Steps to follow for better breathing for singers

When practising breathing techniques, using a child as a role model is perfect. They have the correct posture – head up shoulders relaxed and level and perfect alignment of hips, knees and ankles, everything required to breathe efficiently – just perfectly natural. Adults don’t have such a perfect posture – laziness, tight clothing and weariness, all resulting in us breathing less efficiently which impacts our speaking and singing.

However, it doesn’t have to be like this! Loosen that waistband, relax and follow these great steps to correct breathing.  I noticed the difference, will you?

#Good Posture

Posture is important. Practice good posture by lifting up on your toes then back down. Your shoulders should be relaxed. Lift your hands straight up over your head. Keep your chin parallel with the floor and allow your head to balance naturally over your shoulders. Let your arms fall to your sides. Shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should all be aligned perfectly.  The best way to practice good posture is to stand in front of a mirror as you are teaching your muscles to memorise the right position and muscles have memory. You will be able to see if you are balancing correctly or if you have a lack of balance.

#Chest and ribs need to be stable and still

This is important. Once they are still gradually extend your arms out to your sides until they are parallel with the flow. You should be making a ‘T’ shape with your body. Keep practicing until you feel your body is aligned

#Keep still

Take your hands and clasp them together behind your head and without moving your chest and ribs, gently inhale. At this point you should allow your lower abdomen to expand and drop away to receive the breath. Exhale small breaths, keeping your ribs and chest still and expanded.  You will notice the main areas being worked are the lower abdominal areas and the waist.

#Focus on crucial areas

You need to focus on the crucial areas of your breathing as these will enable you to be in control of how you breathe. Keep the sides (below ribs, at waist level) in a constantly expanding state. Not fixed or tight, or collapsed…always expanding outward. By first checking your posture with arms lifted up, then placing your fingers in your sides, you will feel the initial expansion when you inhale. Now, keep those areas expanding during the exhalation. As you work to develop this constantly expanding status in the sides, you will begin to experience a freedom in the throat.

#Comfort is important

Lie down on the floor, on your back. Get comfortable. Clasp your hands and let them rest on your abdomen around your belly. To ease any tension in your back, bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Now, fully relaxing, with a still chest, feel the activity in your abdomen as you inhale and exhale. The more you keep the sides and back expanding,

the more the frontal, abdominal muscles will be able to do their work. By now you should be very aware of a healthy expansion of the abdominal area all the way from the sternum (the base of the breastbone) to the pelvic bone. You should also notice increasing

activity in the sides and lower and middle back. This is something you are allowing, not making. It’s natural.

#Make sure your hands are in the right place when exercising

Place your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows on the floor. Keeping your chest still, begin rhythmically taking in short breaths to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4 and blowing out short breaths to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4. Then expand that to 8 counts in and 8 counts our. Finally, when ready, advance to 16 in and out and even 32 counts in and out.

#Use appropriate equipment to help

Take a seat on the front edge of a firm chair and lean forward, resting your elbows on your knees. Even though you’re tilted forward from the waist, you should be able to draw a straight line through the ears, shoulders, and hips. Now, inhale by sipping through an

imaginary straw, in one slow, noisy breath through your mouth. Allow your waist (front, sides, and back) to fully expand. Instead, you should feel your abdominal, back, and side muscles getting involved. Exhale with a gentle hiss (ssssss), letting those abdominal muscles do most of the work while keeping other areas still.

#Perfect your alignment

While sitting imagine a posture string is lifting you to a standing position with

only a slight tilt forward. Practice staying aligned while moving back and forth between sitting and standing. Putting one foot slightly forward will make this easier, but you will be feeling your core muscles (abs/back) and quadriceps (legs) doing the work. As you alternate between these exercises your posture and breathing will continue to become more efficient for singing, speaking and . . . life. Vocal exercises can dramatically improve your singing performance ensuring you deliver on the day.

Remember: Muscles have memory and practice makes permanent, no matter what you’re practising.

 

Congratulations to Anthony Ogogo who’s been selected for Team GB!

