by Karen Pearson
Breathing is something that seems so simple and for the most part automatic until we are doing something that taxes our body or stresses us in some form. Then we hold our breath thinking that will somehow improve or help the situation. In reality it does just the opposite. Holding your breath while exercising or lifting something heavy can actually do more harm than good. Remember, breathing is how our body exchanges carbons and oxygen. When we inhale we take in oxygen and when we exhale we release carbon dioxide.
Different schools of thought exist regarding breathing during different types of exercise. In yoga, everything centers around the breath. You begin and end each class with some form of breathing exercise and most yoga instructors teach you how to work with the breath in each of your postures. Pranayama breath is a deep breathing exercise that releases stress, calms the mind and warms the body from the inside out. It is a 6 count inhale through the nose with a 6 count exhale out the mouth. Pranayama is considered the life force within the body.
In weightlifting, the usage of the breath is critical for success. Inhaling on the release and exhaling on the exertion is the best way to set the body up for optimal performance while lifting weights. Exhaling on an exertion gives a burst of power from the core and can help you get that one last rep or lift just a little bit heavier. A nice big inhale before the exertion give a fresh batch of oxygen to the muscles that have been working so hard. The most common mistake I see in the gym when people are lifting weights is holding their breath on the exertion or breathing backwards. Although there is a specific technique for holding your breath while lifting very heavy weights called the valsalva maneuver, I do not recommend it anyone who has not been properly trained in the technique. It can create extreme pressure in the abdominal and thoracic cavity. It is used in many weightlifting competitions.
In high intensity cardio training I often see people rapidly panting to the point of almost hyperventilating. Breath control during cardio training is a game changer. Once the body starts the rapid breathing it can mistake the chemical response the body has as a fight or flight and panic can set in. Consciously controlling your inhale and exhale will increase endurance and stamina over time. It gives you the ability to control your blood pressure and heart rate while exerting extreme effort.
My career path has allowed me to train and educate people in all of these areas. I focus very heavily on breathing properly while exercising in any format. The ability to use your breath properly while exercising can easily transition over to all other aspects of your life. You can use breathing at work if a stressful situation arises. You can use breathing when you are injured to help deal with the pain. You can use breathing at night when you are having trouble falling asleep. You can use breathing when you are sitting out on your porch watching a beautiful sunset and experience incredible peace. Breath is the life force of our existence. Learn to use yours in a way that enhances ALL facets of your life.