Do you ever feel out of breath during a workout or a run? This is probably because you are not breathing right. Whether you are lifting heavy weights, bringing the lat machine down or racing to the finish line, your diaphragm might be the last muscle on your mind. How you breathe can have a big impact on the quality of your workout, be it cardio, lifting weights or simply running. To help you improve your breathing technique so that you can get the most out of your workouts, here are the best ways to breathe to enhance the quality of your workouts and your overall fitness.

Inhale and Exhale

When it comes to breathing right, it’s all about synchronicity between your lungs and the diaphragm. It’s important to understand this complex relationship because your lungs and diaphragm perform better when they work together.

When you take a deep breath in, your diaphragm contracts and moves downwards. This action opens up more space in the chest cavity, which allows the lungs to expand. Take a deep breath in. As you do this, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward. The air then travels down the windpipe, passing through the bronchial tubes into the air sacs or alveoli.

The synchronicity of your lungs and diaphragm are important when it comes to breathing right

Oxygen then passes through the surrounding capillaries in the alveoli, where with hemoglobin carries it into the bloodstream. The oxygen rich blood is then carried through the pulmonary vein to the left auricle and ventricle of the heart, and is then pumped to the rest of the body. As this happens, carbon dioxide is pushed out of the capillaries into the alveoli, into the right side of the heart through the pulmonary artery.

Now it’s time to exhale. When you breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward into the chest cavity. The intercostal muscles within the ribs relax, causing the chest cavity to shrink. This shrinking space in the chest cavity forces carbon dioxide to leave the lungs through the nose. During an exercise, the abdominal muscles contract more often, pushing the diaphragm against the lungs more frequently. As this happens, carbon dioxide is pushed out quicker, increasing the frequency of your breaths.

Breathe right to lift right

When it comes to lifting weights, the concentration can be more on the reps you perform than the breaths you take. When you hit the weights, reps may be a bigger concern than breaths, but the two go hand in hand. The Valsalva maneuver (VM) is a common practice in weightlifting, and is something weightlifters do as they progress to heavier loads, even if they aren’t aware they are doing it.

Weightlifting workouts for runners
The Valsalva Maneuver works best when it comes to lifting weights

Dean Somerset, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and exercise physiologist in Alberta, Canada, says that “in many heavy-loading scenarios like challenging deadlifts or squats, a Valsalva, or max inhale with a pressure hold-much like when you’re trying to push a bowel movement-is preferred because it adds stability to the spine and increases the drive from the legs to the arms, and then to the bar.”The primary benefits of VM is the increased intra-abdominal pressure to support your spine (namely the lumbar spine) and decrease the risk of injury. A good rule of thumb is to hold your breath until you get just past your sticking point in a heavy lift, and then let it out.

The Valsalva technique works well when it comes to maximizing weights, but not every lifter is looking to go all out. If you are new to strength training, or are training in a lighter rep/weight range, it helps to keep a breathing tempo.”Consider inhaling before beginning the lift, then slowly exhaling through the lift through pursed lips, much like the steam exiting a tea kettle,” says Somerset. “This allows you to use some of the stabilizing properties of the inhale without creating a big pressure spike.”

Breathing for runners

Pace, tempo, and form are all important factors in running, but without the right breathing strategy, your marathon may be much shorter than you want it to be. If you’re new to endurance training, you may find that your breath is one of the most difficult things to control.

Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS, and owner of JK Conditioning in Newfoundland, Canada, says, “Newer runners who lack cardiovascular fitness will breathe very erratically, often too shallow and ineffectively, especially when the intensity builds.” Runners who improve their fitness find it easier to manage hard breathing and their patterns to manage breathing becomes more automatic. By the time a runner reaches elite status, they breathing patterns are figured out and they are are more focused on the pace rather than the breathing.

Pace, tempo, and form are all important factors when it comes to running

You may not have the pinnacle of elite running status, but remember that only practice can make you perfect. When you are running, work on controlling your breath. Try inhaling for 3-4 steps, and then exhaling for 3-4 steps. Breathing in for a longer duration may help you breathe deeper and thus inhale more oxygen. It may take some time to figure out, but you will succeed.

If you find yourself running out of breath or feeling winded all the time, decreasing the duration or the intensity of the exercise can help. “Find an appropriate starting point and progressively adjust the intensity or the volume of the runs as you adapt,” says Kawamoto “This will yield cardiovascular adaptations to help build your endurance and stamina.”

Break up the breaths

If you are trying to shed those pounds through intense cardio like Zumba, metabolic circuits, or are going to town with the elliptical, remember that the same general rules apply. Do your best to control your breath so you don’t get ultra winded and have to stop suddenly.

If you’re doing interval training like taking a spin class, you may have to worry less about your breathing technique, because your body gets enough time to recover. “Your breathing rate will just be higher during the interval,” says Kawamoto. “Having said that, the high breathing rate should still deliver oxygen to the lungs and not be too shallow.”

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