Breath Control & Exercise
It might sound crazy but you might be doing one of the most important things in your life wrong. No, it’s not your relationship, your work or your spending – it’s your breathing. Experts have come to the conclusion that this natural activity doesn’t seem to come so naturally to us after all.
You might also be surprised to know that breathing is actually not just beneficial in keeping you alive. (Although this is admittedly a rather important function) Breathing can have an impact your blood pressure, decrease your stress levels and even possibly increase your brain size. Now, if that all wasn’t enough, breathing also plays an important role in improving your athletic performance. Just by breathing correctly, you might be able to become strong, faster, and better.
So, what are the different ways you could get stronger with breath control while you exercise? Here are seven different tips to keep in mind next time you start working out.
7 Ways to Get Stronger With Breath Control While Exercising
#1: Warm up with deep breathing
If you want to impact your athletic performance to the maximum, then you need to warm up. But it’s not just the muscles that require a bit of stretching and light activity, you also need to warm up your breathing. Before you start anything, you want to foam roll your upper body. You need to focus on the areas that have the potential to harm your breathing, such as chest and neck.
As you’ve done this for a few minutes, you want to do a deep breathing exercise before you start warming up the rest of your muscles. Lie down on the ground and have your feet placed against the wall. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. For two minutes, take a deep breath, really focusing on spending as much time on inhaling and exhaling as you can. Monitor your hands and make sure that as you inhale, your abdomen rises before your chest.
If you are not able to lie down on the floor, you can try deep breathing sitting down on a chair as well. It’s a good idea to practice first and spend at least two minutes breathing this way before you get back to your exercise.
#2: Prepare your body with alternative nostril breathing
You can also prepare your body for the upcoming workout with an alternative nostril breathing exercise. This is great for focusing your mind and helping your body get ready for the vigorous movements.
To do this exercise, you want to sit down and relax your shoulders. Close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out through your nose. Do ten of these breaths and then take your right thumb and close your right nostril with it. Inhale through your left nostril. Now, close your left nostril with the right ring finger, and exhale through the right nostril. Continue doing this for up to 10 cycles of breathing.
You will open up your chest with the exercise and more importantly, you become mindful and focused on how you are breathing. This will ensure that while you are exercising, you don’t suddenly stop breathing.
#3: Learn to breathe through your nose while exercising
It’s important to ensure you don’t stop breathing altogether, when you are exercising. In addition, if you are breathing through your mouth, you are probably exercising with too many weights or at a too high intensity. Breathing through your mouth, you will elevate your heart rate further and increase your blood pressure. This could all lead to fatigue and dizziness.
The key is to maintain a steady breathing through your nose while you are working out. A good idea is to start doing your routine but consciously focus on your breathing. Make sure you don’t start breathing through your mouth – if you do, you want to slow the intensity and calm your breathing.
In fact, you’ll start noticing over time that you can do workouts that are more intensive without opening your mouth to breathe. This is actually a good sign of increasing your strength not just that you are better at breathing!
#4: Valsalva Maneuver for heavy loads
When you are lifting maximum loads and you want to gain the most benefit with your breathing, you should use the Valsalva Maneuver. The technique is rather simple and it will help you lift heavier weights.
Just before you are about to lift the weights, you take a deep breath and hold it while you lift. The technique will increase intra-abdominal pressure and this will provide more structure to your lifting. It essentially makes handling the heavy weights much easier.
Now, there has been some concern whether holding your breath is actually dangerous for you. But comprehensive research has revealed that the risk only really applies to those that have a pre-existing condition of uncontrolled blood pressure or some other type of cerebrovascular disease. Therefore, the technique is perfectly good for healthy people. If you are concerned, you might want to consult with your doctor first.
#5: The Buteyko Breathing Method to ensure you have proper carbon dioxide levels
Carbon dioxide levels in your lung actually correlate with your ability to hold breath after normal exhalation. This discovery has lead to the Buteyko Breathing Method, which is a great way to ensure your body does have a healthy breathing pattern and you’re in good shape.
The method works like this:
- Sit straight and breathe normally.
- Take a silent, small breath in and out through the nose. After you’ve exhaled, pinch your nose to prevent air from entering your lungs.
- With a stopwatch, see how long you can hold breath without feeling an urge to breathe.
- When you first feel like breathing, start breathing normal and take note of the time. Now, the inhalation that follows should be calm and controlled and not a big gasp for air. You’re not testing how long you can possibly hold breathe but when you first get the urge.
If your CP is less those 20 seconds, you might have problems with your breathing and this can impact your ability to tolerate exercise.
To improve your CP, you can do a simple Buteyko Breathing Exercise. For the exercise, you need to sit straight and take a small breath through your nose. Breathe out and hold your nose and your breath. Nod your head until you can’t hold your breath any longer. Breathe in, letting go of your nose and breathing gently through it without opening your mouth. Try to calm your breathing as fast as possible.
#6: Bracing for sub-maximal loads
Now, if you aren’t lifting heavy loads or pushing your limits, you can use the bracing technique. The technique is the work of a leading researcher in spine mechanics, Dr Stuart McGill.
When you are bracing, you’re activating your core musculature to create a super stuff midsection. This will give your core much better stability and it can help reduce the risk of injuries. In order to do this, you need to control your breathing and ensure your chest and abdomen maintains stiffness. You need to be able to tighten your abdominals, lower back and both lats and obliques to maintain tension – it’s almost like you’ve been punched in the stomach.
The bracing breathing technique will see you standing, relaxed and feet hip-width apart. Take a huge breath through your nose and hold your breath as you pull your ribs inwards (as you would when preparing for a punch). Hold the breath by counting slowly to five and then exhale through your mouth. Don’t release over 50% of the tension in the core. Again, inhale through the nose and hold the tension while counting five. Exhale through your mouth, again holding on to most of the tension. Rinse and repeat for five rounds and rest for 30-seconds before working out.
#7: Recover quicker with post-workout breathing
After you’re done with your exercise, you should continue to pay attention to your breathing. This is to ensure your body recovers and gets the right amount of oxygen to work on those muscles.
Breathe through your nose and pay attention to your breathing. Keep your breathing slow and do this for five minutes. Just focus on the air moving in and out of your body. You’ll feel more relaxed afterwards.
The Bottom Line
The above seven ways will help you get stronger with better breath control while you are exercising. In terms of the topic, there are some great books to read. The Breathing Book by Donna Farhi, The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown and Mindfulness in Eight Weeks by Michael Chaskalson can be a great way to learn more about breathing and the techniques you should be using when exercising. You can find book retailers, as well as other fitness accessories from VoucherBin.co.uk to make your new breathing routine just a little affordable and interesting.
So, if you want to maximise the effort you get from lighting weights or doing cardio, you definitely need to focus on your breathing. It will instantly add more focus and strength to your exercise routine.