How important is your breathing?
We all know that breathing is important, because if we don’t do it, well… we don’t recommend giving it a go to find out. However, doing the right kind of breathing at the right time can really help you get the most from your workouts, whilst also protecting and helping your body.
How you should breathe depends on what exercise you are doing, and taking some time to concentrate on this area can have a huge impact on how you feel whilst exercising.
Running is one of the exercises where getting your breathing right can really boost your distance and your speed. Many people suggest a breathing pattern called the 2:2 – breathe in for two foot strikes and breathe out for two foot strikes. This can change to a 3:3 for a relaxed run and 1:1 for a sprint finish, but the principle remains the same; even, balanced inhalation and exhalation oxygenates the blood fully and clears carbon dioxide.
As for whether you should breathe through your mouth and nose, there is no right answer. Mouth breathing offers the route of least resistance, meaning it should theoretically be easiest. However, breathing through the nose helps to warm and moisten air before it reaches the lungs – important for running on cold days. The bottom line is, whichever feels right is right for you.
Similar rules apply to breathing during other forms of cardio. Breaths should be equally balanced between breathing in and out, as this helps the release of nitric oxide, which increases blood flow to the muscles. It is important to keep breaths deep, as shallow ‘panting’ does not oxygenate the blood as efficiently.
The rule for lifting and strength exercises is relatively simple – exhale on exertion and inhale on the release. Whilst ensuring you balance your breathing evenly, this method also helps to prevent too much pressure building up in the thorax and abdomen, which can happen if holding your breath whilst lifting. High pressures in these can lead to hernias, blood vessel ruptures and muscle damage, so breathing out when you take the strain is the ideal way to ease this.
Whilst it can be all too easy to attempt to hold your breath when trying a particularly difficult pose, breathing correctly is one of the fundamental aspects of yoga. Our normal, everyday breathing has an exhalation phase than is about twice as long as the inhalation phase. Many yoga practitioners recommend a ‘sama vritti’ approach of equal inhalation and exhalation, which is said to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and calm the nervous system.
Stretching after a workout is a well-established part of many peoples’ routines, but focussing on good breathing during this time is equally important. The blood builds up many waste products during exercise, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid, and breathing deeply and fully from the diaphragm helps to clear these toxins effectively and prevent any repercussions from them.
Diaphragm breathing requires the abdominals to be relaxed, and you should be aiming to breathe deeply enough that your tummy rises and falls as well as just your upper chest. Breathing in through your nose and out through the mouth is recommended by many experts, with the idea to relax further into a stretch with every exhalation.