Oxa Podcast. Episode #2. Brian Mackenzie: What Athletes Get Wrong About Breathing

In this episode, we engage in a conversation with Brian Mackenzie on achieving peak fitness, the critical role of breathing in athletic performance, common misconceptions among top athletes, and the insights we can glean to elevate our own physical capabilities.

Brian is a leading figure in human performance research, focusing on how stress adaptation impacts health and fitness. He's at the forefront of developing tailored protocols that intersect respiratory, movement, and endurance training to enhance both mental and physical prowess. His innovative approaches benefit not only world-class athletes and high-performing professionals but also individuals dealing with chronic health issues.

During our discussion, Brian highlights a frequent issue encountered among elite athletes: the preference for high-intensity over low-intensity breathing techniques during training, which often leads to suboptimal performance.

He delves into his theory of 'breathing gears' and their correlation with different heart rate zones in training. Brian outlines how incorporating a variety of breathing techniques can significantly boost respiratory efficiency and safety.

Watch to have a clearer understanding of how to integrate effective breathing practices into your workout regimen and everyday life to maximize your physical health.

Breathing Dysfunctions and Assessments

  • Elite athletes often prioritize high-intensity breathing during training, neglecting the importance of low-intensity breathing.
  • Dysfunctional breathing patterns are common due to a lack of attention to breathing as a fundamental issue.
  • Pulmonary issues related to breathing can alter the body's pH balance, affecting kidney function and overall health.
  • Overbreathing or underbreathing can limit performance, but these issues may go unnoticed due to the body's compensatory mechanisms.
  • Simple assessments, such as exhale assessments and step assessments, can help identify breathing problems.
  • Overbreathers may need to learn to breathe through their nose at lower exercise levels (gear 1) to improve oxygen delivery and reduce carbohydrate usage.
  • Practicing down-regulation through slower controlled breathing after exercise can calm the nervous system and improve overall health.
  • Incorporating slower controlled breathing into daily life can help counter the effects of constant high arousal states and promote optimal mitochondrial function.
  • High-intensity athletes tend to have better breathing patterns compared to low-intensity athletes.
  • Overusing nasal breathing can lead to fatigue and limited air movement.
  • Intense breathing practices without physical work can exacerbate dysfunctional breathing patterns.
  • Engaging neck muscles during high-intensity breathing practices can lead to poor breathing patterns.

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Training Protocols

  • Everyone should consider themselves an athlete and train like one, regardless of their activity level.
  • Develop breathing patterns at lower intensity levels first, such as walking with a deep breathing pattern.
  • Gradually increase intensity to develop fitness and breathing capacity.
  • Implement controlled, slower breathing practices throughout the day to reduce stress and improve overall health.
  • Breathing gears 1 and 2 correspond to heart rate zones 0, 1, and 2, while gear 2 can extend to the beginning of heart rate zone 4.
  • Most training should be done in gears 1 and 2, with occasional intervals in gears 4 and 5.
  • Athletes who implemented this protocol experienced improved performance, such as increased energy and endurance during sparring sessions.

Benefits for Different Athletes

  • MMA athletes are highly glycolytic and anaerobic, requiring efficient energy usage to avoid fatigue.
  • Breathing techniques can help athletes increase their ceiling and recover more quickly.
  • Endurance athletes experience improved endurance and energy conservation by using oxygen more efficiently.
  • A recommended breathing practice is to develop a strong gear 1, which involves working at heart rate zone 2 while nasal breathing with a 2-second inhale and 2-second exhale.
  • This practice promotes parasympathetic tone and nervous system retraining.
  • Walking for more than 90 minutes a day with nasal breathing can restructure fuel usage.

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This episode is proudly presented by Oxa, the premier wearable device dedicated to breathing with real-time biofeedback, acting as your personal sleep and stress management coach. Oxa tracks your vital statistics, including heart rate and breathing pace, tailoring unique breathing routines designed to mitigate stress and foster better sleep.

Angelina Sarycheva
June 12, 2024

MA, CPT accredited by The International Sports Science Association, is a health writer and Content Lead at Oxa Life. With over five years in the health and wellness industry, her expertise, rooted in hands-on experience with leading wellness brands, is to deliver impactful health content to a global audience.

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Get the Oxa Sensor and your choice of garment - lounge-wear shirt, bra, or adjustable chest strap. Your purchase includes access to the Oxa app which gives personalized data summaries and insights, as well as access to breathing exercises to teach you how to harness the power of your own breath.