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Tactics: Breathing Breakdown

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

A powerful tool to prepare your body & mind

You pull hard onto your project for a redpoint burn, reach for the first hold, fumble it, but are able to latch on. You bring in your right foot so that you can stab out with your left toe to a small foot chip. You hit the chip, but it pops off instantly. Your nerves are through the roof and your movements become tense and clumsy - your performance, suffers.

“when going for hard redpoint burns, we often feel tense, anxious, flustered, and overwhelmed”

We want to be clear, calm and focussed when we climb. But how do we get there? Just tell yourself to calm down? That usually doesn't help much...

We have 2 broad states of body and mind: sympathetic & parasympathetic. The sympathetic state involves a high level of alertness & stress. While the parasympathetic state is the opposite, calm & relaxed. Often climbers struggle with being on the extreme sympathetic end of the spectrum when going for hard redpoint burns. We feel tense, flustered, anxious, and overwhelmed.

It's pretty clear that our state of mind affects our body and its performance, and thinking our way out of it doesn't work, so how do we manage this? What people often miss is that we can use the actions of our body to affect our mind (the mind-body relationship works both ways)! One of the most powerful and accessible entry points to our state of mind is breathing! Let's breakdown 3 breathing patterns that can help you regulate your state of mind and body.

“Breathing - one of the most quick and powerful ways to balance our state of mind and body in the moment”

1 - Inhale focussed breathing - a fast & forceful breathing cadence. Inhales are long and deep. Exhales are short and forceful. In through nose, out through mouth. 15-25 breaths. This breathing will increase your sympathetic state as your body releases adrenaline .

2 - Exhale focussed breathing - a slow and steady breathing cadence. Exhales are longer than exhales. In through the nose, out through pursed lips (ex. 4s in, 8s out). 3-5 breaths. This breathing will decrease your sympathetic state as your body balances oxygen & carbon dioxide in the blood. Now, there is also a specialized form of exhale focussed breathing that is, in fact, hardwired as a reflex within our brainstem - a physiological sigh. We actually do this breathing unconsciously during sleep to offload accumulated carbon dioxide in the blood. It is composed of 2 concomitant nasal inhales followed by a long slow exhale through pursed lips (I know this is hard to conceptualize - video below). While voluntary performed, this has been scientifically identified as one of the most quick and powerful ways to balance our state of mind and body in the moment.

3 - Square or Box breathing - Steady balanced breathing. Inhale, hold, exhale, relax - all 4s in duration. This breathing will balance your stress and help keep a focussed state.

So what are you waiting for? Try out these techniques! Which technique to use, and when, will vary depending on the person and what state they are trying to achieve. In the case of our anecdote at the beginning of the post, perhaps exhale focussed sigh breathing could help calm the mind and body before executing a send. But what if you are feeling sluggish and flat, maybe some inhale focussed breathing could help ramp things up.

Aside from the world of climbing, and perhaps a little out of the scope of this post, consider how these breathing techniques may assist you with mitigating states of stress and anxiety in your day-to-day life.

Much of this information was gather from @hubermanlab - Check him out for more!

Drop any questions, comments, or thoughts below

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