Have you ever watched a racehorse trying to catch its breath at the end of a race? Its nostrils flare as it takes in air but its mouth remains closed. It can be exhausted and be desperate for air but it never opens its mouth.

A dog will pant with its mouth open while running but a dog also uses its mouth to sweat. The horse, like humans, sweats through the skin. This is a fundamental similarity between humans and the horse.

Unfortunately humans have lost the art of nose breathing and never receive its benefits. For a long time sportsmen and women have pushed themselves while exercising to a stage where they must open their mouths to gasp for more air. But is this gasping for air the natural way we were supposed to breathe when exercising? Does breathing through the mouth really making us fitter, healthier or enhance our endurance capabilities?

Breathing through the mouth during exercise only pulls air into a small region near the top of the lungs, leaving most of the lungs unused. In extreme cases this eventually creates a state of hyperventilation. Because we are in this state of hyperventilation, we must push any air we do have in our lungs quickly out again in order to take the next gulp of air. This cycle of gulping air and breathing out again as quickly as possible in order to take the next gulp eventually creates an oxygen deficit. Muscles starved of oxygen and pushed to continue exercising begin to tire and cease to work at their optimal level. What’s more, the athlete will be in pain for several days later until the muscles can recover.

Surely the goal of any competitive tennis player is to achieve optimal efficiency, which in physical terms means utilizing speed, strength, flexibility and endurance over a long period of time. If the muscles are continually faced with this oxygen deficit after long rallies, the body will eventually start to perform below par. Perhaps the humble horse was right afterall!

Like the horse, when humans breathe through the nose the air enters and spirals deep into the bottom of the lungs, making this the most efficient way to take in the maximum amount of air.

Nose breathing during exercise over a long period also allows the ribcage to operate in a way it was always intended to function. With each breath the ribs are supposed to expand on inhalation and retract on exhalation.  If functioning properly this “massaging” action of the ribs further aids the lungs in their work. Many people today have “frozen” ribcages and have lost the ability to benefit from this expanding and retracting action.

Twenty five years ago I started the process of nose breathing when training. The benefits started to show after one week. The benefits were:

·        No more soreness after runs – the muscles were oxygenated  during the entire run
·    My heart-rate dropped by 25% - the hyperventilation state  was gone due to improved oxygenation of the muscles
·       My breathing rate went from 18 breathes per minute to 14 –   again, better and more efficient oxygenation of the muscles
·        Exercising became a more pleasant experience – the stressful state I believed was fundamental to getting “in shape” had been replaced by an almost meditative experience.

This is how you can incorporate nose breathing into your training and during matches:

1.     Learning to use nose breathing while exercising.
Running is perhaps the best way to learn nose breathing. Jog slowly while keeping the mouth closed and breathing through the nose. The breathing should automatically become deeper because nose breathing utilizes the entire lung. Continue to jog slowly and become accustomed to the long and slow breathing rate.

During inhalation and exhalation, try to breathe in the throat. You will begin to create a roaring noise similar to a jet airliner taking off!

As you become more proficient at breathing through the nose slowly increase your speed. This will tax the breath and as soon as you feel the need to open your mouth… reduce speed, even walking is fine, just resist opening your mouth to breath! It will feel a bit like drowning in the beginning but your insecurity will pass.

Continue this speeding up and slowing down process until nose breathing becomes more proficient and the need to slow down becomes less frequent.  The need to slow down less is a sign of progress. This will be the pattern of your runs for about one week and then you will notice the heart rate dropping, the rate of breathes per minute dropping and your running speed increasing!

2.   Apply nose breathing to tennis
With this more efficient method of breathing becoming more natural to you it will now automatically take over whenever you walk up stairs, jog or try to recover from any physically stressful activity.

In tennis we have breaks between points and this is a perfect time tom use nose breathing to recover quickly. Your confidence will now be such that you will switch to nose breathing whenever you need to recover quickly.

While bursts of energy like the serve, overhead and groundstroke winners benefit from an explosive exhalation, the inhalation process will benefit from nose breathing because it’s the best way to fill the lungs and has a calming effect during points.


  1. Dear Paul,
    First of all I'm amazed that nobody commented on your writing yet! This is 100% true, and I work in the same direction as you - - it's only in danish, but the english version is coming soon. I feel we should take a Skype call - what do you think?!
    Kind regards
    Misha Sakharoff

  2. The Pacquiao-Mayweather Fight might have a possible rematch. Check out Manny's training here. I think Mayweather has been checking this out and Manny's other training vids to study his style. Manny Pacquiao Video Channel

  3. I learned this quite by accident while serving. I started out trying to exhale the ready position inhale the toss/weight transfer, exhale the hit.I tried this using my nose and couldn't do it! I adjusted to exhale ready position/rock back, inhale through nose weight transfer/toss, exhale hit. I was amazed at the control and pop I got on the serve. I'm now applying the principle to my ground strokes with equal success.It's tough to do because I have congestion due to seasonal allergies!

  4. I would say this is one of the best article I’ve read.. From beginning to end you nailed it totally.breathing training device


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog