How to Use Your Breathing to Instantly Improve Your Mobility

When most of us think about improving our performance the first things that come to mind are working hard on things like cardio and strength. However, your ability to relax may be just as important.

A study by the old Soviet Union’s sports scientists showed something very interesting about the ability to relax. When they looked at the differences between their Olympic level sprinters and those just below them it wasn’t the ability to contract harder that separated them – it was their ability to relax more between contractions.

This means that it wasn’t the ability to produce tension that these other runners needed to work on, it was the ability to cycle that tension with relaxation of those same muscles.

Think about it this way – two muscles have the same contraction/ tension production potential of 1 – 100. The difference is that once the first muscle contacts all the way up to 100 it can drop all the way back down to 20 before contracting again while the other muscle can only drop back down to 30.

Each muscle will be contracting just as hard at the end so they’ll appear the same on a power meter or strength test, but the first muscle will be doing it more efficiently since it is able to put more into each contraction. It may not be a huge difference at first but eventually that inability to relax and let the tension levels drop to an even lower level will catch up to the second muscle, fatiguing it faster than the first muscle.

To me this says that the ability to relax is just as important as your ability to contract and produce tension. Strength and cardio are really a double sided coin and you have to master both sides to be “fit” without working against yourself in the process.

One of the best places to start practicing relaxation techniques is when you are trying to stretch and mobilize a tight muscle or joint. One of the most common mistakes riders make when working to improve their mobility is trying to fight tension with more tension.

I tell every client I work with that when you are doing your mobility work you can’t force the issue.

You have to learn to use your breathing to help you relax into a stretch or mobility drill. Once you learn how to do this with your mobility work you will also find it easier to apply to your cardio and strength training.

In this video I go over this concept and show you how to apply it to your stretching and mobility training. I know that now everyone will appreciate that they don’t have to turn everything – including their stretching – into a life and death struggle but for those that do this video will change how you look at improving both your mobility and ultimately your performance as well.

BTW, the response to my new Mountain Bike Mobility Follow-Along Videos has been awesome. Almost 200 riders have gotten their copy already.

Click Here to Get Instant Access to the Mountain Bike Mobility Follow-Along Videos Plus All the FREE Bonus Workouts and Videos.

-James Wilson-

MTB Mobility Follow-Along Routines

MTB Mobility Follow-Along RoutinesAttention: Riders suffering from nagging aches and pains brought on by poor mobility in the ankles, knees, hips, low back and/ or shoulders. Discover the simple 15 minute Follow-Along routines that will instantly improve your mobility, letting you perform at a higher level with less pain. Just click play on these follow-along videos as I show you how to go beyond stretching to unlock your stiff joints and find a new way to move on your bike.
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  1. Bobbie says:

    Hey James, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to foam rolling and mobility exercises upon finding you, and the payoff has been noticeable. I’ve also been following the UMWP and it is fabulous.

    I just finished a race, and am wondering what I should do aside from spinning a bit afterward and eating in the first 30-60 minutes. When I come home from a race, what should I do to best speed healing and prevent tightness or mitigate damage? Do you recommend specific stretches or foam rolling? I’d love your advice.

    Reply • May 4 at 5:44 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad you like the UMWP. As far as post ride recovery, static stretching is something you would want to use more of post ride compared to pre-ride. Doing some stretches for the quads, hamstrings, chest and glutes would be a good place to start. Of course, sleep and nutrition play a huge role as well so focusing on that in the 24-48 hours afterwards is the most important thing.

      Reply • May 6 at 10:15 am
  2. Chris Doolittle says:

    Thanks again for really insightful and helpful perspective and instruction on breathing. You’ve shown me that there is so much more to improving than just hopping on the bike and riding. On a related breathing topic, I’ve been practicing “alternate foot” breathing technique for the past year and it has really helped my endurance and climbing capacity. Have you heard of this? It essentially has you breath out more than you are breathing in. So you are focusing on clearing the lungs of CO2 and not worrying about the in breath. So, you are breathing out for three pedal strokes and breathing in for just two. Or 2 out, 1 in for tough climbs. It enables the outbreath to occur on alternate feet, equalizing more the power imbalance between the weaker leg and more dominant leg. (We often get into a cadence that entrains the breathing and pedalling that allows the dominant leg to really do a lot of the pushing and the weaker leg to continue to lag. This is a technique some swimmers use for Australian Crawl too.

    Reply • October 10 at 6:31 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I hadn’t heard of that technique specifically but I do remember hearing that if you focus on a strong exhale the inhale will happen. Kind of similar in that you focus on breathing out forcefully and clearing the lungs and the inhale isn’t as long.

      Reply • October 10 at 1:16 pm
  3. Sousa says:

    Hi James, why do we lose pedal cadence when we are thinking in how we are breathing? I notice in power/cadence meter that every time I concentrate in my breathing (diaphragm breathing) I lose rpm’s.

    Where should be our focus? in the pedal stroke? in the breathing? in the trail?


    Reply • October 10 at 3:16 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      In my experience, proper breathing enhances power and endurance. I’d suggest that you may be going through what is known as “the dip” where you see a dip in performance as you implement a new technique that will help you push to higher levels of performance once you have learned the new technique.

      Your focus can shift depending on where you need it but I’m mainly focused on the trail and my breathing.

      Reply • October 13 at 9:48 am

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