The Scientifically Proven Breathing Exercise for Optimal Performance

Christian Burgos
January 4, 2023

The Scientifically Proven Breathing Exercise for Optimal Performance

Breathing is one of the most overlooked tools to control our body’s physiology and psychology. According to experts, breathing exercises hold the potential to improve decision-making, immune response, stress, and more! In this article, we’ll go over the benefits of practicing breathwork, particularly coherent breathing. 

We Need to Talk About Breathwork. It's a Game-Changer!

Breathing is an essential process for all living things. We take between 17,000 and 23,000 breaths per day to pump and deliver oxygen throughout our organs. [1] Thanks to this process, we can supply oxygen to each one of our cells and provide them with the energy needed to complete everyday metabolic tasks. [2

Yet, regardless of the evident crucial role that breathing has on people’s health and performance, the surprising number of us who do not use the power of our breath is alarming. Through breathing exercises alone, people gain the ability to control their physiology and psychology during stressful events. [3]  

According to researchers, using breathing techniques improves our ability to switch from our sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system (and vice versa) with ease. [4] This allows people to either enter a state of rest and relaxation where the oxygen is directed to the gut, brain and immune system or enter a state of alertness where the oxygen is directed to our muscles. [3] By mastering this ability, energy is used efficiently, thus, allowing people to achieve peak performance. [5

Moreover, research shows breathwork can prevent and treat numerous diseases such as:

Asthma [6]
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) [7]
Lung cancer [8]
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [9]
Anxiety [10]
Depression [11]
Chronic back pain [12]
Migraines [13]
High blood pressure [14][15]
Type 2 diabetes [16]
PTSD [11]
Motion sickness [17]

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

How to Control Your Heart Through Breathwork

People looking to excel should master their ability to control their cardiovascular system since it’s one of the best indicators for optimal performance. After all, the heart, blood vessels, and blood modulate the flow of oxygen through the body, therefore, its energy expenditure. 

Although there are different ways of gaining control over the cardiovascular system, people have successfully hacked it with ease through breathwork alone. Scientific literature shows that certain breathing exercises can influence key biomarkers for peak performance. Some of these include: 

Heart rate variability or HRV [18]
Heart rate [19][20]
Blood pressure [14][15]

Moreover, some of the most popular breathing exercises practice by experts to modulate their cardiovascular system include:

Holotropic breathing [10]
Coherent breathing [21]
Pranayama breathing [22]
Wim Hof breathing [23]
Box breathing [24]

But which is the best breathing exercise for optimal performance?

Photo by Alexandru Acea on Unsplash

Try Coherent Breathing and Boost Your HRV

Coherent breathing has gained a lot of popularity in the past decades due to its ability to increase HRV. Raising your HRV results in a "coherent" state where a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration are all in sync. This state is known as the resonance frequency. [25]  

A high HRV also translates to mastery of switching from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system (and vice versa). As aforementioned, this mastery results in optimal energy expenditure. [26]

Furthermore, studies suggest that the ideal breathing pace that creates "coherence" and raises one’s HRV the greatest varies from person to person. However, on average, the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation to increase one’s HRV is about 5.5 seconds in and 5.5 seconds out. [27]

Researchers also revealed that a high HRV can: [28

Facilitate flow state
Improve emotional regulation
Increase stress management
Boost the brain’s executive function
Reduce pain

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash


Learning the secrets of breathing exercises can increase your health and overall performance. By mastering a few breathing patterns, a person can gain control over their autonomic responses and choose an adequate physiological response to whatever challenge they are facing. 

In particular, breathwork targeted to modulate the cardiovascular system such as coherent breathing shows the most promising benefits among elite performers. Thus, individuals looking to get ahead of their competition should implement this exercise into their routine.  

Have you tried coherent breathing already? Join us today and learn more about how to unleash your true potential from our panel of experts at Athena InsideOut Education. 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash


[1] Rose, S. (2019). Respiratory system. Weigl Publishers.

[2] Manoj, K. M., Gideon, D. A., & Jaeken, L. (2022). Why do cells need oxygen? Insights from mitochondrial composition and function. Cell Biology International, 46(3), 344-358.

[3] Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How breath-control can change your life: a systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 353.

[4] Bordoni, B., Purgol, S., Bizzarri, A., Modica, M., & Morabito, B. (2018). The influence of breathing on the central nervous system. Cureus, 10(6).

[5] Edwards, S. (2005). A psychology of breathing methods. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 7(4), 30-36.

[6] Bruton, A., & Thomas, M. (2011). The role of breathing training in asthma management. Current opinion in allergy and clinical immunology, 11(1), 53-57.

[7] Eherer, A. J., Netolitzky, F., Högenauer, C., Puschnig, G., Hinterleitner, T. A., Scheidl, S., ... & Hoffmann, K. M. (2012). Positive effect of abdominal breathing exercise on gastroesophageal reflux disease: a randomized, controlled study. Official journal of the American College of Gastroenterology| ACG, 107(3), 372-378.

