by Aaron Wood, Hilton Head Health Fitness Intern
Breathing is a vital part of life as everyone knows but when it comes to our health we forget how important it truly is. We get so focused on completing a movement or exercise that we forget about breathing deeply or at all in some cases. Breathing plays an important role in not only performance but safety, as well. Three areas of focus where breathing is vital to completing the activity efficiently and safely are stretching for flexibility, strength training and cardiovascular training.
Improper breathing can leave an individual tight and significantly less mobile. People commonly think when they are stretching that the object is to just pull the muscle as far as possible even if they can’t breathe deeply or really breathe at all in that stretch. This isn’t functional for us to do. What I mean by that is when you have reached the point where you can’t breathe or your breathing is very shallow and stressed, breathing is no longer functional due to the fact you can’t maintain that position without the likelihood of passing out.
What you want to do is stretch the muscle to slight discomfort in a position where you can breathe, and breathe deeply while you hold the position. After spending some time in the position, you will breathe in deeply and on the exhale work a little deeper into the stretch only going so far as that you can maintain that deep breath. You can also just practice breathing deeply to improve flexibility. Try alligator breathing, where you lay flat on your stomach with your head resting on hands and breathing deeply trying to raise the lower back with each breath. Or literally just taking out the time to just sit upright in good posture and practice breathing deeply.
Along with proper form, breathing during strength training can be one of the most important aspects to make sure you are doing it efficiently and safely. When performing a movement, especially one loaded with weight, breathing plays a big role in providing oxygen to the muscle(s) to help perform the task. The goal is to breathe in on the eccentric (stretching, or easiest part) of the exercise while breathing out on the concentric (flexing, or hardest part) of the exercise. This breathing sequence rushes oxygen to the muscles during the loading of the weight which is when the muscle is being stretched and then the muscle uses that oxygen (along with other properties) to perform the flexion of the muscle. Though, what typically ends up happening is people hold their breathe through the movement making it harder on their muscles to perform the task at hand while also putting themselves in danger of passing out.
Also, holding your breathe through the exercise can result in complications such as high blood pressure. If you already suffer from high blood pressure, raising it unsafely during exercise can be dangerous and lead to serious injury or other health issues. The way in which you breathe can also help with the efficiency of performing the task. And breathing properly promotes good form; breathing deeply during a task usually forces you to correct your posture in order to do so.
Obviously, breathing plays a big role in cardiovascular training. Most of the time, we make sure to breath but we don’t breathe in an efficient way. Usually when we do cardio, whether it is going for a run, swimming or whatever the case may be, as the activity goes on we start to breath more rapidly and more shallow (versus how we would like, which is deeply). This makes us less efficient in our activity; ultimately, the activity ends early as we feel more exerted much quicker because we are using more energy to breathe at that rapid pace instead of using that energy to help the muscles perform the activity.
To get better at breathing when it comes to cardio it is important to remember pace. We pace ourselves in speed all the time while usually neglecting how we breathe in that pace. That breathing pace should be just as important to us as the pace in which we run, as far as speed. Breathing steadily along with breathing deeply will help much like in strength training. As your muscles are performing the task at hand they need oxygen, better breathing helps your muscles complete the activity easier than if they have to do so with little oxygen circulating through the body.
In conclusion breathing is of vital importance to performance in exercise or flexibility. It also plays a vital role in safety. So next time you stretch, strength train, or take part in cardio training remember to breathe, and not only breathe but breathe deeply and efficiently. Doing so can be the difference between being unable to improve your mobility, strength, or cardiovascular endurance and reaching those goals that have been eluding you.