By JENNY GOFORTH
Perhaps you’ve heard your trainers and group fitness instructors coaching you through proper breathing techniques during exercise. Do you ever wonder what the point is and why we focus on breathing when learning the exercises can be difficult enough? Doesn’t it seem mundane to think about breathing when we naturally do it without thinking about it? Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to breathe, and the majority of us are doing it wrong. We are born breathing correctly, with deep and controlled breaths. Somewhere in our adolescence we unknowingly form bad breathing habits. Do you know that Deep-Breathing, or “Belly Breathing,” affects the functioning of all the systems in the body? Embracing Belly Breathing permanently, not only while exercising, can improve the quality of your entire life.
Benefits to Belly Breathing:
- Improves and eliminates depression, anxiety, and any stress related disorders. • Releases endorphins (the body’s own pain killers) into the system relieving headaches, backaches, and any other pain related to stress. Tension is released.
- Aids in burning fat. When you are stressed your body tends to burn glycogen, instead of fat.
- Strengthens abdominal and intercostals muscles • Increases the supply of nitric oxide in the blood relaxing the arteries
- Supplies more oxygen to cells purifying the blood
- Improves your sleep pattern
- Helps to overcome tiredness and to rejuvenate energy
- Improves all mental processes including concentration and memory • Calms the mind, nerves, and emotions
- Improves blood pressure. A fast breathing rate has been linked to high blood pressure.
- Benefits asthma sufferers
- Improves the respiratory system by using the full capacity of the lungs
- Improves the speaking/singing voice releasing tension in the neck and throat.
Improper breathing, or shallow breathing, is the root cause of many illnesses and is the result of stress, tension, lack of exercise, smoking, poor postural habits, and poor eating habits. Shallow breathing can increase the amount of carbon dioxide levels in the blood limiting the amount of oxygen being delivered to tissues. One reason aerobic exercise is so beneficial is that it raises your heart rate forcing your lungs to take in more oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide in the body. When you are breathing shallow there is little use of the ribcage, abdominal muscles, diaphragm, intercostals muscles, and lung capacity.
What Kind of Breather Are You?
To answer this question, stand in front of a mirror. Place one hand on your lower abdomen (below your naval) and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in, and then exhale. If you feel your chest expanding and see your shoulders lifting upward this is a result of shallow breathing, however, if your stomach moves, you are doing something right. Belly Breathing does not happen over night, but if you practice a few times daily you will soon be breathing with proper technique without thinking about it.
Becoming a Belly Breather:
There are only three steps to learning how to be a Belly Breather: Posture, Exhaling, and Inhaling. It’s that simple!
- Posture: Stand tall. Always remember your posture. You can’t have proper breath support without proper posture. Tuck your hips under your legs to support your lower back and keep your knees soft (think mini squat). Roll your shoulders up then around releasing any tension you may already have in the neck and shoulders. Gently pull your shoulders away from your ears creating a small amount of tension between your shoulder blades. Your chest should be lifted, or proud. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed at all times.
- Exhaling: Begin with a full exhalation. Pretend there is a tiny ball in your lower abdomen (below the belly button). As you exhale, draw your belly button in and downward. Tighten your abdomen and pretend you are squeezing that ball. Keep it slow and controlled!
- Inhaling: When inhaling, you want to feel the air “falling” in the nose or the mouth and filling up the stomach like a balloon. This means your stomach is enlarging as you fill it up with the air. Let the air sink all the way to the bottom of the stomach. Remember, a deep breath does not mean you are flaring your nostrils, gasping for air, or lifting the chest and rib cage. In fact, the stomach should be the only thing moving.
Inhaling Through the Nose or Mouth:
Some will argue that you should only breathe through the nose, however, that is kind of hard to do during allergy season or when you’re sick with a cold. The truth is it’s not important how the air gets to the stomach as long as it is not restricted. You may get deeper breaths while inhaling through the mouth. This is our goal.
A Powerful Voice:
You are not only breathing when you’re being quiet. Remember to Belly Breathe while speaking as well. As you speak air is exhaling out of your mouth. This means your stomach is pulling in as the air is leaving your body. Your stomach is always moving. You will develop a stronger, more commanding voice, rather than a throaty small voice, not to mention you will be able to speak much longer without losing your voice. Many professional singers and speakers have adopted this method of breathing.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Breathing:
To better perfect your breathing, take 10 deep breaths, 5-10 times daily. The breaths should be deep, full, slow, controlled, and rhythmic. Start by exhaling, then expand your stomach and count “One and two and three and four and,” while drawing and squeezing your belly button in. Your stomach should feel a little tired after each set. This is good. You are expanding your lungs and moving muscles that may not have moved in a long time. This is a great abdominal exercise. Once you are able to do this without running out of air try counting higher than four.
Belly Breathing While Exercising:
The gym is a great place to practice Belly Breathing! As stated previously, your lungs use more oxygen when your heart rate elevates. Belly Breathing will save you energy during your workout, therefore building your cardiovascular endurance. You can be a more focused athlete and burn more fat.
So how does the breathing work during strength training? Learning an exercise at the gym can be difficult. Most people focus so diligently on the form and movement that breathing is the last thing they want to think about. If the exercise is difficult to perform, our human instinct is to hold our breath and tense the body, especially in the neck and shoulders. That is the worst thing you can do in that moment. The exercise will in fact be easier if you breathe throughout the movement. If you don’t know when you should breathe during a particular exercise, remember “exhale during exertion.” That means you are exhaling during the hardest phase of the exercise and inhaling at the easiest phase. For example, while performing a bicep curl, inhale before beginning any movement of the arms (holding the weights by the thighs). Exhale slowly while raising the weights towards the shoulders. As you lower the weights back down to complete the bicep curl, inhale slowly. Lifting the weights to the shoulders is the most difficult part of the exercise therefore you are exhaling during the lifting phase. Because lowering the weights down is not as difficult as getting them up, you are inhaling during the release phase.
You can begin Belly Breathing anywhere and at any time. Take 5-7 days and constantly remind yourself to Belly Breath. Stick notes around your house, in your office, and in your car. Repetition builds habit. Before you know it you will not have to think about it. You will be Belly Breathing in your sleep, not to mention getting more rest and feeling better than ever!
Jenny is a personal trainer at Music City Fitness and has 16 years experience in the fitness industry. She is a certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and Taekwondo Instructor holding certifications with NFPT, AFAA, Les Mills, and American Taekwondo Association. She is also a 3rd Degree Black Belt, 2012 World Champion in Taekwondo, as well as a 2015 Nationally Qualified NPC Bikini Bodybuilder Competitor.
Elements of Health is sponsored by Elements Massage of Franklin, Tennessee. It is located at 539 Cool Springs Boulevard, Suite 140 Franklin, Tennessee 37067. You can contact the studio at (615) 771-0003 or visit their website here.