[8] Liu, W., Pan, Y. L., Gao, C. X., Shang, Z., Ning, L. J., & Liu, X. (2013). Breathing exercises improve post‑operative pulmonary function and quality of life in patients with lung cancer: A meta‑analysis. Experimental and therapeutic medicine, 5(4), 1194-1200.

[9] Cancelliero-Gaiad, K. M., Ike, D., Pantoni, C. B., Borghi-Silva, A., & Costa, D. (2014). Respiratory pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and pilates breathing in COPD subjects. Brazilian journal of physical therapy, 18, 291-299.

[10] Holmes, S. W., Morris, R., Clance, P. R., & Putney, R. T. (1996). Holotropic breathwork: An experiential approach to psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 33(1), 114.

[11] Bach, D., Groesbeck, G., Stapleton, P., Sims, R., Blickheuser, K., & Church, D. (2019). Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) improves multiple physiological markers of health. Journal of evidence-based integrative medicine, 24, 2515690X18823691.

[12] Mehling, W. E., Hamel, K. A., Acree, M., Byl, N., & Hecht, F. M. (2005). Randomized controlled trial of breath therapy for patients with chronic low-back pain. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 11(4), 44-53.

[13] Kaushik, R., Kaushik, R. M., Mahajan, S. K., & Rajesh, V. (2005). Biofeedback assisted diaphragmatic breathing and systematic relaxation versus propranolol in long term prophylaxis of migraine. Complementary therapies in medicine, 13(3), 165-174.

[14] Jagomägi, K., Raamat, R., Talts, J., Länsimies, E., & Jurvelin, J. (2003). Effect of deep breathing test on finger blood pressure. Blood pressure monitoring, 8(5), 211-214.

[15] Mori, H., Yamamoto, H., Kuwashima, M., Saito, S., Ukai, H., Hirao, K., ... & Umemura, S. (2005). How does deep breathing affect office blood pressure and pulse rate?. Hypertension research, 28(6), 499-504.

[16] Hegde, S. V., Adhikari, P., Subbalakshmi, N. K., Nandini, M., Rao, G. M., & D'Souza, V. (2012). Diaphragmatic breathing exercise as a therapeutic intervention for control of oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 18(3), 151-153.

[17] Downtown, S. D. (2021). Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance.

[18] Tuna, M. E., Aras, D., Aras, N., Özçelik, M. A., & Aktop, A. (2020). Acute Changes in Energy Expenditure and Heart Rate Variability During and Right After One Hour of Hatha Yoga Practice. Polish Journal of Sport and Tourism, 27(4), 29-35.

[19] Shaw-Metz, J. L. (2022). Coming up for air: Breathwork practice for stress management in the healthcare setting. Journal of Interprofessional Education & Practice, 100594.

[20] Lucía, A. L. E. J. A. N. D. R. O., Hoyos, J. E. S. Ú. S., Pérez, M. A. R. G. A. R. I. T. A., & Chicharro, J. L. (2000). Heart rate and performance parameters in elite cyclists: a longitudinal study. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32(10), 1777-1782.

[21] Baker, N. C. (2012). Does daily meditation or coherent breathing influence perceived stress, stress effects, anxiety, or holistic wellness in college freshmen and sophomores? (Doctoral dissertation, Boston College).

[22] Jayawardena, R., Ranasinghe, P., Ranawaka, H., Gamage, N., Dissanayake, D., & Misra, A. (2020). Exploring the therapeutic benefits of pranayama (yogic breathing): a systematic review. International Journal of Yoga, 13(2), 99.

[23] Marko, D., Bahenský, P., Bunc, V., Grosicki, G. J., & Vondrasek, J. D. (2022). Does Wim Hof Method Improve Breathing Economy during Exercise?. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 11(8), 2218.

[24] Ahmed, A., Gayatri Devi, R., & Jothi Priya, A. (2021). Effect of Box Breathing Technique on Lung Function Test.

[25] Shaffer, F., & Meehan, Z. M. (2020). A practical guide to resonance frequency assessment for heart rate variability biofeedback. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 14, 1055.

[26] Goldberger, J. J., Challapalli, S., Tung, R., Parker, M. A., & Kadish, A. H. (2001). Relationship of heart rate variability to parasympathetic effect. Circulation, 103(15), 1977-1983.

[27] Laborde, S., Allen, M. S., Borges, U., Iskra, M., Zammit, N., You, M., ... & Dosseville, F. (2022). Psychophysiological effects of slow‐paced breathing at six cycles per minute with or without heart rate variability biofeedback. Psychophysiology, 59(1), e13952.

[28] Sevoz-Couche, C., & Laborde, S. (2022). Heart rate variability and slow-paced breathing: when coherence meets resonance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 104576.