Often while teaching corrective rehab exercises to patients, I am asking them to breathe correctly. More often than not they are either holding their breath or just breathing erratically. When corrected they want to understand why breathing during exercise is so important; which made me wonder that do people who exercise for fitness, fun or both pay attention to their breathing? Do they need to be cued into breathing right like my patients?
Breathing the right way applies to lifting weights at the gym, to walking, running, cycling, to rehab, to climbing a flight of stairs and even to sleeping. It can affect the overall quality of our workouts, our energy levels and also how quickly we burn fat. In extreme cases, it can also mean doing no harm to our internal organs. So it’s important to get it right.
Benefits of Breathing Correctly
If you focus on breathing correctly henceforth it has many benefits:
- Exercising more comfortably for longer periods of time
- Preventing issues like hernia, sudden variations in blood pressure and strain on the lower back
- Improving circulation throughout the body
- Helping you focus on your exercises and hence giving you better results
Types of Breathing
There are two types of breathing:
- Chest breathing
- Diaphragmatic breathing(abdominal breathing)
Ideally, when you breathe during exercise you should be using the muscle that extends across the bottom of the chest cavity(the diaphragm). This type of breathing allows you to get deeper fuller breaths providing your lungs with air and oxygen that you require to exercise. An easy way to understand if you are breathing right is to place your hands on the lower ribs and tummy. As you breathe in, you should feel your ribs rise and as you breathe out the ribs should dip in. Most of us are accustomed to shallow chest breathing where the breathing pattern is the opposite. This is fine during your normal routine but during exercise attempt to practice diaphragmatic breathing for better results.
Some key points to keep in mind:
- Cardiovascular exercise such as walking, running, cycling, or swimming: Try to keep your breath in and your breath out fairly equal. Also breathing through the mouth at even intervals can help.
- Lifting weights: Exhale when you exert pressure, resist or lift and inhale when you release the pressure. This avoids excessive pressure on the back and controls blood pressure variations. Taking deep breaths can help stabilize your core muscles that protect your spine during exertion.
- Holding breath: This should be avoided at any cost. Often you may not be aware that you are doing this. So train yourself to focus on breathing in and out or even singing, talking, counting, etc. This prevents you from accidentally holding your breath. A majority of hernias occur while holding the breath at exertion. don’t let this be you.
- Maintaining a rhythm: You can achieve a breathing rhythm based on the exercise. Counting your steps while walking/running, cycling rotations or laps can help you focus. Listening to music also aligns your exercise with your breathing.
- Knowing when to stop: Train yourself to listen to your body and your breathing. If your breathing is erratic and you are unable to keep an even pattern, it may mean that the exercise is too much for you. Sometimes knowing when to push and when to pause can mean avoiding major injuries. So pause and decide if you think it is appropriate to continue or not.
So next time don’t wait for your physiotherapist or your trainer to cue your breathing or catch you holding your breath! Achieve all your fitness goals this year by breathing right!
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