Breathing is important. You know that. But did you know your breathing can make a huge difference when you’re doing cardio?
Proper breathing can increase your performance during a workout and even help you deal with physical and mental stress.
The average person takes around 23,000 breaths per day. So why not get the most from every single inhalation? That’s why we’ve decided to come up with these breathing tips to help you get the most from your cardio workout.
Now, let’s take a closer look…
When you really think about it, breathing is pretty miraculous. Our bodies do without any conscious thought. Breath in, breath out. Every single day, night, week and year of our lives.
Of course, you can hold your breath or make yourself breathe faster, but you don’t have to make a conscious decision every time you take a breath.
This ability to breath with or without conscious thought makes it different from other “automatic” bodily functions. For instance, you can’t stop your heartbeat or stop your body from digesting your food.
Breathing is made up of two actions that combine in each breath – inspiration and expiration. When you inspire, or inhale, your muscles contract to move your diaphragm down and your ribs up and out. This makes more room in your chest for your lungs to expand and take in more air.
When you expire, or exhale, all of those actions reverse themselves, which forces the “used” air in your lungs back out of your body.
Okay, get ready for a biology refresher!
When air enters the lungs, it passes into tiny sacs that line your longs, called alveoli. At the same time, your pulmonary artery is pumping unoxygenated blood to your lungs. When that blood and air meet in the alveoli, they make an exchange.
The red blood cells pack themselves with the fresh oxygen that you inhaled, while the cells unload carbon dioxide that you breathe out when you exhale. Your heart then pumps that newly oxygenated blood throughout your body.
The result? Your body cells have the oxygen they need to survive and you keep moving along.
The ability to control your breathing when you need to is particularly important when you are exercising. Proper breathing techniques can make your cardio workouts more effective and feel easier.
Here are some tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of each breath you take.
Maintain a consistent pattern –
A good way to ensure you’re keeping your breathing consistent is to use the 3:2 approach. To do this you simply want to inhale for three steps and then exhale for two steps.
This will allow you time to get in the oxygen you need, which keeps your heart rate lower and your muscles firing properly. This approach is great if you are running or jogging at a steady moderate pace, or when you’re hopping on the elliptical.
Exhale is as important as inhale –
When we exercise it’s easy to focus on the inhale because you think you just need more oxygen. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Getting the carbon dioxide out of your lungs is just as important as getting oxygen in.
The build-up of carbon dioxide in your lungs is actually what makes you feel like you can’t catch your breath. It also increases your heart rate and lactic acid production, while decreasing your stamina. Remember to focus on forcing the air out of your lungs each time you exhale to get rid of that carbon dioxide.
Remember to match your breath to your exercise –
When you are upping the pace of your workout, especially for those HIIT sessions, make sure you adjust your breathing. Instead of sticking with the 3:2 approach, move to a 2:1. Following the same idea, you’ll breathe in for two steps and out for one step. It may not feel like you’re getting as much air in with each breath, but it will still provide you with that you need.
Breathing and Lifting –
Most of the tips that we’ve talked about have been geared toward breathing while performing cardio, but what about strength training? Your breathing when you are lifting is just as important as when you are running and there is a way to do it properly.
You always want to exhale when you are exerting energy. For example, when you do a pull-up, exhale while you pull yourself up to the bar and inhale as you lower back down. When you are doing sit-ups, exhale as you raise your upper body off the floor and inhale on the way back down.
The same goes for weights. If you’re doing bench press, exhale while you push the bar up and inhale as you lower if back down. This simple rule will keep you from suffering internal injury, such as a hernia, and will quickly become habit once you start doing it.
As always, pay attention to your body –
In this case, specifically paying attention to your lungs. If you feel like you just can’t catch your breath, it may mean that you’re pushing yourself too hard. Slow your pace a little bit and focus on those steady, even inhalations and exhalations.
Try out yoga –
If you’re looking for a workout that incorporates breathing to achieve a wide range of positive results, take a yoga class. Yoga teaches breathing techniques in partnership with the poses and postures that you move through during a session.
While there are many different breathing techniques used in yoga, the most common is pranayama breathing. This teaches you to master and control your breathing at different rates throughout different levels of energy exertion.
By focusing on your breath, you are able to eliminate distractions and outside stress factors. These techniques are useful not just during a yoga practice, but can be used to alleviate stress and anxiety in any situation.
Be aware of air quality –
Air quality during your workout is worth a bit of consideration. Check out our article on air quality to learn more.
Keep these tips in mind next time you head to the gym, step outside for a run, or hop on your elliptical. When you make an effort to focus on your breathing, you’ll have a better workout and you’ll feel better while doing it!