Well believe it or not it is surprisingly applicable to many a gym goer and exercise enthusiast, it is the most basic part to every exercise but you will find a lot of people forget to breathe effectively, sounds kinda strange doesn't it? Don't we all breathe subconsciously without even thinking about it? Otherwise we would die right? Well yes that is true, we do breathe without thinking about it most of the time but when we exercise it's a little more complicated.
All exercise requires you to breathe which generally means that you must breathe out or exhale on exertion. For example when you are pushing a bench press off your chest you exhale on the push and inhale as you bring it slowly to your chest. Another example when doing a pull up, you exhale on the pulling up motion and inhale on the way down.(1)
With cardio and bodyweight exercise controlling your breathing for maximum effectiveness is pretty simple: as your work rate or exertion increases your brain notices a rise of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and lactic acid and tells your respiratory muscles to increase the speed and depth of your breaths. There is no definitive answer or golden rule for the best method of breathing during cardiovascular exercise, but what it boils down to is remaining calm and controlled spacing out your breathing in accordance to how hard you are working.(2)
Breathing in general is a necessity for life as a whole, we need it to stay alive, function properly, every living cell in the body needs a healthy supply of oxygen. Inside each cell, oxygen combines with food molecules in a process called oxidisation which releases energy and powers every process in the body, therefore breathing uneffeciently during physical exertion can impede your ability to perform the exercise correctly. Imagine trying to run a car with just fuel and not paying attention to the engine oil levels, yes it will run but certainly not at its best and could potentially damage it permanently; your body is the same as this if you think of fuel as food and engine oil as oxygen you are going to be running at half speed. So to answer the question why do we need oxygen? In short you + no oxygen = no more you.(2,3)
Breathing whilst exercising is extremely important, especially when exercising with weights. People thought that this was so important that there is even a theory and special name behind it, it is known as the 'valsalva maneuver'. When lifting weight especially heavy weights it is our natural reaction to brace and in order to do this we hold our breath, whilst not dangerous in small bouts, doing this can lead to developing further bad habits like constantly holding your breath on exertion can lead to a whole host of problems. One problem that the valsalva maneuver causes is a spike and increase in blood pressure which when built up over time can develop things like artery damage (narrowing, aneurysm), coronary heart disease, enlarged left heart, heart failure including damage to the kidneys and even the brain which I'm sure I don't need to tell you is bad news. The valsalva maneuver can also cause intrabdominal pressure which can lead to hernias. Other injuries can be caused by problems with the vascular system and loss of consciousness. (3,4,5)
Not only do we need to breathe properly during exercise it is also important to programme breathing exercises into your workout and everyday routines as it may be extremely beneficial to our health. The autonomic nervous system is what allows us to breathe subconsciously without thought otherwise we would have to think about breathing a few thousand times a day. There is a theory put forward by the PRI (Postural restoration institute) (6,7,8) that pretty much none of us are breathing properly and this can lead to problems. Their idea is that we should be 'breathing like a baby' which sounds weird but it makes sense if you think about it. When we are young we follow a basic breathing insint, we are born with the knowledge and drive to survive therefore the way we breathe when as babies should be the way we breathe through. The way babies breath and the way we should breath: 'The abdomen expands first, then the chest. Don’t use the neck! - Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, or in and out through the nose for quiet breathing 8 to 10 times per minute. - When performing breathing exercises, exhale twice as long as inhaling to recruit abdominals. Incorrect breathing is believed to lead to postural problems and imbalances that the body has made in order to accommodate the breathing patterns that we have developed as bad habits as we progress from childhood to everyday adult life. (9,10)
The body can compensate in a number of ways for our less than desirable breathing habits, such as when muscle imbalances are developed when overworking certain muscles and under stretching the opposing ones. The most obvious effect is our posture – and I know what you are thinking what does breathing have to do with muscle and skeletal imbalances, well breathing is a very big part of posture which is all controlled by our diaphragm. For example, take a long breath in and then exhale, feel your chest rise, your shoulder blades pull back and your spine straighten. Every time you breathe your diaphragm expands and deflates inside your ribcage which affects your posture as a result. Worried that these postural changes have affected you as a result of your breathing? Well according to the PRI it's possible to correct those imbalances, the PRI have developed several breathing techniques that can help to retrain your breathing patterns. One of which called the 90 90 hip lift with balloon which teaches you or retrains you to breathe properly again.(11,12,13)
In conclusion even the most simple and basic of human functions which is taken for granted can affect us a great deal more than we think. Without practising and maintaining our skills and ability in these functions which we just peg as autonomous, can affect us in detrimental ways. Breathing properly can make all the difference in performance, posture, health and well being. Improving your breathing patterns could be the little push you need to push your training to the next level.
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