The British Olympic Association (BOA) selected Anthony, silver medallist at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and Men’s Middleweight (75kg) to be part of Team GB’s largest ever Olympic boxing squad.

We presented Anthony with a POWERbreathe to help him quickly improve his breathing strength and stamina following a period of inactivity as he recovered from a sports injury. Anthony will be keeping us updated with his training progress, which understandably will be ad hoc as he obviously has more pressing matters to think about.

Rob McCraken, Team GB Boxing Team Leader and British Amateur Boxing Association Performance Director said of Anthony,

“Anthony really deserves this after everything he has been through. He has had to overcome some terrible luck with injury and it is great to see that his dedication, hard work and determination have been rewarded. He is a top class boxer who has proven he can beat anyone in the world on his day.”

Anthony’s pride shines though in his response to being selected for Team GB,

“It is an amazing feeling to know I am going to the Olympics after all the challenges I have had to overcome. I have had so much bad luck with injuries but I never lost faith in myself and have had some amazing support from the coaches and all of the back-up team that have helped me to get over my shoulder injury and make it to London. It will be a dream-come-true to represent Great Britain in a home Olympics and I cannot wait to walk out in that Arena in London.”

Good luck from us all Anthony, and we’ll keep following your news on your website.

And keep checking back for POWERbreathe training feedback from Anthony, on the POWERbreathe Blog.

POWERbreathe & Dawkes Music – Case Study

Dawkes MusicOur very own Duncan visited the lovely people at Dawkes Music in Maidenhead recently to present POWERbreathe.

Dawkes Music specialise in woodwind and brass instruments and expressed an interest in POWERbreathe to see if it could be beneficial to the musicians who visit them. But rather than take our word for it, Duncan presented Vicky and Giulia with a POWERbreathe Plus Medium Resistance model each, so that they could experience the breathing training effects for themselves. They plan to use them over the next 4 weeks to see if it helps them hold a note for longer on their instruments.

Before training with their POWERbreathes, Duncan tested them both on the K5 to ascertain their lung volume.

Duncan will be visiting them again this Friday to see if they’re using the POWERbreathe correctly and to offer advice and training tips. And we’ll all be hearing from them again too, as they plan to document their training by posting videos…one of which will be after 4-weeks of using POWERbreathe to see what effect this training has had on their musical performance and lung efficiency.

Thank you to Jon, Vicky and Giulia from Dawkes Music who’ll be sharing their experience with us, and all our POWERbreathe friends, when they produce Part 1 and Part 2 (which should reveal some improvements) of their video blog – coming soon.

If you’re using POWERbreathe training for wind musicians then please leave a comment here, as we’d love to hear from you.

Training at altitude makes your lungs burn more easily and limbs fatigue more quickly

Vicky riding in Sedona, US, where she's been based for altitude training
Vicky riding in Sedona, US, where she's been based for altitude training

The latest edition of 220 Triathlon (July 2012) included an interesting article from Vicky Holland, GB elite team member, about her experience of altitude training. Here it is…

“Your heart rate is higher, your lungs burn more easily, and your arms and legs fatigue quicker. Sounds fun, hey?”

Altitude training is something that until I joined my current coach a few years ago, I can honestly say I knew nothing about. Three years on and I would by no means call myself an expert, but altitude training now plays a large part in our training year, so I thought I’d share some of its benefits, drawbacks and the considerations of this unique type of workout.

I’m writing this from one of our altitude camps in Sedona, Arizona. For good reason, this place is known to be one of the most beautiful in the US but of course, that’s not the main reason we’ve chosen to be here. The altitude is roughly l400m, which, as I now know, is mid-altitude. This basically means it’s high enough to elicit a response but you can still push out hard sessions and recover well, which becomes infinitely harder once you breach about 2,000m. We’re in Arizona for just three weeks (in-between the Sydney and San Diego WTS races), but will base ourselves in Davos, Switzerland (1.600m elevation), from the beginning of June.

So why altitude? Basically, at higher elevations the oxygen content in the air deceases. It’s often termed ‘thin air”, meaning your body has to work harder to get enough oxygen for every activity; for every movement even. When you train at altitude your heart rate is higher, your lungs burn more easily and your arms and legs fatigue quicker. Basically they can’t get enough oxygen.
Sounds fun, hey?

