Important Breathing Tips & Exercises for BJJ

I’ve gleaned some great breathing tips from a book I’m currently reading titled “The Oxygen Advantage” by Patrick McKeown.

I’ve always taught big “deep” breaths starting through the lower belly. Breathing through the lower belly idea is almost ALWAYS correct, but much of McKeown’s work is built around breathing “light” and actually bringing in less air to the body.

Western Culture & Breathing

As a societal whole, we are “over-breathers” and consume too much air, which actually has negative effects on our physiology.

In today’s post I’ll share/adapt some of the cues and exercises he provides in this book. They will make you a more efficient breather, able to utilize oxygen more efficiently, and allow you to trust your body to work more naturally on the mats!

Why Is It Important to Train Breathing?

This is important for BJJ practitioners, athletes of all kind, and the general layperson because it teaches our bodies how to distribute and use the oxygen we breathe in effectively. Our culture is prone to “over-breathing,” as I mentioned in the beginning.

Taking in a lot of breaths and air volume doesn’t equate to full oxygenation and using that oxygen efficiently. The goal of sharing some of these principles is to help you become more economical with your breathing and ultimately your BJJ!

Tips Before Starting

Although we are “oxygenating the body” the focus is not on taking in massive amounts of air. Rather the focus is on taking diaphragmatic breaths through the lower abdomen and focusing on holding the breath out after the exhale.

Exercise 1

  • Focus on lower belly
  • Focus on keeping chin tucked and keeping a straight spine
  • As you breath through nose on inhale belly pushes outwards
  • On the exhalation through the nose belly comes back in towards the spine
  • Focus making every breath smaller than the last
  • At the bottom of each exhale focus on making the pause between the exhale and your next inhalation even longer.
  • We’re building CO2 tolerance by taking smaller breaths and holding the exhale longer

Exercise 2

  • Same premise of the last one but now we’re going to work on breath HOLDS once every minute
  • Breathe for a minute following protocol above
  • Then exhale and let all the air out
  • Hold until you have MILD air “hunger”
  • You want to be able to resume the protocol from exercise 1 for the next minute so be sure to not hold until you feel the need for a GASP of air
  • Be sure to not take a huge breath
  • But rather make it normal and light like we’ve been practicing
  • Resume your breathing until the next minute and do another hold
  • Perform 5 to 10 minutes worth

Final Consideration on Breathing Exercises

I advocate using these exercises early in the day and in the evening before bed. During the “heat” of our day and during sleep, our breathing patterns are more likely to be unconscious.

This is a way to “program” your breathing and set yourself up for positive health effects and performance benefits on the mats.

Notice I didn’t advocate RIGHT before training. Granted, you can. But you want to build a lifestyle of being a more efficient breather. This means through the course of your day you should breath economically. Waiting till “it matters” on the mats is something that won’t carry over, as the stress of training will will take over.

As many strength coaches say, “move like an athlete ALL day.” You should seek to breathe efficiently ALL day, too!

I cover more performance training tidbits at that will help you prepare, recover, and perform better on the mats!


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