We have all been breathing since the moment we were born. We breathe our first breath upon arrival into the world and we will leave after taking our last breath. All the days in between we breathe 21,000 breaths a day; yet we only utilize a small portion of our lung’s capacity. Learning to unlock the powers of your breath could make a key difference in your performance on the court, as well as your quality of life off the court. This all begins with bringing awareness to your own breathing patterns.
A tennis match is a series of short bursts of high intensity movements followed by shorter and longer rest periods. On a local level, a match lasts between 1-1/2 to 2 hours in length requiring a player to expend around 300 to 500 short bursts of effort during the match. A tennis player must therefore have proficient training in both their anaerobic system, which gives us the ability to sprint across the court, and their aerobic system, which gives us the endurance to last through the long matches. To boost performance potential it is important to first take a look at HOW you breathe. Learning to improve your breathing can combat the physical demands tennis has on the body, along with reducing your levels of performance anxiety.
Improving breathing creates balance in the body between the sympathetic nervous system, which is considered our ‘fight or flight’ response and the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate and controls our rest. Consciously controlling breathing can be directly connected to balancing these systems. It is activating the parasympathetic system that induces calmness and clarity on the court.
The primary muscles involved in breathing include the four abdominal muscles and the diaphragm. Seventy-five percent of all respiratory effort is the responsibility of the diaphragm. The secondary muscles that play a role in breathing include the pectoralis minor (muscles of the chest), trapezius sternocleidomastoid and scalenes (both muscles of the neck). These are important to note because, if any of these muscles are tense, the quality of the breath can be affected. Gentle movements such as cat cow, shoulder rolls and side bends will begin to free up these muscles to make way for expansion of the ribcage with each breath.
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