"Breath is the link between mind and body." - Dan Brule
"When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace." - Unknown
One of the most overlooked yet vastly important aspects of fitness is controlling your breathing.
When breathing correctly during your workouts you can drastically:
- Improve your workout performance
- Decrease fatigue
- Lower your heart-rate and recover faster between exercises, sets, and reps
- Improve flexibility
- Improve endurance, strength, and overall fitness
- Increase fat-loss
- Decrease muscle/joint pain and stiffness
- Decrease stress
- Improve workout recovery
As you can see, the way we breath is crucial for our health and wellbeing.
Breathing correctly during your workout sounds simple enough, but it's extremely easy to slip into improper breathing mechanics when you're focused more on the exercise at hand.
It's extremely easy to let your breathing get too fast or even hold your breath.
This leads to a drastic increase in fatigue and injury risk.
For us, learning to properly breathe during exercise makes up a large piece of our foundation of training.
It is one of the first areas that we coach our new members on to get them to both understand its importance and make it easy to implement.
Like anything you're looking to improve, it takes consistent mindfulness and practice to improve.
Ready to improve YOUR workouts?
Check out the videos below to learn how to properly breathe during your workouts!
Your 4 areas of focus:
1| Stick to nasal breathing as long as possible [during workout and at rest]
Breathing both throughout the day and throughout exercise should be done in and out through your nose as much as possible.
As your workout intensity increases, shift to an in through your nose and long, controlled exhale (through pursed lips, like you're breathing out through a straw) out through your mouth.
Nasal breathing as well as focusing on long, slow exhales has been shown to:
1. Decrease your heart and respiratory rate
Nasal breathing and exhalation is synonymous with the para-sympathetic nervous system. This is the system that helps us calm down, rest, and digest. It is our recovery and rebuild system.
On the other hand, breathing in and out of your mouth actually signals our body that it's time to fight or flight. This actually increases our heart rate and respiratory rate to increase placing stress on our hearts and bodies by making them work harder than they should.
2. Decrease stress hormones
Just as nasal breathing and controlled exhalation signals our heart and respiratory rates to decrease, it also decreases our stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones are important during times of intensity or stress as they help us increase our heart-rate and improve or strength.
Consistently elevate your stress hormones and see a big increase in stiffness, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and fat-gain.
3. Decrease muscular pain and stiffness at your back, neck, chest, and shoulders
Breathing through your nose allows you to use your biggest and most efficient breathing muscle, your diaphragm.
Breathing in through your mouth does allow for more oxygen but it also activates the breathing muscles of your neck to help get additional air in. These muscles surround your neck, shoulders, chest, and back.
Overworking these muscles with mouth breathing causes stiffness and pain which can decrease range-of-motion, change your posture, and increase your risk of injury.
4. Improve fitness and endurance
Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth during exercise is one of the biggest components to improving your fitness and helping you see better results.
As we covered above, mouth breathing increases your heart and respiratory rate.
This causes you to work harder than you should.
It causes you to fatigue quicker, use more energy, and keeps you from exercising as long and as hard as you otherwise could.
2| Focus on the exhale
The whole breathing thing can be a bit overwhelming at first.
When do I inhale?
When should I exhale?
I want you to just focus on the exhale.
The inhale will happen naturally.
This will keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
It will keep you mindful of your breath and allow you to also focus on your exercise technique.
More on when to exhale below.
3| Exhale through tension
Your stretching those overly tight hamstrings.
You want to get more and more of stretch so you tense up and hold your breath like you're about to lift an elephant.
It is natural to want to hold your breath during times of tension.
This breath holding creates more tension though.
It signals our brain to signal our joints and muscles to contract harder to produce, not relax.
Instead of allowing your muscle to relax and stretch, you're just creating more tension.
Next time, whenever you feel tension or a stretch, exhale through it.
This will allow your tissues to relax, release, and allow for a better stretch.
4| Match your rep, tension, & intensity with your breath
Now that we know the importance of breathing in through your nose and how impactful exhalation can be, let's put it all together with the timing.
When should you exhale?
We want to match our exhales with our reps, tension, and intensity.
To make this easier to grasp let's give an example.
Stretching & Mobility Drills (slow, controlled exhale)
With long duration stretches, work on long, slow controlled exhales throughout.
For mobility drills, exhale at the point of greatest stretch or tension.
Cardio & Power Exercises (sharp exhale)
With exercises like kettlebell swings, medicine ball exercises, and cardio movements like mountain climbers or body-weight jumps (think anything fast paced or explosive), we first want our exhale to match the concentric portion of the movement.
This means we exhale on the up or exertion portion of the movement.
For a kettlebell swing, this would be at the top position at lock out.
For a medicine ball throw or slam, this would be as you release the ball.
During a bodyweight jump, this would be as you jump up and for a mountain climber this would be on each knee punching forward.
Because these movements are explosive, we want our exhale to match this. As you can tell by now, our breath, our bodies, and our minds are all connected and love to be in sync.
That's why our exhale should be sharp like the movement.
Strength Exercises (strong, controlled exhale)
Like our exhale on our cardio exercise, the exhale on our strength exercise should also happen at the concentric or lifting position of the movement.
For a push-up, the exhale happens on the up position.
For a squat, the exhale takes place as you stand up.
In a rowing movement, the exhale happens on the pull in.
Again, the exhale here should match the intensity of the movement.
Most strength exercises are done with heavier weights, making you control the movement. This should be matched, with a strong, controlled exhale through your mouth.