In traditional Lyle McDonald fashion, this article will be broken up into a multi-part series.
Racing the 400m isn’t just showing up at the start line, nor is it 1 hour before the race. It’s starts the night before. Actually, to be really picky, it starts in September or October. That is where the 400 meters is won or lost. As well as attitude and preparation.
Let’s start with Part 1 – what to do the night before the big race.
Breathing & Recovery From Training
In the past, I wrote about pre-race jitters and how to calm them (2007) as well as Deep Breathing Exercises to Relax or Calm Pre-Race Jitters (2010). I didn’t go in detail about the regeneration roles it could play, at least not at the deep scientific level.
Yes, breathing plays an important role in the regeneration process. As well, proper diaphragmatic breathing can be relaxing and therapeutic at the same time. Here is the wiki page for diaphragmatic breathing.
There was a 2009 study conducted in Italy not too far from where I live. The study by Martarelli et al, (see PDF to original research paper here) looked at diaphragmatic breathing and its potential in reducing exercise-induced oxidative stress.
In the study, 16 male amateur cyclists where evaluated during an extremely stressful training session. After the session, the individuals were divided into two groups:
- The control group spent 1-hour following training sitting in a quiet space, relaxing and reading magazines (hopefully nice family friendly magazines!).
- The diaphragmatic breathing group (experimental group), spent 1-hour focusing on diaphragmatic breathing in a similar quiet space as the control group.
Oxidative stress, Antioxidant Potential, Cortisol, & Melatonin
The researchers evaluated the athletes for:
- Oxidative stress
- Biological Antioxidant Potential
- Changes in cortisol levels
- Changes in melatonin levels
While oxidative stress was increased following the exhaustive exercise session (as expected), those in the diaphragmatic breathing group significantly decreased their oxidative stress, as reported by the d reactive oxygen metabolite test (d-ROM test) which measures the plasma reactive oxygen metabolites produced by reactive oxygen species (which are free radicals).
The biological antioxidant potential test is one that evaluates the plasma levels of antioxidants. Those in the diaphragmatic breathing group showed significant improvements in biological antioxidant potential, which corresponds with reduced levels of cortisol and reactive oxygen metabolites, as well as increased levels of nocturnal melatonin (an important hormone involved in the reduction of oxidative stress, due to its antioxidant properties).
A greater decrease in cortisol, while not statistically significant in this study, was observed for the diaphragmatic breathing group, and the diaphragmatic breathing compared to the control subjects observed a statistically significant improvement in melatonin.
The researchers stated:
“If these results are confirmed in other intense physical activity programs, relaxation could be considered an effective practice to contrast the free radical-mediated oxidative damage induced by intense exercise.”
The researchers propose the following rationale for the reduced neuroendocrine response by relaxation as seen in the diaphragmatic breathing group:
- Intense exercise increases cortisol production
- A high plasmatic level of cortisol deceases the bodies antioxidant defense
- A high plasmatic level of cortisol correlates with a high level of oxidative stress
- Diaphragmatic breathing reduces the production of cortisol
- Diaphragmatic breathing increases melatonin levels
- Melatonin is a strong antioxidant
- Diaphragmatic breathing increases the biological antioxidant potential
- Diaphragmatic breathing reduces oxidative stress
This diagram says it all (taken from the PDF):
In a nutshell, you can say it’s mind over matter.
NEXT: Part 2, the morning of the race.