How To Drive Faster? Just Breathe!

Performance & Race Driving Tip

Speed Secret: Program your breathing. Mentally practice breathing.

“Wow, I really sucked it up, held my breath, and went for it on that lap!” That’s something we hear race drivers say every now and then after a great qualifying run. But I can practically guarantee you that no race driver got the best out of themselves while holding their breath.


Do you think your muscles are more or less relaxed when you hold your breath? They actually tense up when you don’t breathe, right? And do you think that restricts the amount of feedback you get about the car – sensing the limits of the tires? You bet it does.

So, why do we sometimes hold our breath when driving? Because we’re facing some things that, perhaps, our brains weren’t originally designed for. Things like very late braking at the end of a long straight, entering a super-fast corner, and passing another car in a tight gap. I often notice that drivers hold their breath in all these situations – the “scary” parts of the track.

And that’s why we need to practice breathing. Much like in meditation, we need to be aware of our breathing. But we also need to program ourselves to breathe in those “scary” situations. You can do this with mental imagery (visualization), and you can practice it on the street. For example, every time you begin braking or enter a fast freeway off-ramp, deliberately exhale. Every time you do a lap of the track in your mind, exhale as you hit those difficult areas.

Practice your breathing until it becomes a habit, or program, in the most challenging areas of the track.

Check back here often for more tips and advice for performance drivers, race drivers, high performance driving instructors, and anyone else interested in learning to get around race tracks quickly.

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  1. I’m sure you’re familiar with the urban legend of Senna deliberately holding his breath on occasion during qualifying runs. It’s something that, if true, could at least partially explain the transcendental state he famously described at Monaco in 1988.

    While I couldn’t agree more that being mindful of one’s breathing is paramount, I would like to either understand (or completely debunk the myth of) the theory of temporarily improving performance by conscientiously altering breathing patterns.

    • I believe that any stories of drivers – Senna or anyone else – holding their breath for a long period of time, and performing well, is total myth. It’s become more of a saying (“I held my breath and went for it!”), and has been proven over and over again that it’s near impossible to perform at one’s peak if not breathing. If you have actual footage of Senna admitting to holding his breath, I’d love to see it – along with any proof that he actually did. Thanks.


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