__Take a deep breath and then exhale. Now do it again. Did your chest rise up?
"That's an incorrect pattern called 'chest breathing,' which causes problems from stiff shoulders and tight hips to migraines and sluggishness. It will even hurt your golf game," says certified strength-and-conditioning specialist Anthony J. Yeung. "Lifting your upper-body with every breath over-activates and stiffens back and neck muscles. Ever wonder why those areas are so tight? It also reduces the oxygen you get, because it's inefficient and creates quick, shallow breaths."
How does it hurt your golf game? "Breathing with your chest amplifies your tension, stress, and anxiety by activating your sympathetic nervous system—your fight-or-flight response," Yeung says. "And most golfers know what it's like to try and play well when they're full of anxiety."
If you want to play better, you should instead breath with your belly, says Yeung, fitness instructor for RotarySwing.com and founder of SwingStrengthGolf.com. Belly breathing is a great short-term tactic, he says, especially after you hit a bad shot. "It can help you relax, focus, and stay loose for your next shot." To do it, inhale through your nose, let your belly expand, and keep your shoulders and chest relaxed as you fill your diaphragm with air, he says.
"It might be hard at first, but after a few correct breaths, you'll instantly feel calmer. Breathing through your nose and diaphragm—called "diaphragmatic breathing"—activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows your heart rate and keeps you relaxed. It also keeps you energized throughout the round because each breath provides more air than before."
If you're struggling to get a feel for this type of breathing, Yeung suggests this exercise:
The crocodile: Lie on your stomach with your head in your hands. Relax your chest. During each inhale, push your belly into the ground, expand your lower back, and keep your upper body relaxed.
Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.
(Illustration by Brian Stauffer)