What if I told you that you’re breathing wrong? Yes – you breathe around 25,000 times per day and you’ve been doing it for years. But there’s a good chance that when you exercise, you’re not performing the right pattern of breath.
If you learn to breathe properly, you can see a dramatic increase in your fitness level, and a decrease in stress and anxiety.
A faulty breathing pattern
A personal training client and singing teacher, Patricia, identified my faulty breathing pattern some time ago. I was somewhat shocked – how could one breathe incorrectly? To understand how to improve, let’s first explore how breathing works.
We have lungs inside our ribcage and we fill them with air as we breathe in. Between the lungs, there’s a group of muscles called the intercostals. These muscles sit between each rib. As we breath in these muscles contract, effectively opening up the chest cavity to allow air in. The intercostals have a couple of ‘little helpers’; the diaphragm which keeps our organs contained in our gut below the lungs, and a couple of muscles running from our neck down to our collarbone which pull the lungs up.
My breathing was faulty because my diaphragm wasn’t doing its job. So when I would go running, my my neck became overworked trying to lift up my collar bone in a desperate attempt to create more space for air in my lungs as I desperately tried to inhale oxygen.
4 exercises to improve your breathing
Patricia took me over to the mirror and we did a simple test which you can try at home. Look at yourself and take a big breath in. If your shoulders are the first thing to rise, then you may be breathing incorrectly.
It takes time and practice to improve upon your breathing pattern to get the most out of your workout. Here are four exercises to improve your breathing style:
1. Abdominal breathing
Start this exercise today to improve your lung capacity. Lay down flat on the ground with one hand on your abdomen, and the other on your chest. Slowly and deeply, breathe in from your nose for seven seconds, concentrating on your mid-torso. Exhale through the mouth for eight seconds. Continue for five full cycles and repeat daily.
Benefits: Improve length of breath and reduce stress.
2. Pursed-lips breathing
Inhale slowly through your nostrils, purse your lips, and exhale slowly – for the same amount of time as it took you to inhale. Repeat to elongate your breath.
Benefits: Keeps your airways open for longer, slows breathing.
3. Diaphragm breathing
You may perform this technique when laying down or in a chair. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. Slowly breathe in through your nose so your stomach moves your lower hand. The hand on your upper chest should remain stable. TIghten your stomach as you exhale. To get the most out of this technique, perform for 5-10 minutes, 3 times per day.
Benefits: A strengthened diaphragm, decrease oxygen demand, less effort and energy to breathe.
3 Benefits of improved breathing when working out
1. Helps with posture
Breathing through the diaphragm allows you to take in more air through the belly – allowing you to stand up with a lengthened, upright posture.
2. Achieving a healthy weight
Breathing correctly lets us to achieve more when working out. Improved breathing can allow more motion when exercising, so think of oxygen as the fuel you need to burn more fat. Also, when stressed our bodies go into survival mode. Improved breathing can reduce stress and therefore help you reach a healthy weight.
3. Lowers blood pressure
Oxygen deficiency can heighten blood pressure, causing fatigue and dizziness. So, improved breathing lowers blood pressure, as well as stress and anxiety.
A helping hand
Do these techniques seem overwhelming? Do the benefits seem unattainable? Luckily, there’s an app-based product which I use myself to help stay on track. It’s called ‘Inner Balance – Heart Math’, a variation of measured meditation to replace emotional stress with emotional balance and coherence. You can download the app on your phone, and it comes with a clip which you attach to your earlobe to send feedback to the app. Read about Heart Math here, and learn more about the product here. (I do NOT receive any royalties from Heart Math at all, but I’m open to it if they are reading this ?).
Things to remember
If you’re a beginner to a new way of breathing, don’t worry. It takes practice, time, and patience. If you’re new to exercising as well, it’s okay. The main thing to remember is to just keep breathing if you can’t perform one of the breathing techniques outlined above. If you fail to breathe, there may be health issues at play such as greater stress and higher blood pressure. Make sure to consult with your doctor if you continue to experience difficulties breathing.
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