Rest, Recover, Regenerate Part 2: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Breathing is essential for life.  Without oxygen, we cannot live.

I wrote about breathing in two pervious articles that I suggest checking out if you are interested in more information on this topic.  THE FIRST was about some of the negative things that take place in our body when breathing patterns are poor, while THE SECOND was a video example of how to evaluate breathing patterns in your clients (and these tests can then become the exercises/corrections when breathing is faulty).

Breathing and Recovery From Training/Competition

Breathing can also play an important role in our regeneration strategies, as proper diaphragmatic breathing can be extremely relaxing.

A 2009 study conducted by Martarelli et al, looked at diaphragmatic breathing and its potential in reducing exercise-induced oxidative stress.

Sixteen amateur (male) cyclists where evaluated during an extremely stressful training session.  Following the session, the individuals were divided into two groups:

  • The control group spent 1-hour following training sitting in a quite space, relaxing and reading magazines.
  • The experimental group, diaphragmatic breathing group, spent 1-hour focusing on diaphragmatic breathing – which was taught to them before beginning the study - in a similar quite space to that of the control group.

The researchers evaluated the athletes for:

  • Oxidative stress
  • Biological Antioxidant Potential
  • Changes in cortisol levels
  • Changes in melatonin levels

Oxidative Stress

While oxidative stress was increased following the exhaustive exercise session (as expected), those in the diaphragmatic breathing group significantly decreased their oxidative stress, as reported by the d reactive oxygen metabolite test (d-ROM test) which measures the plasma reactive oxygen metabolites produced by reactive oxygen species (which are free radicals).

Biological Antioxidant Potential, Cortisol and Melatonin

The biological antioxidant potential test is one that evaluates the plasma levels of antioxidants.  Those in the diaphragmatic breathing group showed significant improvements in biological antioxidant potential, which corresponds with reduced levels of cortisol and reactive oxygen metabolites, as well as increased levels of nocturnal melatonin (an important hormone involved in the reduction of oxidative stress, due to its antioxidant properties).

A greater decrease in cortisol, while not statistically significant in this study, was observed for the diaphragmatic breathing group, and the diaphragmatic breathing compared to the control subjects observed a statistically significant improvement in melatonin.

Researchers Conclusions

The researchers stated that, “If these results are confirmed in other intense physical activity programs, relaxation could be considered an effective practice to contrast the free radical-mediated oxidative damage induced by intense exercise.”

The researchers propose the following rationale for the reduced neuroendocrine response by relaxation as seen in the diaphragmatic breathing group:

  • Intense exercise increases cortisol production
  • A high plasmatic level of cortisol deceases the bodies antioxidant defense
  • A high plasmatic level of cortisol correlates with a high level of oxidative stress
  • Diaphragmatic breathing reduces the production of cortisol
  • Diaphragmatic breathing increases melatonin levels
  • Melatonin is a strong antioxidant
  • Diaphragmatic breathing increases the biological antioxidant potential
  • Diaphragmatic breathing reduces oxidative stress

For those that prefer a visual representation of this process:


Wrapping up

Diaphragmatic breathing is easy to teach, and educating the athletes on the importance of this technique and the importance of relaxation is a cost free way to help athletes rest, recover and regenerate following stressful training and competition.


Martarelli D, Cocchioni M, Scuri S, Pompei P. Diaphragmatic Breathing Reduces Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress. Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine. Oct 2009: 1-9.

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