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How to breathe properly during training?

How to increase the effectiveness of your workouts, speed up muscle recovery after training and increase your fitness level?

During training, you are likely to focus on how to perform the exercise correctly. However, exercise is only one part of training.

In order for the training to be maximally effective, you must also learn to breathe correctly.

Correct breathing allows you to better control your body and in the long term:

  • Reduces the amount of air you need during a specific exercise;
  • Helps muscles produce less carbon dioxide (carbon dioxide inhibits skeletal muscle recovery);
  • Improves blood circulation and heart health;
  • Increases training efficiency and fitness level (how much physical load the body can withstand and how quickly it recovers after it).
 

How the lungs work

The average person's lungs move about 0.5 liters of air with each inhalation and exhalation at rest. During heavy physical exertion, this amount can increase up to 3 liters.

Here is the basic thing you should know about breathing:

  • When you inhale, air passes through your nose and mouth, and then through your throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and smaller and smaller tubes called bronchioles (as thick as a hair) to about 600 million tiny sacs in your lungs called alveoli. Each alveolus is surrounded by a network of tiny capillaries where red blood cells release carbon dioxide and collect oxygen (a process called gas exchange);
  • Physical exercise increases the level of carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions in the blood. This leads to a decrease in blood pH, which, in turn, causes an increase in respiratory rate. Breathing becomes faster, mainly in order to get rid of carbon dioxide (of course, also in order to inhale more oxygen);
  • Exercises increase the efficiency of the respiratory system but do not significantly increase the volume of the lungs.
 

Shallow and deep breathing

During shallow breathing, the intercostal muscles are used to expand the lungs, which causes the chest to rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation, but the diaphragm is not involved.

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle under the lungs. When you inhale, it flattens and moves downwards, pressing the abdominal organs so that the lungs have room to expand. However, the diaphragm is often used incorrectly in the process of breathing - with shallow breathing, the upper part of the chest moves more than it should. This can cause discomfort in the chest and back muscles, weaken the pelvic floor and lower back muscles, and interfere with the proper movement of the shoulders and spine.

Most people unconsciously "breathe superficially", and over a long period of time, this can lead to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the body, which can lead to an increase in blood acidity.

During deep breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing), the diaphragm is engaged to promote lung expansion. When you breathe deeply, the air completely fills your lungs, and the lower part of the abdomen rises.

A flat stomach is now considered attractive and sexy, so women and men tend to tighten their abdominal muscles. This makes it difficult to breathe deeply, and people gradually switch to shallow breathing, which increases tension and anxiety.

To practice proper diaphragmatic breathing, place your hands at your sides on your lower ribs so that you can feel them rise and fall as you breathe. Most breathing movements in everyday life and especially during exercise should be felt here, and not in the upper part of the chest.

 

How to breathe correctly during exercise?

During exercise, it is usually recommended to inhale through the nose so that the air enters your lungs just before the eccentric part of the movement (when the muscles lengthen), and during the concentric movement (when the muscles shorten/contract) to exhale completely through the mouth.

For instance:

  • When performing a squat, you should start inhaling just before the start of the squat and exhale when you return to the starting position;
  • When doing a push-up, you should inhale while bending your elbows and exhale as you rise back to the starting position.
 

The above examples relate to strength training, however, when doing yoga, you breathe differently than during CrossFit training;

That is, different fitness activities require different breathing patterns.

 

Running

While running, it is important to breathe rhythmically. Rhythmic breathing (also called cadence breathing) means that you inhale and exhale according to the number of steps you take while inhaling and exhaling.

Although there is no universally accepted "golden rule", many runners find it most comfortable to take a breath after every two steps - inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two steps. This is also called the 2:2 rhythm.

Some sources criticize the 2:2 breathing pattern on the grounds that such a steady breathing pattern can lead to injury because the exhalation always occurs on the same leg/foot. Therefore, a breathing pattern where the exhalation alternates from one leg to the other is recommended, such as 2:1.

