Our physical abilities begin with the fuel we give our body. We aren’t talking about nutrition this time. Today, we are talking about oxygen.
Do you often hold your breath for the last few reps of a difficult exercise? Or have troubles pushing yourself further, not because your muscles can’t handle it, but because you’re out of breath? Now ask yourself, how often do you focus on breathing or even train yourself to breathe better during a workout? Similar to your high intensity training, breathing is an exercise. And if you don’t practice or do it correctly, your performance and recovery could end up suffering. Read on to find out the role breathing plays in exercise and how to get your technique on point.
Breathing is what supplies your body and mind with the oxygen they need in order to function. If you don’t breathe correctly during a workout your muscles will not get sufficient oxygen which could result in the creation of more lactic acid. This makes it difficult for muscles to contract, therefore leading to cramps and muscle soreness. During exercise, we must adapt our breathing to the amount of oxygen our body needs in order to permanently supply the muscles with ideal oxygen levels for maximum performance.
Breathing as you workout
Exercises are made up of two parts, the contraction and relaxation of the muscles involved. When exercising, the best way to replenish your muscles with oxygen is to inhale during the relaxation, and exhale during the contraction of the muscles involved. For example, when performing a leg raises, you should inhale when the legs are flat on the ground and the abdominal muscles are relaxed. In order to lift your legs into the air, your abdominal muscles contract. Throughout the contraction you should exhale, followed by an inhale when the legs are lowered and the abdomen relaxes.
But how do you know when your muscles are contracting for different exercises? There are three types of contractions; concentric contractions where the muscle shortens (e.g. triceps during a pushup where you push yourself away from the ground), eccentric contractions where the muscle lengthens (e.g. the negative part of a pull up where you lower your body and your biceps lengthen), and Isometric contractions where the muscle remains the same length as you hold your body in a certain pose (such as your core in a plank). You should try to exhale during concentric and eccentric contractions and inhale during relaxation. Some bodyweight workouts always involve a muscle being contracted (e.g. diamond pushups) where all of you muscles are never at rest at once. In these exercises you should inhale during the the part of the exercise where the least amount of muscles are contracted, the easiest part of the exercise (e.g. at the top of a diamond pushup where your arms are extended). In isometric contractions your body will not be moving, so you should try to keep even and full breaths throughout the entire exercise.
Breathing during high intensity cardio
Repetitive and explosive movements make regular and conscious breathing extremely difficult. When performing sprint-style exercises, such as high knees or mountain climbers, you should allow the autonomic respiratory system to breathe however feels most natural - just remember that you should never hold your breath during sports. After the exercise you will be out of breath, we call this oxygen debt. This is the point where you should focus on proper breathing in order to replenish your body with the oxygen it needs. During the rest periods in your workouts - which are there to allow you to catch your breath before the next round - shift your attention towards your breathing, and focus on taking deep and restorative belly breaths, where you expand your diaphragm (stomach) in order to allow the lungs to properly stretch out and fill with air, slowly through the nose and out the mouth.
Breathing during a long run
The key to breathing during a long distance run is to keep it steady and controlled. First, allow your body to reach it’s desired pace and then shift your attention towards your breath. You should be taking slow and steady breaths in through the nose (so that the air can be warmed up and filtered before entering the body), and out through the mouth. If you get a stitch it is often caused by cold and inconsistent breathing. If you notice a stitch coming on, try to breath in through the nose for 4 second and out through the mouth for 4 seconds. This will give your body ample time to fully fill the lungs with air, and empty the body of CO2.
Breath well, perform better.