How to Improve Exercise Performance Under Pressure

One of the things that’s always associated with peak performance is the ability to relax under pressure.

No matter whether it’s making an important presentation, handling a challenging personal training client or doing your first triathlon.

Here’s what happens when we are in a deeply relaxed state: blood pressure lowers, the heart rate slows, oxygen consumption decreases and, critically, the electrical activity in the brain changes.

This is classified in terms of brain waves:

K Complex is 33 cycles a second and above (high anxiety).

High Beta is 23 – 33 cycles per second (tense).

Beta is 14 – 23 cycles a second (awake and alert).

Alpha is 7 -14 cycles per second (relaxed but alert).

Theta is 3.5 – 7 cycles per second (ready for sleep).

And delta is 0.5 – 3.5 cycles per second (deep sleep).

If we can achieve Alpha level brain activity when we are in a High Beta state there is a very good chance that we are going to think clearly and perform better.

And the way we breathe influences this situation hugely. Most of us breathe shallowly from the chest at the best of times and this is exacerbated when we are under pressure.

Correct breathing helps to slow down the electrical activity in the brain, so if we can master our breathing, we can usually master our state.

How to do it? The idea is that we breathe from the abdomen (by using the diaphragm) rather than breathing from the chest.

The simple way of telling where you are breathing from is to place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach and see which one moves the most. If it’s the hand on the chest then you are breathing shallowly.

This is all well and good but when you are under pressure you need a quick and easy strategy, so next time you need to relax in order to perform think about using the Sigh Breath.

The Sigh Breath involves inhaling moderately through the nose followed by a fairly prolonged and slow exhale through either the nose or mouth.

A long out-breath is the key here because it helps retain carbon dioxide, which is a natural tranquiliser.

Once you have had a couple of sighs try to let your breathing return to a shallower, slower rhythm and you should feel yourself calm down.

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