4 Reasons Why Breathing is Every Athlete’s Secret Weapon

It appears ridiculously simple: Inhale, exhale.

It’s an action most of our bodies undertake as many as 20,000 times per day. But when was the last time you consciously focused on your breathing and truly thought about this vital function that your body just performs, without effort?


Breathing, because it’s so natural and passive, is something many people take for granted, but Washington Redskins Quarterback Kirk Cousins says proper deep breathing and learning to maximize every breath is every athlete’s secret weapon.

“Proper breathing is widely overlooked and really not talked about all that often with young athletes,” Cousins said. “But taking control of your breathing is one of the simplest things you can learn to do to transform your health and athletic performance.”

When we’re babies, our bellies rise and fall with each breath we take — that’s good! However, over time, most of us develop bad breathing habits. Whether from sucking in our guts or slouching or just trying to keep up with other active kids, we become shallow chest breathers, rather than deep belly breathers. Breathing from your diaphragm, known as diaphragmatic breathing, has so many benefits and can help regulate your heart and breathing rates. The ideal resting breathing rate is 6-8 breaths per minute, yet the average teen breathes between 12 and 20 breaths per minute.

Below are Kirk Cousin’s top 4 performance benefits of proper breathing.

1. Proper Breathing Optimizes Oxygen and Blood Flow to the Brain

Being able to “get in the zone” is important as an athlete. Athletes must develop the ability to block out negative and distracting thoughts in order to execute their personal best performances. Learning to breath properly from your diaphragm maximizes the amount of oxygen and blood flowing to the brain, resulting in sharper focus and a clear, calm mind.

a young kid in a karate uniform practicing in the woods

2. Proper Breathing Allows for Better Full-Body Recovery, Play After Play

football players tackling

A steady flow of oxygen is crucial because when oxygen supplies vary, your heart can panic and increase its rate in an effort to continue to deliver oxygen to all the vital organs — your heart, brain, and lungs. Sometimes, this can mean temporarily diverting blood and oxygen away from secondary organs. As an athlete, blood flow to muscles and tissues is essential to being able to quickly recover from every play. So better breathing reduces full-body fatigue, promotes stamina and allows you to say, “Put me in, Coach!” more often. It’s also important in preventing serious injury. Athletes with a healthy breathing rate and heart rate suffer sidelining injuries less frequently.

3. Proper Breathing Reduces Stress

When the body’s oxygen demands are not being met and your heart rate increases, your blood pressure also increases, causing the body to begin to operate from a state of stress response. This causes your brain activity to spike and to increase the amount of adrenaline your body is producing. Too much adrenaline can result in an excitable athlete that reacts to unexpected scenarios emotionally, rather than through calm, collected, practiced execution or decision-making.

With the help of Neurocore, Kirk Cousins discovered his brain was spiking into “stress mode” more often than it should. He worked with Neurocore to train his brain to slow down and on proper breathing techniques, which go a long way in helping to regulate the body’s natural stress response. With less stress, athletes are able to perform more consistently and control their mental game to deliver results under pressure.

“When I can spend a few minutes in the locker room before a game just practicing my deep breathing, I can actually feel my muscles relax and my mind enter a calm state,” Cousins said.

Shallow chest breathing can actually make your neck and shoulder muscles tense up, which also activates your body’s stress response. So in a tight game, if you feel your shoulders tensing up, diaphragmatic breathing is the fastest way to relieve some of that pressure and reduce mid-game stress.

a baseball player looking down at his glove

4. Proper Breathing Can Be Practiced Anytime, Anywhere

a young man laying in the grass with his eyes closed smiling while he listens to music from his blue headphones

Whereas, for the most part, practicing your sport requires equipment or a very specific environment like a swimming pool, ice rink, wide-open field or court, breathing requires nothing but a few spare minutes and the ability to sit or stand still. Breathing is something you can do to improve your game on the team bus, a car ride with your family, waiting in line at the mall or while lying in bed before you wake or fall asleep.

Proper breathing is often an overlooked component of athletic training. Neurocore offers a biofeedback-neurofeedback training program to help children and adults of all ages be the best they can be at home, at work, at school or on the playing field. Breathing and heart rate synchronization is the focus of Neurocore’s biofeedback therapy and training the brain to fire at healthy, optimal speeds is the focus of our neurofeedback therapy.

Come in to Neurocore this summer for a Brain Health Assessment.

Neurocore’s brainwave mapping technology allows you to see on-screen, in real-time, your brain’s unique strengths and weaknesses. The brain experts at Neurocore will explain your brain profile, identify targeted areas for improvement and can help develop a custom brain-training program for YOU that may reduce or eliminate symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, depression, poor sleep, migraines or other challenges.

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While there may be information on the Neurocore website relating to certain conditions, should a medical condition exist, promptly see your own physician or health provider. Neurocore does not offer medical diagnosis or treatment advice. Neurocore makes no claims that it can cure any conditions, including any conditions referenced on its website or in print materials, including ADHD, anxiety, autism, depression, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines, headaches, stress, sleep disorders, Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you take prescription medications for any of these conditions, you should consult with your physician before discontinuing use of such medications.