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Want to lift heavier? Run faster? Stretch farther?
What if we told you that all that is possible just by taking time to train your breath? It sounds too good to be true.
Thankfully for us all, studies have shown that mastering your breath can enable you to have a better workout and recover faster, helping propel you to your fitness goals.
There are many techniques for deep breathing, though all focus on breathing from your belly, making the diaphragm as big as possible to maximize oxygen in without making your chest do the work. One practice that Hillary Clinton utilized during her 2016 Presidential Campaign to help manage her stress is called Nadi Shodhama Pranayama, or “alternate nostril breathing.”
This practice involves pretty much exactly what it sounds like – alternate breathing out of each nostril for a surprisingly relaxing effect. By infusing the body with oxygen, NSP claims to release toxins, calm the nervous system, rebalance hormones and enhance mental clarity. Not only that, but in a 2013 study it was shown that after 10 weeks of practicing NSP, participants had lower heart rates and blood pressure.
This is where the true impact to your workout comes in. By lowering the heart rate, the heart’s left ventricle has more time to fill with blood and more time to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the body. When exercising, your body often runs into oxygen debt from creating ATP for energy and trying to flush-out the lactic acid that causes muscle fatigue, so with an increased oxygen flow you are able to push harder, longer.
Runner’s World posted a piece about the positive effects of mastering your breath, something not often considered by most runners while training. As an avid runner myself, I often overlook meditation and yoga exercises because I am so focused on building up my endurance and getting in cardio. That being said, this practical bit of knowledge really hit home for me.
When exercising, oxygen-rich blood has to go to the respiratory muscles for breathing or leg muscles for running. Though we’d all like to have Olympic legs, breathing is pretty important to make that happen, so your oxygen will go there first, then making you exert additional energy to keep moving.
By taking deep breaths that maximize the output of Carbon Dioxide and input of oxygen, we can keep that flow to both muscle groups and delay fatigue. Runner’s World suggests a formula of either 3-2 or 2-1 (breathe in for three seconds, breathe out for two). This ensures that you keep taking more air in than out, and it improves your breath-to-stride cadence.
Like all things, mastering your breath does not come easily to most people and will take some practice. Starting out with a practice like NSP may enable you to have an increased awareness of your breath, which will allow you to have more control when you need it during a race or weight lifting.
If you want to give it a try, visit your local yoga studio and start to focus on your breath throughout the practice. If you’d rather practice in the convenience of your own home, consider downloading a meditation app or the SweatWorking app which has numerous yoga guides and recovery workouts that help you focus on your breath and crush your goals.