In with the Good Air – Breathing & Exercise

woman runningYou might think of breathing as something that happens naturally, which you don’t have to really “think” about, but there are many benefits in learning to breathe during exercise.

Breathing enough and breathing well during exertion and cardio work can help you prevent dizziness, improve your performance, and even assist with fat burning.

There is a calming effect to proper breathing too, which can help you concentrate on your movements, aid balance and improve form. Breathing is basic, but it’s also overlooked. Read on for essential tips on incorporating breath work in your workout.

During Your Cardio Work

With shorter, shallower or rushed breathing patterns, you can find your heart rate increasing undesirably. There is also the production of lactic acid to consider—when your heart rate goes up, this can go up too, and that can decrease your cardiovascular endurance for longer distance efforts like running, cycling or swimming. It will also impact high endurance sports like soccer, rowing or basketball.

One technique to help keep the muscles oxygenated, and to clear carbon dioxide from the body, is to employ an inhale-exhale ratio of 3:2. To do this while running or walking, you might inhale three full counts during your right, left, and right foot strikes. Then you would exhale on your left, and right foot strikes, before starting your cycle again. It can be tricky to coordinate breath with tempo at first, but mastering this technique may cause your heart rate to lower as you take in more oxygen to support your efforts.

To adapt this technique for cardio efforts on the stairs, simply replace foot strikes with steps. And on the elliptical, use the same count for alternating strides. One more question you might have: nose or mouth, which is best?

Some experts recommend breathing with the mouth as needed, since air flows in and out easier than through the nostrils. Others suggest there is a greater benefit to nose breathing, including the intake of less allergens and steadier air flow into the system. A good bet is to try both, and do what works best for you!

During Strength Training

You can remember most of what you need to know about breathing during strength training if you will remember to breathe out—exhale—with exertion. The toughest part of the movement (say, pressing up in a bench press or pulling up in a pull up) should be supported by a strong, full exhale.

Exhaling when working hard helps you prevent injury to the entire body by encouraging your core muscles to engage and support your movements. Exhaling on the big push also helps you avoid straining blood vessels, increasing blood pressure, and increasing internal pressure that can cause herniation.

A steady, regular breathing pattern will work for most strength training efforts, but maximal efforts require special care to avoid holding your breath or over-exerting your joints and muscles. If you’re having trouble breathing fully during exercise, chances are you need to check your form. You might be trying to do too much!

couple meditating

During Mind-Body and Fat-Burning Work

By adhering to the same general principals as described above for strength training, you can use your breath to help support challenging exertion in your yoga, Pilates or related classes.

And at other times, to facilitate stretching or balance work, remember (as in the cardio techniques described above) to breathe fully, and evenly, to increase a sense of flow.

You can use healthy breathing patterns in all your workouts to help make sure you’re reaching your fat burning potential. Plenty of oxygen, plus adequate hydration through water, will help keep you in balance so your body maximizes its fat burning capacity.

In your everyday life, use your breathing to help you relax and stay focused. Deep breaths in and controlled exhales, perhaps with your eyes closed, have been long known to help calm anxious nerves, and even dampen side effects like nausea and cramping.

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