Last week I talked about progressive overload and how it’s an essential part of your weight loss journey. But there is another area you need to focus on that is just as essential to your training, if not more. Breathing not only enhances your performance in ways no other exercise or nutrition program will do, it also improves your cognitive abilities, reduces stress, relaxes your muscles and increases your energy.
An ad like that might sound like I’m trying to sell you a very expensive tea, but actually this is something you can do completely free.
When you think about breathing, seems very simple. Afterall, you’ve been doing it all your life after all, how hard can it be? But just because it’s something you do everyday, doesn’t mean you’re doing it right.
Are You Breathing Correctly?
If you want to observe incredible technique, watch a new born baby as they practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing. They practice by using the diaphragm muscle under the lungs to pull the air in through their nose.
The belly will expand and the chest will rise as they inhale the air. As they exhale the belly contracts.
Now look at your belly as you breathe, is your belly expanding?
As we get older we develop bad habits such as shallow breathing or thoracic breathing. Instead of inhaling through the nose, we inhale through the mouth and the breath only reaches our chest.
This habit develops in response to environmental stressors such as temperature, pollution, noise and other causes of anxiety.
When we shallow breathe we keep the body in a repeated cycle of stress – our stress causing shallow breathing and our shallow breathing causing stress.
This can also affect our posture and cause chronic pain in our upper body. As we breathe with our chest, we use the muscles in our shoulders, necks and chest to expand our lungs, rather than our diaphragm. This puts extra stress on those muscles and overtime can cause neck pain, headaches, and increase your risk of injury.
Our shoulders then slump forward, which affects our posture. Yikes.
The good news is correcting bad habits isn’t a daunting task. It may take time and patience, but almost anyone can do it. All you need to do is incorporate a daily breathing practice.
Why do I need a daily practice?
Think about it this way. Oxygen is fuel for your muscles. In order for you to talk, stand, walk, etc. you need to get oxygen to your muscles, and the more activity you do, the more oxygen you need.
Not only can proper breathing help you lift heavier, run faster or for longer, it can also help you recover quicker during higher intensity activities, such as high intensity conditioning sessions.
Your diaphragm is the main muscle that powers your breathing at all times, and just like any other muscle in your body, it needs training. When exercising, deep, diaphragmatic breathing can ensure your breathing deep enough so that oxygen travels to the muscles, which will prevent them from fatiguing quicker.
It can also prevent those horrible stitches you get mid exercise, as these stitches are a response from using the wrong muscles to drive respiration.
Breathing and Training
Once you have incorporated a daily practice of diaphragmatic breathing, start to think about the most effective breathing pattern for the type of exercise you’re doing.
Learning how to control your breath will help you to lift more weight and exert more power.
Let’s look at a bicep curl as an example. Breathing OUT on the concentric phase (arm toward shoulder) is recommended for two reasons.
For one, it increases core engagement. Having a tight core during the difficult portion of the lift is essential, as a stronger core increases power and stability.
Secondly, breathing out acts as a form of release, which will prevent you from getting light headed after the lift (something that would happen if you were to hold your breath).
Aerobic training (such as marathon running) is all about oxygen. Therefore, establishing a consistent breathing pattern is key.
What do I mean by consistent breathing pattern? Even, controlled, measured breaths. The more even your breaths, the more nitric oxide you’ll get into your body. This will help dilate the blood vessels and increase oxygenated blood flow to the heart so that it will work more efficiently.
More even, steady, consistent breaths will also increase the amount of oxygen going into the muscles, preventing muscle fatigue. This breath technique will also help you to create a consistent pace so you can last much longer.
Try syncing your breath with your movement. For example when using a ski machine, breathe out when your hands go down and in when your hands go up.
EXTRA long inhales and exhales are recommended when practicing mobility, as this will help you to access better ranges of motion.
As I said earlier about shallow breathing, it causes stress on the body and therefore tension. Long deep breaths release tension and help the muscles to relax. Start by breathing in for 4 seconds and out for 4 seconds. Then move to 5 seconds, 6 seconds, 7 seconds and so on.
Some of these techniques will come natural to some people. For others it might be a little more difficult, especially if you have respiratory issues like asthma. However, as long as you maintain consistency in your training you are guaranteed to see results.
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Article written by features editor Ciara Louise Glover