While exercising, do you pay attention to how you’re breathing? How about when you are doing some sort of cardio, whether it be running, biking, swimming, or any other variation, do you most commonly breathe through your nose or through your mouth? Personally, I know that I am guilty of primarily breathing through my mouth, especially when I am running or using a row machine. Over the last few months, I have been trying to focus more on my breathing, especially breathing through my nose, because of the added benefits that it offers. It’s not easy by any means but it definitely has an upside to it.
The first person that had a real influence on me and encouraged me to try out some breathing techniques was actually our (now) business partner, Dr. Kyler Case. I went to him with a back injury about a year or so ago and he helped me not only fix that injury, through rehab and exercise, but also encouraged me to try out different breathing exercises to help promote core stabilization throughout my abdominal region. This has drastically helped with not only my cardio but also my overall lifting performance. I am able to stabilize my core through breathing which allows me to lift without using a belt as well as be more efficient with my breathing while I run, bike, or row.
When it comes to breathing while you lift, there are a few things to keep in mind. For exercises that require you to move a heavy load, such as a deadlift, back squat, or bench press, you will want to take a deep breath and try to fill up your stomach. Ideally the air will fully engage the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm (aka Diaphragmatic Breathing). This allows the core to become “braced” and stable enough to support the body under extreme loads. Another easy way to think of this is like you are going underwater. Typically, you would take a deep breath prior to submerging. Once your head sinks under the water, you would hold in that air until you resurfaced, at which point you would then release that initial breath. The same idea can be applied to lifting. Big, deep breath in, hold that in as you perform the lift, and begin to exhale near the end of the lift or once you get through the “sticking point” of the lift.
As you begin to breathe hard during strenuous exercise, your lungs (and other respiratory muscles) begin to tire more quickly. When this happens, the body responds by diverting blood flow, and thus oxygen flow, from the extremities to the lungs and accompanying muscles. This causes the extremities, especially the legs, to fatigue very quickly and leaves us more susceptible to the onset of lactic acid as exercise intensifies. Lactic acid is a whole other topic that is commonly misunderstood, but for the sake of this article, all that matters is that with less blood flood to the legs to help filter it out, the quicker it will build up and cause exercise productivity to decrease. With all that being said, wouldn’t it be nice if you were able to get more bang for your buck with each and every breath during exercise? That’s where nasal breathing can be beneficial.
Some of the benefits of nasal breathing include having to take far less breaths per minute during exercise, more carbon dioxide expired with each exhale, a higher percentage of oxygen is being absorbed in the bloodstream, and the speed of breathing going into the nose is lower than it typically is through the mouth. This means that you can still have the same amount of oxygen consumed, but the amount of effort that it takes to get that oxygen is far less. Seems like the smart thing to do, right? It is, but it can be a challenge and takes time to perfect. I would recommend trying it out and attempt to become more conscious of your breathing while exercising. Slowly but surely it’ll become second nature and you will feel the positive effects of it.