In my opinion, this is already "splitting hairs" - the main thing when running is to breathe rhythmically, deeply, and not too fast. By breathing more slowly and deeply, you take in more air (ensure better gas exchange in the lungs) and spend less energy on breathing - as a result, you can run longer and faster.

How deep and slow to breathe depends on your physical fitness and external conditions (environmental relief, weather conditions, etc.). Experiment until you find the breathing rhythm that suits you best. This will teach you to control your breathing and also encourage you to breathe more deeply and slowly.

Synchronizing the breathing rhythm with the steps will also prevent the organs from putting unnecessary pressure on the diaphragm, which can make it difficult to breathe and make running more uncomfortable.

When running, it is preferable to breathe through the nose, because the hairs growing in the nose help to purify the air and remove possible irritants, and the nasal passages and sinuses help to regulate the temperature of the inhaled air. Breathing through the nose is especially important when running in winter/low temperatures.

Ps, These recommendations also apply to other cardio exercises (walking, cycling, swimming, etc.).

 

Strength training

The gold standard during strength training is inhaling during relaxation and exhaling during exertion.

Classic strength training is weight lifting. At the beginning of lifting, the body should be tense to ensure better waist stability, balance, and body control during weight lifting, which is why many people hold their breath.

This is wrong because it can cause your blood pressure to rise, which in turn can cause dizziness, nausea, or even a heart attack.

During exercises that require you to tighten your core use deep breathing. It is the best way to lower your blood pressure and improve strength recovery.

Using the bench press as an example, slowly inhale when you lower the barbell and exhale when you lift it.

The exception to the "Gold Standard" is pull exercises. When you pull, you want the chest to expand and the shoulder blades to come closer, which is much easier if you inhale during tension.

 

High-intensity endurance training

In high-intensity endurance training (HIT or HIIT) recommends breathing evenly. Exhalation should take two to three times longer than inhalation.

Even breathing should also be maintained during short but intense exertions, such as sprinting. You don't need to breathe as fast as you move.

Try to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.

 

Yoga

When practicing yoga, especially long inhalations, exhalations are recommended — both inhalation and exhalation last about 4-5 seconds or even longer (if possible).

Slow breathing releases tension and helps you to delve into yourself/concentrate and perform exercises better.

 

Recommendations

Here are some suggestions for controlling and improving your breathing:

  • If you tend to hold your breath, try counting out loud for each repetition;
  • If you experience side pain while running, try exhaling on the left leg instead of the right leg - or vice versa;
  • If you find it difficult to catch your breath, put your hands behind your head while standing to "open" your lungs and allow more air to flow into them;
  • Use a speech test to measure exercise intensity. If you cannot speak fluently - You are in the high-intensity range. If you can talk freely - exercise intensity is low or moderate;
  • When warming up or stretching, deep, slow breathing will help you recover and calm your body.
 

Key takeaways

Although breathing is one of the most natural and automatic processes, proper breathing during training can significantly improve the effectiveness of training.

Deep breathing has many benefits. It helps reduce stress and anxiety and lower blood pressure. In fact, deep breathing is at the core of all meditation and self-awareness practices.

If we lived in a perfect world, we would always inhale through our noses and exhale through our mouths. We breathe slowly, deeply, and rhythmically...

But …

We can't breathe as much air through our nose as we can through our mouth, so when we "run out of air" during exercise, we instinctively start breathing through our mouths.

And this just means that you have to start learning to control your body - in this case, your breathing.

The best way to do it?

Be aware of and try to follow breathing guidelines.

 

Sources:

Elevated CO2 Levels Delay Skeletal Muscle Repair by Increasing Fatty Acid Oxidation

Salt sensitivity of blood pressure is accompanied by slow respiratory rate

Cardiovascular Response to Breath-Holding Explained by Changes of the Indices and their Dynamic Interactions

Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering high blood pressure

Relating pulmonary oxygen uptake to muscle oxygen consumption at exercise onset: In vivo and in silico studies

Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice

Your lungs and exercise

Pulmonary Function of Patients with Chronic Neck Pain

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