In response to this, the body essentially produces more red blood cells to try and combat the problem of lack of oxygen. This is one of the many physiological adaptations that occur as a result of being at altitude and means that once you come down to sea level, you have more red blood cells than when you left and so can transport more oxygen to your muscles. This is particularly useful during a race as providing oxygen to the muscles enables them to continue working hard and neutralise the potential build-up of lactic acid.

There are other benefits to altitude, too. We often see a natural weight loss when we base ourselves in the mountains as the body is working harder for every movement. But there are also some things to be aware of and that should be considered when embarking on a spell of training at altitude. Firstly, do not expect to train as fast as you would at sea level, particularly for high-intensity training sessions. After all, you can’t expect the body to give you the same times when it’s partially starved of oxygen. You’ll also take longer to recover after hard sessions or big training days. I tend to sleep a lot more at altitude, although sleep quality is often affected too, meaning we need to sleep for longer for the same effect.

Taking iron supplements is recommended to help the body keep on top of the extra iron demands of increased red blood cell production. Dehydration is another major factor to consider as the air is less humid, so we breathe in less water vapour. It’s similar to being in an aeroplane where the cabin pressure is adjusted to roughly 2,000m. Plus, you almost always feel thirsty and need to use a lip-balm for constantly dry lips.

The most important thing to remember when coming to altitude is that it’s an extra load on your body, and you cannot start training normally on day one. We always take about five easier days once we get to altitude and then build in gradually to allow ourselves to adjust. Pushing too hard, doing too much, too soon is a sure-fire way to get sick or injured – both of which are a particularly bad idea at altitude as you will undoubtedly suffer more and heal more slowly.

In short, altitude is a great training tool when used properly. Personally I’ve had some of my best results coming down to sea level after a spell at mid-altitude elevations. Timing that right can also be another minefield and not for this article, as there’s certainly an art to re-adjusting and avoiding the ‘post altitude slump’. There are many more factors to consider when training at altitude, but I hope this gives a brief insight into why I spend so much of my time living in expensive, remote, mountainous places.

And besides, if you’re having a tough time of it, the views alone can often help heal the soul.

Vicky HollandVICKY HOLLAND
The GB elite team member who has her sights set on an Olympic place.

If you’re using POWERbreathe to help train your inspiratory muscles to cope with the demands of breathing at altitude, then we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment here.

How to do vocal warm up exercises

Just like athletes, anyone who sings should warm up correctly before any practice session and main performance.  You should go through a variety of warm up vocal exercises to loosen your voice and limber up your muscles to be able to be in the best condition for the performance.  A good warm up will take about tem minutes to complete.  Always start off gently. Don’t try and reach the high notes straight away as you will likely cause damage to your vocal muscles. Here are a number of steps to get your voice ready to perform.

  • Perform light exercise to loosen and relax your body. Jogging on the spot, swinging your arms and stretching are all good forms of physical exercise to get your blood flowing.
  • Make a yawn sound quietly at the top of your natural range.  Then slowly descend all the way to the bottom of your range. This one should be repeated between five and seven times.
  • Sing a note in your middle range using a vowel like ‘ah’. Then sing five notes up and five notes down.  Keep repeating until you are half a step higher, then another step and so on until you feel yourself stretching. However, don’t overdo it and stop before you get to a note that is too high for comfort.
  • Repeat the exercise, starting again from the middle of your range, but this time go down and then up a five-note scale. Sing each successive scale a half-step down until you reach the bottom of your range.
  • Work on flexibility. Sing “ah” on a note near the bottom of your range, then sing “ah” on the second note in the major scale. Return to the first note, and then sing the third note in the major scale. Return to the first note again. Continue until you jump an entire octave. Repeat the using each of the vowel sounds.
  • Sing a complete song gently.
  • After a few minutes of exercise your voice should be warm and ready to perform.

Following these simple vocal exercises will help you warm up correctly so when you do go out to perform you will be reaching all those notes correctly but more importantly singing in key.

