Tip: Parasympathetic Recovery Breathing

Use this technique after tough workouts to calm the CNS and spark recovery.

Most lifters only focus on the training, forgetting about the all-important process of recovery in order to actually regenerate from the stress of the workout itself.

So how do we recover faster to train harder and more frequently? Sure, nutrition, hydration, and stress all play a role, but what about the time it takes us to shift from a sympathetic based CNS response in training to a parasympathetic based response that allows the recovery process to start doing its work?

That intermediary period between your last set and the time where your CNS comes down off the sympathetic bender it's been on in the gym needs to be minimized. One of the most effective methods to do that is by using recovery breathing as the last "exercise" of the day before you leave the gym.

How To Do It

Recovery breathing is about the position and setup. The passive positioning of the arms and legs help with centralized drainage of lymphatic fluid. The spine remains in a relatively neutral position to reduce the threat-response to the body. You basically get your body as comfortable as possible for the goal of reversing the CNS response from training.

The Steps

  1. Try to find a quiet area of the gym away from music or noise.
  2. Lay on your back with your head resting on the ground.
  3. Elevate your legs to above heart level with knees slightly bent.
  4. Elevate your arms overhead.
  5. Close your eyes and relax the body.

From this position, you should be able to relax every single muscle in your body to allow a fully passive response to take place. From here, focus on only one single movement: your breath.

Tempo of Breath

  • Inhale 3-4 seconds
  • Hold 2-3 seconds
  • Exhale 6-8 seconds

The main focus with the tempo of the breath is about slowly inhaling and exhaling under control. Since most athletes and lifters have trouble slowing down, especially while in the presence of iron, using specific tempos can be very useful when adopting this strategy.

Inhale for 3-4 seconds fully, hold for a few seconds at the top of the breath, and then try to extend the exhalation to around 8 seconds. You want this tempo to be slow and controlled, but also habitual to the point of being passive. The last thing you want to do during recovery breathing is to stress about exact numbers of the breath counts, so you have an excuse to chill and zone out a bit on this one.

How long do you lay there? Till you turn off the sympathetic switch before leaving the gym. And since that's the whole purpose of it, try techniques like positive mental imagery to get the most out of these few minutes. Set a timer for your prescribed duration in order to avoid checking the clock, and just enjoy a few minutes on the floor in celebration of the ball-busting work you just did.

When To Use It

If you find yourself jacked up for hours after training followed by a huge crash, this strategy is going to be a game-changer. You'll be able to recover faster and relax better on a day to day basis, which is priceless.

What happens to people, especially those who train in the mornings, is that they spark a sympathetic response in their training and never come back down from it. They stay heightened all day until their system finally fails and they crash hard. While this can be limiting to recovery, it can also be a huge barrier for strength, muscle, and performance. (Not to mention your enjoyment of life.)

In a matter of 3-5 minutes after training, you can free yourself of more stress. It's what will keep your body from punching the gas pedal on your CNS, and wiring you up for hours after your workout has ended.

It'll be weird at first lying on the ground with your eyes closed while others pound away at the iron. But when you turn around in record time with higher energy and more strength under the bar, you'll realize that those 3 awkward minutes were worth it.