Regardless of your fitness level and your choice health and fitness activities, one of the easiest and most effective ways to enhance your results is to really concentrate on your breathing. Besides keeping your blood oxygenated as you also increase your heart rate and respiration levels, proper breathing can also improve your strength, mechanics and mental focus. Most exercise and medical experts agree that steady, controlled breathing techniques serve the body better than shallow, rushed breathing. Whether you’re training for a 10k or taking up rock-climbing, the concept of healthy breathing doesn’t change.
Essentially, muscles are engines, just like the V6 under the hood of a car or truck. They are both combustion engines that burn fuel in order to release energy that gets applied towards a specific goal or task. Your car’s engine burns gasoline in order to heat gasses to a point where they expand rapidly with a lot of energy or force. That force is then harnessed into propelling the vehicle. For your muscles, the fuel is sugar (in the form of glucose) which is burned to release energy that you convert into the power to lift an object or move forward or hold yourself in balance. In both scenarios, you need oxygen to make the process work. When you’re exerting yourself and not breathing well, you’re making your muscular engines run under less-than-optimum conditions. Sure, they’ll still function… but rather than burn glucose cleanly, they’ll do it through a process that doesn’t rely on oxygen. When this happens glucose turns into lactate, which still produces energy, just not as efficiently. As a side effect, it also creates an acidic environment for muscle cells which has a negative impact on overall muscle performance. Imagine stuffing something in the intake of your car’s engine. It might still run, but probably not nearly as well. Your muscles are the same way. You’ll get tired more quickly, you’ll creep along slowly towards your goals and eventually you’ll probably get frustrated by your lack of results.
Now, consider the alternative… you focus on your breath from day 1, step 1 or rep 1. If it’s a cardio activity like biking, running, hiking or rowing start by establishing a rhythm. A lot of athletes and trainers endorse the 3:2 method: 3 ‘beats’ of inhale for every 2 ‘beats’ of exhale. What you choose as a beat is up to you, but footsteps work nicely. Breathe in for 3 steps and out for 2, then repeat. Sound like too much work? It can take a few workouts to get comfortable with the rhythm but then it becomes instinctive. Consider swimming… a haphazard approach to breathing simply doesn’t work unless drowning is your intention. Swimmers all control their breathing with a similar rhythmic idea. If you’re engaged in a more static or strength-oriented activity like lifting or yoga, the concept should be to stay even and controlled throughout the movement – particular the exertion. A Vasalva Maneuver is when you hold your breath or forcibly exhale during the most strenuous part of the exercise. It signals that you’re transferring responsibility of the action to your cardio system rather than the muscle groups you’re trying to work. Instead, exhale slowly and evenly during the exertion (like the push of a bench press or the lift during a sit up) and inhale during the recovery period. What you’ll find is that you’re able to push for greater distance, more reps, and give better concentration to things like form… all because of something we often take for granted.