When plowing through a routine it’s normal to be a little short of breath at the end.
It’s sorta like proof that you did a good job.
But, if you find a workout leaves you gasping for air all the time, then it might be wise to look at how you’re actually breathing during exercise.
In this post I’ll show you how to make sure you’re breathing patterns stay in-line with the goals you’re chasing after.
First, Let’s Stop to Think How We Breath…
I’ve got a short story for you…
In high school I had this huge crush on a girl who I used to sit next to on the bus. We had a few classes together, and even distracted each other during Biology (to this day I do blame this crush I had for the reason why I failed a test on dominant and recessive genes). She was cute, and we could chat about just random things outside of school. She seemed perfect until…
She said: “Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m going to forget to breath.”
And that was the end of my crush.
Cute, or not cute, I thought everyone just knew that our brains and body work in sync to keep us alive. We don’t have to consciously put any effort in making sure one of our most basic needs happens.
Even for a guy struggling through Bio this seemed like a given.
The point of my story here is that can go through our days without ever needing to remember to breath in or breath out. Yet, when we’re exercising the circumstances change a bit.
While the majority of us inherently know how to breath in during exercise, it shouldn’t be expected that everyone just knows how to do it right. Sometimes a bit of guidance is needed.
In this post I’m going to highlight a few techniques to help you worry less about how to breathe, and concentrate more on your results.
To start, these are two rules you need to live, love and breath (pun intended) when you’re working out:
- Exhale on the positive of any movement.
- Inhale on the negative of any movement.
By simply following these two points you’ll (1) be more efficient in your training and (2) see better results in the end.
What Does Proper Breath Do For Us?
For starters, our muscles need oxygen so they can keep going.
The idea of working out is to push the boundaries of the body’s abilities, right? When you lift heavy loads, or sprint to your max potential, you’re sending a certain kind of signal to the muscles and brain that you need them to step up out their comfortable, “at-rest” state of living.
The one way your body can handle this kind of demand is through increasing the blood flow to the muscles. This blood is oxygen-rich. Once they get flushed with blood, the muscles go into a turbo charge mode. You move faster and can push on for longer spans of time.
Yet if you’re not breathing correctly during exercise this whole process will feel like a misfire.
I’m not a huge long-distance runner, but the one thing I do know is those guys and gals can really ramp up their endurance levels. This is why I like to make sure I’m always working in some steady-state cardio.
Short burst workout are great for keeping the fat low, but to really expand on your athletic abilities it’s important to work at improving your VO2 Max. And simply keeping an elevated heart rate for sustained periods of time will help train your body to get better at this.
Correct Breathing Technique
Again I want to point back to when the body should inhale and exhale.
When you’re working against any resistance it’s important to breathe out. When you’re loading your body back into a starting position of an exercise, you’re going to inhale.
But this is just the beginning to understanding how much of an emphasis breathing has on the type of results you’re chasing.
Check out this video demonstrating Diaphramgatic Breathing, which is a fancy way of saying how to correctly breath during exercise:
When I watched this video I was reminded of a technique I picked up when I was taking Taekwondo long ago. One of the more senior members in the dojo was teaching how to optimally breathe during a confrontation, so our kicks would have stronger landing power behind them.
From that point on I’ve always been aware of my breathing during tense situations.
The Secrets Behind Kiai
Whether you’re faced with a potential fight or simply benching a weight you’re body is at the pinnacle of it’s strength potential when you exhale.
This makes sense, right? This is just one of the reasons we exhale when pushing or pulling against resistance.
This is why when Bruce Lee does his famous Kiai—or better known as cat-like yell—for every punch and kick, he’s putting a total amount of force behind the strike.
I don’t want to delve too much in the total explanation of how our central nervous systems engages our muscles and transforms potential energy from an inhale to kinetic energy with an exhale, but briefly it involves a twofold process which is:
- To better deliver oxygen to your muscles (how interesting!)
- Maximizes the power behind your strikes.
Every martial art employs this technique. From Karate to Boxing to MMA…
A yell or a forceful “hiss” is used to make you more muscles exertion more powerful.
Another example highlight is a practiced in Aikido. This is a martial art that is focused on using your energy to gain control of a situation while still being dynamic with one’s own force. I’m not an expert on all things Aikido, but I have learned over the years it’s based on a philosophy that supports meditative breathing during rest and combat.
And what’s interesting is this actually transfers over to strength training quite easily.
Breathe In Through Your Nose, Out Through Your Mouth
In either aerobic workouts or resistance training, the thought should be the same: Breathe slowly “in” through the nose and “push” the air out fully through your mouth.
The purpose for this is to establish a consistent rhythm and pulse rate. When you develop a pattern your body will respond with efficient performance.
Of course, if you’re pushing close to your max capabilities a consistent breathing pattern might not be completely doable. Yet, by keeping focused on your game plan you can get to a near perfect sequence.
Military Trainer Stew Smith has some pretty interesting points to make on breathing during exercise, like targeting more of a deep breathing rhythm to help equalize your oxygen input to flush out your carbon dioxide output.
The perfect scenario would be to get a 3:2 ratio of O2 to CO2. Yet, when you’re close to exhaustion, this might drop to 2:1…which is still okay—just make sure you’re pushing out all of the built up CO2 through each exhale.
A Quick Word On Val Salva
One of the things you don’t want to do during exercise is to hold your breath. This is known as Val Salva, which has been linked to inducing headaches, increasing blood pressure and potentially causing a stroke.
Sounds pretty bad, huh?
Under extreme conditions all these are possible. However, for those exercising within their abilities this this shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Just make sure you’re continuously breathing through your sets or laps.
One of the benefits of practicing breathing exercises is it will help you perform your exercises with more explosive power.
This explosiveness really comes into play when you’re working with fast tempo speeds. An example would be doing push ups at the 2-0-1 tempo. You’ll notice how much a few added in breathing exercise can have a positive impact on your results.
The whole point to know how to breath during exercise is to help turn you into a more efficient athlete, even if you never plan to be one.