Breathwork for Athletes

Adopting an ancient practice to aid performance, recovery, and so much more

4 min readFeb 17, 2023
“Remember to breathe!”

In 2022 WODwell affiliated with CrossFit under the name “Spiritus CrossFit.” Spiritus means “breath” or “life force” in Latin. One of our members asked me why we chose this name. This was my answer:

When Lisa and I were thinking about what we wanted WODwell’s CrossFit affiliate name to represent, we thought about our longer term vision for WODwell, which is to help people not to just become fit, but to become better, healthier, happier humans.

The breath is critically fundamental to your performance on the gym floor, and it’s also a tool in every other aspect of your life: from stress reduction to immune response to sleep.

I was also recently influenced both by the book “Breath — The Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor (⭐️ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ - highly recommended!) and a 10-week Wim Hof Method breathwork course. There is so much potential in mastering the breath, including (but definitely not limited to) sports performance.

Breathwork, which is basically breathing in a certain way to elicit a specific benefits, might be gaining popularity in the west, but it’s not a new concept. It’s been around for thousands of years. Ancient practices including yoga and traditional Chinese medicine, have been using breathwork as a healing practice for ages. But as more people (including athletes) re-discover its benefits for improving physical and mental health, performance, and recovery, “breathwork” is having somewhat of a renaissance.

“Breathwork” is trending up (Google Trends)

There are lots of different types of breathwork, each with distinct benefits. Below are some examples of how athletes use a few popular types of breathwork to improve their game:

Wim Hof Method ( involves a series of breathing exercises, cold exposure, and meditation. It’s great because it’s been shown to help athletes improve their immune function, reduce inflammation, increase endurance, and improve mental focus.

In 2022 I took a 10-week Wim Hof Method Fundamentals course. On a couple of occasions I tested my performance on CrossFit workouts that I had done previously after a breathing session. In both cases I felt more able to push myself and my performance improved. It’s not scientific, but my improved performance seemed very clearly related to the breathwork.

The course, by the way, also introduced me to cold exposure (which I do by taking cold showers). I’ve stuck with the cold showers every day for months now. My sleep quality — which is, of course, key to stress reduction and recovery — has improved dramatically.

Box breathing is a very simple technique that can help you manage stress, anxiety, and improve focus. For athletes, this is especially helpful before a competition or training session. There are different variations of box breathing, but the best known one is where you breathe in for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds, and holding again before starting the cycle over.

Try box breathing for 5 minutes

Then there’s pranayama, a yogic breathwork that involves different breathing exercises and techniques like Ujjayi breath, Kapalbhati breath, and Bhastrika breath. Practicing pranayama can improve lung function, increase oxygen intake, improve cardiovascular health, and reduce stress, which all help athletes improve their endurance and overall well-being.

If you’re looking for something more specific, try alternate nostril breathing, which involves breathing in through one nostril, holding your breath, and breathing out through the other nostril. This technique is believed to balance the body’s energy and improve mental focus, which is great for athletes who need to concentrate and perform.

The folks at Oxygen Advantage ( developed a breathing method for athletes that utilizes nasal breathing almost exclusively. On their podcast they interviewed CrossFit Games veteran, James Newbury, who talks about breathwork’s impact on his own training and performance.

Diaphragmatic breathing is all about breathing deeply into your diaphragm instead of your chest. This technique can help athletes improve their lung capacity, reduce their stress levels, and improve their overall performance.

This approach combines breathwork with other practices like ice and heat exposure, movement, and nutrition to enhance performance and recovery.

The XPT Method (, developed by Laird Hamilton, a legendary big wave surfer, and his wife, Gabby Reece, a former professional volleyball player, has gained popularity among athletes from various disciplines, including CrossFit, due to its ability to help athletes achieve peak performance.

The XPT Method involves various breathwork techniques, including hypoxic training, which involves restricting your oxygen intake to improve your lung function and endurance. It also includes a variety of heat and ice exposure methods to help with inflammation, recovery, and mental toughness to improve overall performance.

XPT post-workout recovery breathing

All of these examples of breathwork are now commonly used by athletes to help enhance performance, manage stress, and improve overall well-being. So, if you’re an athlete looking for ways to improve your game, give breathwork a try. You might be surprised at how big of a role it can play in helping you reach your full athletic potential.

— Jeremy




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