Breathing for relaxation

Anyone who parbreathing_and_relaxation_techniquesticipates in sports is extremely active. Competitive sports people are so concerned and focused on winning they tend to become nervous, tense and unable to get into the ‘zone’ ready for competing in the game.

If you are getting wound up like a coil then you should be checking your breath. Are you experiencing short and fast breaths? If, so then your thoughts and ability to stay calm and focused have been affected.

Throughout the day you should always do a ‘breath test’. Is your breathing calm and smooth when you expect it to be? If it isn’t then the following technique should help you.  Inhale and exhale through your nose. While doing this close your windpipe enough until your hear a hissing sound. May the force be with you because you should sound like Darth Vader when doing this technique. This technique will completely connect your mind and body and help you relax, almost as though you are in a place which has total peace and quiet a bit like a place where all you hear are the sounds of the ocean.

The purpose of this technique is to help you regulate the flow of breath in and out of your system. Instead of using your lungs like bellows you are controlling your windpipe and using it like a hose which lets you control how much air comes in and out of your body. At this point your breathing should feel calm, smooth and effortless.

The name given to this technique is Ujjavi breath. People who practice yoga will be familiar with this breath as they believe it sends the energy into each and every cell in your body. Practicing this technique before major competitions will help you to relax and focus on the task in hand…WINNING!

With practice, you will be able to perfect the control of your breathing to help you focus and stay relaxed. Practicing these techniques and other forms of inspiratory muscle training will certainly help you perform better.

Can POWERbreathe improve breathing at high altitude?

altitude-trainingAt high altitude the air is ‘thinner’, containing less oxygen than at sea level. The higher we go, the thinner it gets. Climbing or skiing at high altitude places enormous demands upon the breathing muscles. In order to compensate for the thinner air, the lungs must work much harder, and exercise, which at sea level brings on nothing more than a slight increase in breathing, can push your breathing to its limits at high altitude. At 3km (3000m) the amount of oxygen in the air decreases by 30%, and at 5km its half that at sea-level. This means that at around 1km you begin to experience breathlessness during moderate exercise, and at 4km you feel breathless at rest.

At sea level, your ability to exercise is limited by the capacity of your heart to pump blood to the exercising muscles. At high altitude, you become limited by the ability to pump air in and out of the lungs.

Just to put things into perspective: whilst resting at sea level, you breathe about 12 litres of air in and out of your lungs each minute. At the summit of Mt. Everest (8848m) it requires almost maximal levels of breathing (in excess of 150 litres per minute) just to put one foot before the other. This level of breathing can be sustained for only a couple of minutes at a time.

Human beings tend to ‘learn’ from experience what is an appropriate level of breathing for a given exercise task. When there is a mis-match between your previous experience and your current experience (as occurs at high altitude), you get a heightened sensation of breathlessness. Also, if your respiratory muscles are working very hard, they can ‘steal’ blood from the legs to meet their own requirement for oxygen, thus impairing leg performance. Finally, all that respiratory work can lead to chronic fatigue of your breathing muscles, which also increases breathlessness and impairs performance.

By training with POWERbreathe prior to trekking / climbing at high altitude, or a skiing trip, you can prepare your breathing for the rigours of the increased work of breathing, minimise fatigue and breathlessness, and improve performance and enjoyment. Short of spending a few weeks doing lots of aerobic exercise at 3000m, there’s not much else to rival POWERbreathe’s ability to get your breathing prepared for the mountains!

We would like to hear from you if you climb or ski at high altitudes.  Please leave a comment below. Why not join in the conversation with us on Twitter, Like us on Facebook too.

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Team POWERbreathe UK – Andy Bruce & Charlotte Carritt prepare for Challenge Roth and Transalpine-Run

Andy and Lotte are endurance runners. Andy has previously raced in the Goretex Transalpine Run – a multi-day footrace across the Alps of approximately 270-315km in 8 days over mountainous terrain. With the prospect of running Challenge Roth and Transalpine-Run ahead of them, incorporating POWERbreathe seemed to be essential for strengthening their breathing muscles to improve their stamina for the challenge that altitude poses on their breathing comfort.

