Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. There’s not much to the whole breathing thing, right?
*Buzzer noise* Wrong. And especially wrong whenever you’re getting your sweat on.
Here are the deets on the importance of workout breathing.
Besides sending oxygen to your lungs so you can live, breathing also sends oxygen to your bloodstream so you can function.
“Our bodies use the oxygen in our bloodstream to create something called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is energy,” explains certified personal trainer Alexis Ring, founder of The Endurance Hub.
So, no oxygen = less energy = a tired you.
“Breathing also steadies the heart rate and steadies your central nervous systems,” she says. “Meaning: Not breathing also skyrockets your heart rate, which can make whatever you’re doing feel harder.”
Don’t be afraid to get deep
It might sound bananas — given that we’re in a pandemic that calls for us to avoid breathing in certain particles — but deep breathing has a lot to do with boosted immunity.
- decreases blood pressure
- reduces stress
- improves your autonomic response
Makes sense that you’d breathe differently while doing yoga than while doing CrossFit, right? Here are four fitness activities that call for four different breathing patterns.
Fitness experts say inefficient breathing can impair speed and performance.
So what qualifies as efficient breathing? “While there’s no golden rule, many runners find it most comfortable to take one breath for every two foot strikes,” says Alison McConnell, a breathing expert and the author of Breathe Strong Perform Better.
This means taking two steps (one left, one right) while breathing in and two steps while breathing out. This is also known as the 2:2 rhythm.
“Because the diaphragm and surrounding organs are all subject to the forces of gravity,” McConnell says, “synchronizing the breath-to-running cadence will keep the organs from putting unnecessary pressure on the diaphragm, which can impede breathing and make running more uncomfortable than it needs to be.”
The more you know!
If you’re a Bulkinator, meathead, or CrossFitter, you’ve likely heard the tip “exhale on the exertion of a lift” or “exhale on the up.”
The gist is this: You should contract your midsection at the start of a lift for better lumbar stability, balance, and control during the lift. Perform the eccentric portion of the movement. Then, on the concentric portion of the movement, exhale slowly and continuously while returning to the starting position.
Using the bench press as an example, you’d hold your breath while bringing the bar down to nipple height and exhale as you press the bar overhead.
“Just remember that once that barbell is pressed, the weight doesn’t vanish,” McConnell says. “So be sure to keep the core engaged to protect the spine, similar to preparing for impact during contact sports.”
There are two popular breathing methods to help you chill out or power through.
Sama Vritti Pranayama (“equal breathing”): “This fundamental style of breath is said to calm the nervous system, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress,” says yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco. “It involves matching an equal-length inhale to an equal-length exhale.”
Ujjayi Pranayama, (aka “victorious breath”): “This breathing style is designed to help you power through more rigorous types of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and power yoga,” says Pacheco. “It involves simply breathing in and out through the nose, maintaining a slight contraction in the back of the throat.”
Catch your breath, but don’t hold it
If you ever find yourself holding your breath when it’s time for Warrior III, Wheelbarrow, and other holy-crap-this-is-hard poses, take a pause. Pacheco says it’s a common sign of overexertion, and it means you should take a break to refocus and breathe and then hop back into the pose whenever you’re ready.
When engaging in sports like rugby and football, how you breathe can be the difference between spine stability and spine instability. McConnell explains, “Breathing muscles are an integral part of the core stabilizing and postural control systems.”
The breath should come from your diaphragm (the most efficient breathing muscle), not your chest. And when anticipating a tackle, it’s best to take a deep breath and then brace your core before impact. “Not only will this protect the spine, but it will also make you more difficult to knock over,” says McConnell.
“Breathing deeper, calmer, and more efficiently can also give athletes a psychological edge against their opponents,” she adds.
Cheers to mind games!
First off: Don’t even think about taking it off! Masks are pretty damn effective at reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
So, as Ring puts it, “We have to make the most of the situation we are in.”
Her tip: If you’re planning on working out away from home or around others, acknowledge the fact that doing so while wearing a mask is probably going to affect your breathing.
“Know that you will have to work harder to breathe, and plan accordingly,” she says. “That might mean that you do less intense cardio or take longer recovery times between strength training sets.
There is such a thing as strength training for your respiratory muscles, which may improve performance in endurance and high-intensity sports. There’s even an app for that, developed to help athletes breathe stronger and more efficiently.
Avoiding smoking, correcting posture issues, and keeping allergies and asthma in check are also key to better breathing.
Breathe easy, friends!
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.