How to breathe when you workout
Most of us have been in a situation where we went out a little too fast on a run or a cardiovascular workout. You are looking around regretting the last split that you pushed too hard or the last set of wallballs that you pushed to an unbroken set (UB).
If you have already dug yourself this grave it could be hard to dig yourself out of it, you can use certain breathing techniques to slow your heart rate and thus make you calm back down mid workout. You can also use these breathing techniques to pace from the very beginning of your exercise bout if you are wise.
Before we dive too far into this technique, let’s take a look at your oxygen transport system in your body and the steps your body has to go through to transfer oxygen to the muscles from the atmosphere. (Simplified… big time)
- Inhale Oxygen-rich air (21% of the air we breathe at sea-level is comprised of oxygen)
- Oxygen rich blood moves from lungs to body
- Exercising muscle uses oxygen
- CO2 enriched, O2 depleted blood returns to the heart
- Oxygen poor air to lungs
- Exhale CO2
Breathing during exercise:
Breathing correctly is considered belly breathing or “yoga breathing”, this style of breathing will force you to use your diaphragm instead of using the chest muscles.
When belly breathing your belly will rise as you breathe in and your belly will retract when you breathe out.
Breathing through your nose (Inhale) and exhaling through mouth has also shown to potentially help lower your heart rate and clm you down during high stress situations. (working out is one of those high stress situations)
To learn how to belly breathe, lie on the floor and place a book on your belly (close to the belly button). You can also just place your hand on your belly. Concentrate on moving the books (or hand) UP as you inhale and then allow them to fall as you exhale. Learning to do this effectively at a race pace or during intense exercise can take a few months, so be patient. You can also use a slower breathing pattern and focus on nostril breathing during your exercise bouts. There is building evidence that this could lower systolic blood pressure, thus that facilitated nose breathing could decrease respiratory work.
Proper breathing can prevent side stiches from occurring. Other factors that can cause this can be; eating or drinking before exercise, lack of training, weak abdominal muscles, cool weather, nervousness, and starting a workout too fast. (Rost, 1986)
Studies suggest (Rost, 1986) that if you avoid food 2-4 hours prior to exercise, by training the abdominal muscles with appropriate sit-ups and by learning how to breathe with the diaphragm. Forced exhalation is the most effective technique to break a stitch that is caused by a cramp of the diaphragm.
Bjorn Petruson & Thorvald Bjurö (2009) The Importance of Nose-breathing for the Systolic Blood Pressure Rise during Exercise, Acta Oto-Laryngologica, 109:5-6, 461-466, DOI: 10.3109/00016489009125170
Noakes, Tim. Lore of Running. 4th ed., Human Kinetics, 2003.