Having experienced the effect 3000m altitude had on their breathing, Andy contacted us to see if he and Lotte would benefit from using POWERbreathe to improve their breathing strength and stamina, as well as improve running performance . Well here’s Andy’s first blog about training for these two endurance events, including their POWERbreathe training.

“So this week hasn’t turned out quite as planned, but it could be worse.

On Monday, I (more or less) completed my 30 days of running. (30 mins running every day for 30 days); a small challenge I had taken up for a good boost to my run training in the run up to Roth. I say more or less as I had technically let slip on the 26th (after zero sleep from a poorly timed uni assignment) but made it up with a double run on the Friday. Technical completion or not, I had achieved the desired outcome, I was running well, and had a good mix of interval work in there too. As I am sure you will realise, April had also been a bit soggy, so I was pleased that I had stuck it out.

All I had to tackle on Tuesday was my final exam of the year, before I could look forward to getting ready for a week in Lanzarote, training (but also relaxing) with Lotte.  However, on Monday night, I came down with a nasty bought of gastroenteritis. It was then a race to recover for some decent training in Lanzarote.

After 3 days off, I guess this signals the start of the last big push before Roth, and then of course Transalpine. In relation to the latter, further good news comes in the form of team sponsorship by POWERbreathe. Lotte and I will now officially run as Team POWERbreathe UK and blog on our training with the devices in the run up to the race. I have been using mine for a while, and have noticed significant benefits in my breathing during swimming and during interval work, but really expect to reap the rewards when it comes to running at altitude. Hopefully we will both be able to give a balanced and realistic account of what it is like to train for triathlon and multi-day eventing using POWERbreathe, and also an insight into some useful hints and tips regarding its usage.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Off for some dinner and then to bed before some biking and running tomorrow.”

Andy

You can read Andy’s full report on his own blog about endurance racing and sport psychology.

Everyone here at POWERbreathe Towers would like to wish them well, and if you too would like to send your good wishes, please leave a comment here.

Anthony Ogogo – first experience of training with my POWERbreathe

Firstly I want to thank the guys at POWERbreathe for sending me a POWERbreathe to aid me in my training block leading up to the Olympic qualifier. It was very kind of them.

Training three times a day like we do on the GB Boxing team, I wanted something that could help me with my breathing and my general fitness but without physically exerting my body any more than the three gruelling sessions. So my friend advised me to try a POWERbreathe.

In typical Anthony Ogogo Ultra competitive fashion I put it on a level 7, thinking that as I was an elite athlete I’d already be good at it. I was wrong. I was surprised how hard it was maintaining a good technique and so started at level one. I did manage to get up to level 6 and 7 in the 4 weeks I was using it leading up to the qualifier, whilst maintaining a good technique. Something that I was nowhere near being able to do the first time I used it, which shows my breathing capacity definitely got better.

Thanks again POWERbreathe, Anthony.

You can read about Anthony’s victory in European Olympic qualifier in Turkey in our previous blog.  You can also read more about Anthony on his website , follow him on Twitter or visit his YouTube channel.

 

POWERbreathe helps Team GB prepare for London 2012

POWERbreathe in Uni Week Research ReportPOWERbreathe has been included in a report, ‘Supporting a UK success story: the impact of university research and sport development’, that showcases the impact of universities on the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and on UK sport in general.

The aim of the report was to raise public awareness of the wide and varied role of the UK’s iniversities. Professor Alison McConnell and her team’s research into breathing training and the resulting development of POWERbreathe, which is now widely used by elite athletes, is highlighted in the report.

POWERbreathe has been used by Olympic and World Champions, including England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winners (as well as their Australian rivals in the final) and is also employed in medical settings to treat patients with breathlessness.

Chief Executive of Universities UK Nicola Dandridge said:

“It is sometimes easy to forget when you watch an athlete or team compete just how much preparation has gone into their performance. This isn’t simply a question of training schedules and practice. These days, cutting-edge university research is used to support every aspect of Olympic sports – from nutrition and health to equipment, physiotherapy, rehabilitation and of course performance.”