Breath Training For Surfers
Breath training for surfers it crucial to survival when surfing. Your life literally depends on it especially when it’s a bigger day with heavier sets. If you’ve ever been in a hold down situation stuck underwater, with fear and anxiety cranking up. The instinctual need for breath kicks in and sometimes panic comes in as well.
Breath training will help with you paddling, hold down situations, and improve your overall health. But we must start with the fundamentals of breathing and what is intakes. Just like walking before running or even baby waves before 8foot Pipeline Closeouts on the head.
Freaking out, kicking hard, paddling to the surface, and being reactive will not help you in this kind of situation. You need to learn to relax and enjoy the ride as some say. It is better said than done, that is why you need to learn how to breath better.
Breathing – Potential Physiology Effects
All of the arrows in the picture above are all potential downstream effects that “bad” breathing techniques could cause to the human body and system. They are all critics from performance, and overall health. It is not too hard to train how to breathe better, so get to it!
Breathing is something that we do first thing when we are born and even when we are in our mother’s belly. But we actually breathe differently in the belly then when we come out to the world. Breathing is often ignored as it happens to our body unconsciously, but it is something that should be trained especially for surfers. The ignorance of breathing is very unfortunate because the breath training can do so much more than just being able to hold your breath for longer while being underwater. If anyone has been in a hold down situation on a small or big day, you know it doesn’t feel like a “simple” thing to do. It feels like the only importance in the world at that time.
The Human Nervous System- Sympathetic and Parasympathetic branches
Breath is the fastest way to tap into our nervous system. It can increase the heart rate, add stress, increase alarm signals throughout the entire body. Or contrary, it can be calming, help you focus, slow down your heart rate, and increase alertness. A simple breath calm easily shifts the nervous system from the sympathetic fight or flight state, of the parasympathetic restorative and calm state.
Which do you think will increase O2 (Oxygen) Consumption? Sympathetic
Which do you think will decrease the heart rate and lower our oxygen consumption? Parasympathetic
Being able to hold your breath, stay calm, and relax could literally save your life when being held down on those bigger days. Instead of panicking and using all of your energy. We have to first tart with the basics of quality breath.
The Basics Of Breath Training For Surfers – Quality Breath
Now you might be asking what is quality breath? Before we can explore any other details about breath enhancement training, we need to figure out the ability to simply breathe efficiently. So what does that even mean?
If you have ever been in a yoga class, you might have heard that term before. Diaphragmatic breathing means that that you are breathing with your diaphragm as the primary driver of the breath taken and out. When your diaphragm starts to contract down into your stomach, it creates a negative pressure in the lung cavities. This created negative pressure pulls the air down to the lungs, so that the fresh oxygen can do its thing of life-giving thing throughout the entire body. This term is also referred to as “belly breaths” or “Buddha breathing.” It is also the way that we breath when we are in our Mother’s bellies. All referring to the expansion of the stomach when inhaling.
Now some people cheat this a little by pushing their stomach out with a muscular contraction rather than letting it happen as a reflex from a descending diaphragm.
Most people, through stress, bad posture, injuries, emotional trauma, blocked nasal passages, or mental trauma have shifted their breathing to what we call “neck breathing.” This means that you are using your secondary respiratory muscles of your neck and shoulders to be your primary drivers of breathing. Neck breathing creates a lot of unnecessary tension and strains in all of the muscles involves, which are also being used when paddling during surf sessions.
Tensions While Surfing – Neck and Shoulder
Do you already have some neck and shoulder tensions even when not surfing? Add all of the few thousand neck breaths every day and it will make your situation so much worse. Neck breathing doesn’t only make your breathing inefficient for your physiology, as well as oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, but it also makes it near impossible to paddle the right way and powerfully when surfing. Now when getting held down underwater, neck breathing is almost impossible to get a full breath before going down for a big wave or set.
Try This! Get in front of mirror and take a breath in. Did you notice if most of the movement comes from the neck?
If yes, you are a neck breather! Don’t feel bad! We can change this! Especially if you have attention and is motivated to become a better surfer and prepare your body for hold down situations better. Also, if you want to maintain a healthy neck and shoulder girdle, you should change it and you can do it!
If you saw that neck movement when you took a breath, it is likely lasting about the last 10-30% of your inhalation. What you should see instead as your primary portion of the movement should be your rib expansion in all directions. Your rib should expand, elevate your chest, and then the last bit will come from the neck. This keyword here is last, not first, or primarily!
Getting Sets on The Head when Neck Breathing
Maybe you are about get a 7foot wave set on the head. You have already been underwater for about 10-15 seconds from the wipeout you had on the last wave. You just got to the surface, and see the next wave coming at you about to closeout on your head. Your heart rate is up and you are stressing out. You take a shallow neck breath and prepare yourself for the next hold down. This neck breath did nothing for you. You actually put yourself in danger. You can and should do much better than that!
