We all know if we don’t breathe, we die. It’s something our bodies do without us having to think about it. Except in certain cases — like when we exercise.
The question is, why do so many people neglect the very thing they need to survive, when they’re in the middle of a hard-core workout — when the body requires more oxygen, not less?
Here are a couple of reasons:
- Tension can inhibit the ribs from opening up and allowing a full breath to enter your body.
- Shallow breathing. Most people go through the entire day without filling their lungs to full capacity. So the diaphragm and the other breathing muscles become weak from disuse, just like any other muscle.
- Holding the breath. Many people hold their breath and breathe irregularly in little spasms. This cause fatigue and inefficiency. The natural rhythm and power of the breathing cycle gets short-circuited.
- Not full exhaling. Some people breathe in fully, but then have a shallow exhale. That is, they don’t fully expel all the air. A full exhalation is what cleanses the body of all the toxins it needs to release. If you don’t fully exhale, stagnant air remains in the bottom of the lungs, like a stagnant pool of water.
What does all this have to do with exercise? Workout out is your opportunity for full and complete breaths that both energize and cleanse your body.
Proper breathing can be confusing. Part of the confusion is created because there’s no standardized way of breathing. Breathing is specific — it matches the task at hand. You wouldn’t breathe the same way to pick up a heavy weight as you would to lift a cup of hot coffee to your lips.
Another reason for the confusion is the variety of ways breathing is taught. The following two techniques represent two common, but opposite, ways of teaching breathing:
Yoga Belly Breath. In some yoga classes the instructor tells you to completely relax your belly and let the breath drop deep into your belly. The belly expands in front of your body on the inhalation. Then, on the exhalation, the belly contracts back inward. This way of breathing is good for relaxation but not for sports and working out. It is not three-dimensional; it is just frontal.
Joseph Pilates Breath. This style of breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing, or lateral rib breathing. In this breath the movement takes place primarily in the lateral outward movement of the lower ribs. The belly does not balloon out as significantly as on the above yoga breath. The lateral movement makes it easier to keep your inner core activated It is good for exercise and sports.
These two examples represent two common ways people are taught to breathe, one frontal and the other lateral.
The key thing is to breath three-dimensionally. This means breath fills the front, back, and sides of your body. And remember, breathing is specific and should fit the task at hand.
Here are 7 important breathing tips to keep in mind when workout out and in life.
- Don’t hold your breath. Nothing good comes of that.
- Exhale during the working phase of a movement, which means when you’re moving against the most force or resistance. For example, if you’re doing a flute bridge, exhale as you raise your hips and inhale as you lower them. When you’re jumping, inhale as you bend your knees and exhale as you leap.
- When in doubt, breathe rhythmically in a way that supports the movement.
- When you have your inner core activated, just squeeze it down low at level 3 intensity and breathe above your belly button. Even though you are activating an abdominal muscle, your diaphragm should still be able to expand to its full range of motion.
- Breathing needs to be specific, and the wisdom of your body (for the most part) should take over. It is a balancing act between support and freedom. In the beginning, practicing full, deep breaths (do at least 10 a day) will give your body the power to support its wisdom. Like any muscle, your breathing muscles can become weak and lazy if you don’t train them.
- Your lungs are three-dimensional, so breathe three-dimensionally. Breathe in the entire circumference of your diaphragm. That means into the back of your ribs, into the sides of your ribs, and into the front of your ribs. If you’re really winded and your body is recovering, you’ll notice how your inhalations fill your entire body, 360 degrees around, not just the front or sides of your body.
- When in doubt, breathe. During a core workout, work at having your inner core activated while you breathe freely and powerfully above that inner support. It’s like learning to juggle; soon it’ll become second nature.
Breath is life. You can go weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without breathing. Put these 7 breathing tips to practice … pronto!