We don’t think about breathing. It’s an involuntary function, meaning we don’t consciously decide to inhale or exhale. It happens as naturally as, well, breathing… If we had to deliberate over each and every breath we took, very little would ever get done.
But while most of us are lucky enough to breathe without conscious input, physical exertion can sometimes throw off our breathing patterns.
Exercising on a regular basis is important for everyone’s physical health; but learning how to emulate better breathing techniques can take your workout to the next level. Without a sufficient distribution of oxygen, your body can succumb to dizziness, muscle cramping, fainting, and even trigger the development of a hernia.
While it might seem strange to “learn” healthy breathing techniques, doing so will promote untapped strength and endurance that your body simply cannot achieve via regular breathing habits.
Why Breathing Properly While Exercising Is So Important
Breathing plays a vital role in several major physical processes, particularly those within the nervous system. When utilized as a tool rather than a default state, you can tweak the outcome of your workout performance process and make the most out of movement.
Oxygen is like fuel to our bodies. When we’re physically challenged, that fuel needs to get supplied more consistently than normal. The more energy you expend, the more oxygen your body needs to sustain exertion.
The process that facilitates delivery of oxygen to your muscles is critical, because oxygen delivery will ultimately determine the level of performance you can physically execute. The more efficiently you send oxygen into active muscles, the harder and more effectively they can push you to reach your fitness goals.
Failing to breathe in a way that is synchronous with your body’s movements means missing out on a golden opportunity for better, healthier, and more sustainable results.
Breathing Techniques For Every Workout
Different training and exercise techniques require different breathing methods. The motions, pace, and level of exertion executed all play a role in determining how your body’s breath should respond to exercise.
These breathing techniques offer both mental and physical health benefits. The slow but consistent oxygenation they bring allows the blood to better circulate throughout the body and release unnecessary tension within the muscles—all processes that are fundamental in seeing performance results.
Here are four popular forms of exercise along with expert-advice breathing techniques to help you squeeze the most energy out of each session.
Compared to other forms of exercise, running is one that requires nailing several different performance-boosting techniques at the same time.
Things like pace, form, tempo, and strategy can already feel like a lot to be aware of. But breathing is considered by many to be the most pivotal for reaching a performance peak.
While it is important to remember that there is no set rule for how everyone should breathe while running, the majority of runners around the world have found that taking one breath for every two paces works best.
Also known as the 2:2 rhythm, this method prevents the diaphragm from putting too much pressure on the internal organs, which makes breathing uncomfortable and can cause stomach pains to develop.
The 2:2 rhythm entails taking two steps (left, right) for every inhale, and another two steps (left, right) for every following exhale; this breathing technique is said to match the cadence of the average runner’s pace.
This category includes sports such as hockey, soccer, basketball, or rugby. But it can apply to any number of high performance, high impact, or cardio-boosting workouts.
The demanding nature of these intensive sports can, at times, literally take your breath away, making the practice of breathing techniques a little challenging. However, it also means that getting them right is more important than ever!
Breathing muscles play an integral role in stabilizing the core and maintaining control over postural systems. Taking a deep breath while flexing the core when anticipating imminent exertion or impact can help to protect the spine and prevent injuries from occurring.
3. Strength training
Strength training often entails using weights for heavy lifting and muscle building. Because those muscles need a constant supply of oxygen to work hard, using the right breathing technique is absolutely essential for seeing results.
Using weightlifting as an example, experts suggest breathing out slowly and continuously when lifting up, and breathing in from the peak of exertion down into a resting position. This technique contracts the respiratory muscles and provides sufficient lumbar support for heavy lifting.
When it comes to strength training, remembering to exhale when reaching the peak of muscle resistance is very important. Holding in your breath for too long will increase blood pressure and prohibit the return of oxygenated blood to the heart.
What Happens When You Don’t Breathe Properly While Exercising?
Utilizing breath as a tool for supporting your workouts doesn’t just enhance performance, it also prevents injuries and physical ailments from occurring. Adopting healthy breathing habits that fit the mold of your chosen sport can help to protect you from the following health concerns:
1. Too high or too low blood pressure
If your body isn’t circulating enough oxygen, blood pressure can begin to drop, causing light-headedness, dizziness, and nausea. Alternatively, holding your breath while engaging in high intensity training (known as the Valsalva maneuver) can cause your blood pressure to spike.
2. Muscle cramping
Muscles require a constant stream of oxygenated blood to keep working and flexing. If you don’t engage in proper breathing, essential oxygen levels for muscle movement won’t be reached, resulting in tension and cramping that can bring your workout to a grinding halt.
3. Neck and back aches
Too much strain without oxygenation can cause pain and tension in multiple areas of the body. When the diaphragm isn’t utilized properly for breathing, other muscles may try to support the body; in particular the neck and back. Just like you need a proper backpack for lugging groceries on your bike or hiking a steep ravine, you need to breathe properly to protect your spine.
Breathe Better, Be Better
It turns out that the way you breathe when you workout can affect your performance about as much as getting enough sleep, eating the right food, and staying hydrated.
Regardless of your chosen form of exercise, awareness of your breathing patterns throughout any workout will support your body, while setting the stage for optimal physical performance. It’s simple. Better breathing means better results.