Breathe right – that is one of the first instructions you receive the moment you join a fitness center. Each exercise has its own set of breathing rules and following the right way of breathing is very important to reap the benefits of any exercise. While breathing is the core of aerobic activities, it also plays a quintessential role in non-aerobic workout forms, including yoga and Pilates.
Before checking out how to breathe while exercising, try to understand what breathing is all about.
What Exactly is the Process of Breathing?
All of us know—breathing comprises of inhalation and exhalation. But how many of you know what happens when we breathe? As we inhale, air fills in our lungs’ micro sacs – the alveoli. Oxygen from the air is absorbed by the red blood cells through these sacs. Carbon dioxide from blood is eliminated as we exhale. So, proper inhalation is essential to supply oxygen to the muscles while exercising.
Proper Breathing While Exercising
“I know how to breathe! I don’t need anyone to teach me how to breathe!” Most of us definitely think this way. Despite repeated advice from trainers, many of us fail to breathe properly. We either breathe too deep or too shallow; and there are cases when you end up inhaling and exhaling the wrong way. How does that matter? The truth is it does, and that too to a great extent.
The Basics of Breathing:
Yes, breathing is a natural process but the fact is that we pay the least importance to it. The result – we fail to utilize the capacity of our lungs. As we exercise, muscles require higher amounts of oxygen, which actually paves the way for an increased rate of respiration. Knowing how to breathe right and becoming aware of the breathing pattern will help you exercise in a more comfortable and better way, and safeguard you from complications including dizziness. That is why you need to know how to breathe while exercising.
1. Cardio Workouts:
Breathe deeply – that is the thumb rule when it comes to all forms of cardio workouts, including walking, jogging, running, cycling, and even spinning. Breathe either through your mouth or through your nose. If possible, alternate between the two for better benefits. If you pay close attention to runners, you will notice that they prefer breathing through the mouth as it helps to suck in more oxygen. Diaphragmatic breathing or breathing with your tummy is something which you should practice to allow better intake of oxygen.
How to do Diaphragmatic Breathing:
- Relax the abdominal muscles a little.
- Take a deep inhalation in such a way that you can feel your tummy rising and falling with inhalations and exhalations respectively. Make sure your chest is not moving.
- Practice this to satiate your oxygen requirement while indulging in cardiovascular workouts.
2. Strength Training Exercises:
Weight lifting needs more oxygen supply than cardio. However, people, in most of the cases, tend to refrain from breathing as they indulge in these exercises, thinking that it would actually give them that much adored toned appeal. The fact – lack of proper oxygen supply while lifting weights can trigger multiple medical conditions, including a high blood pressure, dizziness, and can even affect the brain. Breathe – either through your nose or through your mouth to safeguard yourself from injuries.
According to my personal trainer, while indulging in strength training, one should inhale as you go easy and exhale as you exert yourself. For example, if you are doing a dumbbell curl, and then exhale as you bring the dumbbells up and inhale as you bring them back to the initial position. Focusing on your breathing will prevent you from holding the breath and doing reverse breathing.
3. Yoga and Breathing:
Breathing forms the base of yoga. You would have come across varied forms of Pranayamas, which actually teach you how to breathe. Every yoga asana comes with its own set of inhalation and exhalation patterns. For example, if you are doing Bhujangasana, then you have you inhale deeply as you lift your torso away from the floor, breathe normally as you hold the pose, and slowly exhale while coming back to the initial pose. While in Uttanasana, you have to inhale first and then slowly exhale as you bend forward and touch your toes. While in the pose, you are expected to breathe normally. Now, as you come back to normal position, inhale deeply and lift your torso up. Breathe is a metronome for your body with each movement harmonized to the extent of an exhalation or inhalation.
Most of the yoga poses begin with inhalation. While stretching and lengthening poses call for inhalations, forward bends indulge in exhalation while coming to the pose. Many a time, you exhale to relax back to the initial stage also.
This is the prefect place to quote Joseph Pilates – “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly”. It is so true and no wonder Pilates revolves around the concept of right breathing. Unlike the aforementioned diaphragmatic breathing, you use ribcage breathing here. Here is how you do ribcage breathing while practicing these exercises:
- Suck your navel inward, allowing it to come as close as possible to your belly button.
- Keeping the abs muscles engaged, take a deep inhalation via the nose.
- Allow the air to fill your lungs for lateral expansion.
- Part your lips a little and exhale, slowly yet with force, making a ‘ssss’ sound. [Quite similar to Ujjayi Pranayama of yoga]
This form of proper breathing while exercising makes sure that your core remains tucked in, at the same time offers better flexibility while working out. Yet another advantage of breathing this way while indulging is Pilates is that your focus will be 100% on the workout alone. It takes time to master this breathing technique, but once learnt, you are sure to be the master of Pilates.
5. Stretching with Breathing:
Is there a specific way to breathe while stretching? Yes, akin to breathing while indulging in cardios and strength training, there is a way to breathe while stretching. And knowing how to do it correctly will also ensure that your body is free of toxins that get accumulated while exercising. Proper breathing as you stretch also helps you relax and rejuvenate.
This is how you should breathe while stretching.
- Keep your body relaxed.
- Indulge in 2 rounds of normal breathing.
- Take a deep inhalation via your nose.
- As you stretch, exhale through your nose.
- With exhalation, relax a little more and stretch a little more.
What should be the ideal pace of breathing while exercising?
Breathing correctly while exercising comes with a predefined pace which means it is more than just keeping up with the flow. As you master the technique, breathing kind of becomes involuntary akin to your normal breathing, but that need not always be the right pace. Here are few interesting points that can help you with the pattern and pace of breathing.
- For cardio workouts with moderate intensity levels [walking], you should be able to carry on a conversation without breaks.
- For moderate to high intensity cardio workouts, such as simple running and jogging, the conversation should be in short, crisp sentences.
- For high intensity exercises such as intense strength training and quick paced running, the pace of breathing should be limited to just a single word.
Remember, breathing while exercising is important to achieve desired results, be it weight loss or weight gain. When everything else stops working, just breathe right! And, see the difference it makes.
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