We don’t usually think too deeply into breathing when we exercise, but it plays a fairly big role in health and fitness. There’s a growing body of science on the effects of breathing patterns on the body, and the insights from that point to several benefits of considering and optimising how we breathe. Below, we’ll take a brief look at why breathing well is so important for fitness.
Not breathing is dangerous!
This one should be obvious, but it’s amazing how many people become so focused on a movement during strength exercises such as lifting and push-ups that they forget to breathe at all. “Sudden, intense effort can cause your blood pressure to spike — especially if you hold your breath,” notes Dr. Deepak Bhatt. Not breathing at a moment when your body is under stress and pressure is high can lead to nausea, dizziness, or in very extreme cases a heart attack.
It increases muscle engagement and strength
Good technique during exercise helps focus and control due to the biochemical and biomechanical exchange occurring. In aerobic exercises, it’s all about consistency. For movements like yoga, big and slow is best. For strength training, the rule of thumb is to breathe in through the nose during the eccentric motion (where the target muscle is lengthening) and exhale through the mouth during the concentric (muscle-shortening) phase, such as the lowering and rising motions of a squat, respectively.
Additionally, interest in inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) has risen in recent years. Initially developed for diseases and conditions of the airways, studies, such as a recent one published in the Journal of the American Heart Association are showing that training inspiratory muscles used for inhalation raises metrics like circulation and blood pressure.
It helps with recovery
The benefits of exercise in terms of changes to your body composition are well understood to actually occur during recovery. Optimal recovery includes tips such as a list we made for marathons include Omega 3 and sleep. It turns out breathing is also relevant to this all-important phase of an exercise regimen. Slow, deep breathing can be incorporated as a post-workout recovery activity. It quickly lowers stress levels that were raised during the workout, accelerating the important metabolic shift into the recovery state.
Why does breathing matter?
Knowing what kind of breathing is suitable before, during, and after exercise will boost your abilities and enable you to push yourself that little bit more. If done right, it might even improve your overall health and alleviate any existing conditions. Before trying any extreme breathing techniques, however, make sure you do so under the guidance of a trained medical professional, and that you’ve got a clean bill of health.