This little shallow neck breath you just took got about 20-40% of your lung capacity filled. That is not good, especially when you are preparing yourself for that next hold down. That shallow neck breath also sent alarm signals to your nervous system, which increased your heart rate, and burned a lot of oxygen and energy.
Whenever you are feeling stressed, your body will automatically revert your breathing to the habitual breathing pattern. Neck breathing might be habitual for you, but it is not near as efficient of beneficial for your surfing.
Diaphragmatic Breaths expands your body, lower back, and stomach.
Practicing Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Lay on your stomach
- Breath into the floor and low back (slowly)
See if you can get that 3D expansion: posterior expansion (breathe into your lower back), lateral expansion (breathe into your sides), and anteriorly expansion (upper stomach presses into the floor). This is the expansion of the rib cage before the diaphragm is contracting itself. That is the key to breathing, driving inhalation from diaphragmatic contraction, instead of sucking air with your neck muscles.
- Slow it down
- Get rhythmic
- Get into box breathing rhythms
- 3-4 second inhale, 3-4 seconds pause and hold, 3-4 seconds exhale, 3-4 seconds pause
Do this slowly and rhythmically while focusing on your breathing into your stomach and lower back. The goal is to really feel that expansion of the stomach without forcing it and allowing it to happen as the lungs are filling out with air. Relax your neck and you will feel the floor pushing back against your stomach which will give you a tactile feedback of belly breathing.
Once you’ve got that part down, lay on your back and continue that same breathing technique. Breath into your hands on your stomach, relax your neck, feel your low back expand, stomach raise up, and your ribs expand laterally.
This is when performance breathing comes in and starts. Creating that habit of effective breathing in a non-stressful and relaxed environment will really help when surfing.
Adding More Practice
Another benefit of slow rhythmic breathing is that you are improving on your CO2 tolerance of your body. This is 100% ruled by your brain stem and you can think of it as a thermostat. That thermostat can be shifted to having a better tolerance of more CO2 in the blood which will correlate well with being held down under water and accumulating carbon dioxide into the blood stream. Yes, that is good, not bad!
Think about this! If you can’t breathe well in a relaxed environment, how can you breath well when getting a 7 foot wave closing out on your head?
This type of slower rhythmic breathing can lead to meditation and has plenty of benefits for your body. So that is an awesome thing!
Listen to a very relaxing music with headphones on and work on your breathing. Really slow it down that breathing tempo to 8-10 seconds inhales, exhales, and pauses. Don’t try to force it, it will happen over time with practice and letting your body really relax and get to that parasympathetic nervous system. The best type of music to listen to when doing this exercise is binaural beat audio, it is known that this type of music with sync your brainwaves into a calmer state and bring more theta or delta brain waves.
Making It A Habit
Practicing this new breathing technique will eventually become a habit. Just like walking and breathing when we were just babies is now a habit that we don’t even have to think about anymore. Work on this exercise so that the next time in you are in a stressed situation, you will be able to take long deep breaths instead of that shallow neck breaths.
Start with the laying variations, and then begin to check-in on yourself throughout the day!
Ask yourself, “How is my breathing?”
That Giant Inhale
Before a wipeout, putting into action that giant inhale is huge! The basic understanding on how to breathe without using our neck muscles is key and we already talked about that above.
Now the giant inhale is something else. It should take about 1 second, and you are aiming for 80-100% inhalation in one breath.
Think of it as breathing in through a 1-2inch hose. Big open mouth, sucking up the air into the bottom of your lungs, and not the neck. Getting that sir into your stomach. Which you are really not sucking air into your stomach, you are actually filling up the basin on your lungs all the way up to the top, as a full efficient inhale.
You will get muscle tension right after this, that is why you have to relax immediately. Relax your neck, and mind, and let the ocean do its thing. Don’t panic, don’t focus on the bad of it all. Just focus on relaxing. You have enough oxygen to get through it, so let your body be tossed around and start coming up the surface when all is done.
They key to all of this is the giant inhale, from the bottom of your lungs to relaxing your neck muscles. The unnecessary strain on your muscles will send alarm signals to your brain, which will then increase your heart rate, and burn all of the oxygen stored.
Focus on that giant inhale into the basin of your lunges, not that shallow neck breath. There is a huge difference between the two as you know by now and will make a huge difference in your overall health as well.
It’s all on you! Your surfing, your body, and the one dealing with the hold downs. So, take some time to get yourself prepared for those situations and start practicing the diaphragmatically breathing. Learn it, get into meditation if you want, and get that giant inhale down!
Breath Training for Surfers Puzzle
Now the tip of the iceberg!
Pool Training! Hold down underwater, being able to hold your breath longer.
There is so much more that we can do but let’s start with the basics of diaphragm breathing in calm state. Check your breathing when paddling back out. Think about “can you recover quickly from a wipeout, a hold down, a long paddle?” Are you getting comfortable with that giant inhale?
These are just pieces to the puzzle, but we have to start somewhere. So lay on your stomach and start working on the basic breathing techniques we talked about.
If you have insights, ideas, and want to learn more. Get in touch with us! We are here to help!