Hoe effectief is Tactical Breathing?

Tactical breathing (TB) is al heel lang populair sinds het boek van Dave Grossman. Maar is Tactical breathing (TB) effectief in stress regulatie en is het toepasbaar in acute situaties? Deze studie onderzoekt de vraag: Is Tactical breathing (TB) effectiever in spanning regulatie dan verlengde uitademing (prolonged exhalation aka ProlEx)? En welke van de twee is het beste toepasbaar in acute situaties? Hier de voor mij – dus zelf hele artikel lezen over bijvoorbeeld andere eigenschappen van TB dan pure fysiologie! – belangrijke stukken uit het artikel:

Onderzoek naar TB

Despite its popularity, empirical evidence on the effectiveness of TB is rather sparse. Apart from anecdotal reports of incidents in which tactical breathing was found to be helpful (e.g. Grossman and Christensen 2008, pp. 322–339), we are aware of only one study including TB in the investigation of stress management effectiveness.

Werking mechanismen

Heel belangrijk want pas als je deze kent is het geen trucje meer maar kennis die flexibeler toe te passen is. Hier worden bekende mechanismen genoemd zoals “RSA: respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), a deceleration of the heart rate during expiration followed by acceleration during inspiration”. Maar ook “Heck et al. (2017) suggest that EEG oscillations, for example in the delta and gamma  and, seem to follow the breathing rhythm. Respiration may thus be able to modulate the temporal dynamics of cognitive processes that are associated with these oscillations.

Wat is onderzocht in dit artikel?

Het effect van TB (4:4:4:4 s for inspiration, post-inspiratory pause, expiration and post-exspiratory pause en ProlEx (ratio of 2:8 s for inspiration and expiration.

Hypothese 1:

Due to its simplicity, we expected that the execution of ProlEx would require less cognitive resources, resulting in better performance in a primary task than during the execution of TB

Hypothese 2.

Because the proportion of the expiration phase and thus of the phase with increased vagal activity is higher in ProlEx than in TB, we hypothesized that ProlEx would be superior to TB in reducing emotional and physiological stress responses as well.


In line with our hypothesis 1, we observed markedly slower response times and slightly reduced accuracy in the Stroop-task during TB as compared to ProlEx. In addition, the majority of participants (six out of nine) that could not reliably apply a breathing technique according to the instructions had difficulties in maintaining breathing pattern or breathing frequency of the TB. Thus, a higher complexity of the breathing technique may even prevent its proper application in cognitively demanding situations.

Contrary to our expectations, physiological arousal was lower when engaging in TB as compared to ProlEx during
breathing training and stress coping. Thus, hypothesis 2 was not supported. Although ProlEx as compared to TB leads to longer phases of exhalation with decreased heart rate due to RSA, other mechanisms of TB seem to be more effective than RSA alone. These mechanisms could be the so-called diving response and distraction from stressor.

Deze twee verklaringen worden in het artikel uitgewerkt:

Duik respons

Breath holding leads to increased parasympatheticactivity, which induces a decrease in heart rate (Foster and
Sheel 2005). The breathing pattern of TB encompasses two phases of apnea, which last one quarter of the TB cycle each. As the proportion of breathing phases that stimulate parasympathetic activity is not higher in TB (75% breath holding and expiration) than in ProlEx (80% expiration), breath holding may be a more potent trigger of parasympathetic activity than expiration, which would account for the stronger physiological
effect of TB as compared to ProlEx.

Afleiding van de stressor

Besides the physiological mechanisms of holding breath, and increasing the length of expiration phases, performance
of breathing techniques has a cognitive effect of distracting from a stressor and preventing stress-related thoughts by
focusing on the breathing rhythm.

Breath-focused attention is part of other evidenced stress management techniques as well, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (e.g. Goldin and Gross 2010). As TB requires to monitor the duration of four distinct breathing phases as compared to only two in ProlEx, it can be considered to be cognitively more demanding and may thus be more effective in focusing on breathing and distracting from stressors.


The present pattern of results suggests that both breathing techniques can be more or less preferable for stress reduction depending on the kind of coping that is required in a given situation:

More complex breathing techniques such as TB may be most effective during passive coping, i.e. when expecting a difficult or threatening situation, or when the situation allows to take a break and calm down, or when there is no other option than to endure a stressor.

During active coping, when the stressor or its consequences are actively met, simpler breathing techniques such as ProlEx may be preferable that rely on physiological mechanisms only but leave enough cognitive resources for perception, decision making and action implementation.


Röttger, S., Theobald, D.A., Abendroth, J. et al. The Effectiveness of Combat Tactical Breathing as Compared with Prolonged Exhalation. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 46, 19–28 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-020-09485-w