to happen.

Therefore, using a predominantly diaphragmatic breathing strategy in this situation is not the most efficient response subconsciously. Sure, I can override the response with some consciously controlled breathing, but the point I want you to understand is the loss of our ability to diaphragmatic breath was not the real cause in the first place.  There is a lot more to the respiratory system than just the diaphragm.

Looking at the person and their story will help us find the true stressor that may have caused the reaction that led to the patient to upper chest breathing or whatever strategy your patient is using at the moment.

The answer will always lie in the patient's story...

Breathing Rate And Sensitivity


Much like other tissues that rely on the large interacting system, the respiratory system can also become sensitised depending the context, situation, environment. Sounds pretty similar to the pain experience right? Sure, the diaphragm and diaphragmatic breathing are necessary, but it's not the be all and end all and our ultimate goal of restoring the respiratory systems ability to work in a more appropriate manner for the reality of the situation the person is in now as opposed to anticipated perceived state. This was something I didn’t quite understand for probably the first three years in pro sport and private practice when I was giving these exercises to athletes and was getting frustrated by the lack of long lasting results.

Practical Application In Applying This Knowledge To Breathing Techniques For Sports Physios


With the information and reactions considered above, a more efficient use of our time as sports physios and private practice therapists may be to change the breathing rate of our patients instead positively. A nice simple way to do this is by increasing the exhalation time.  We can modify the breathing rate easily by encouraging the patient to exhale that little bit longer that we usually would. This will be slightly more than they would consciously would like to and so we are also exposing them to go beyond the subconscious threshold to inhale. A nice byproduct of this is that the diaphragm will also be lengthening at the same time for that little bit longer. This continued exhalation will also decrease the sensitivity of the diaphragm to lengthen and as it continues to lengthen will result in a reflexive contraction of the diaphragm on the re-inhalation anyways. 

So with the one drill above, we have targeted the breathing rate, overrode the sensitivity of the respiratory receptors (all be it short term for now) and also challenged tonic stretch reflex sensitivity of the diaphragm with one simple cue.

Important Points To Note For Applying These Breathing Techniques For The Therapist In Sport And Private Practice

An important consideration when doing the breathing work above is the position the person is it, the environment they are in and the situation they are presented with. The locations, conditions and environment they do their breathing restoration work may be necessary to consider, and the reactions that happen here may be very different to doing their homework in a 'safe' environment such as the clinic.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my blog and if you would like to know more about my approach and integrating the various systems then be sure to download your FREE copy of my 7 steps to clinical excellence ebook below.