Would you like to take your physical fitness to the next level?
Perhaps you feel as if you’ve hit a plateau with your current exercise routine and you’re at a loss about how to move beyond where you are now. You’d like to increase the weight you can lift, the number of sit ups you can do or the pace of your run.
Maybe you are struggling to get started with fitness, but you’d like to. It may seem that every time you try to walk or use an exercise machine at the gym, it’s just too difficult and frustrating.
Breathing may be the key.
I know that when I’m walking on a treadmill or using a weight machine, I am not often thinking about how I am breathing.
My focus is usually on the amount of incline and resistance I have set for myself on the treadmill, the number of calories that I’m burning and the amount of weight I can move with my arms or legs.
The fact of the matter is, breathing in a conscious way can actually increase your fitness capacity. You can find yourself with more energy, focus and an ability to perform at a higher level than before.
And it’s all because conscious breathing helps your body more effectively spread enriching oxygen to more of you.
We breathe in and we breathe out. In between these two deceptively simple actions, a lot happens!
First, air enters the nose or mouth. Dust and pollutants are filtered out as air travels through the nose and down the trachea (also called the windpipe).
Next, the air– which has been continually filtered along the way– reaches the lung sacs called alveoli.
It is within the lungs and the alveoli that gas exchanges happen. Oxygen gets moved into the blood stream where it can travel throughout your body enriching and enlivening all organs, tissue and other parts.
Carbon dioxide (and other waste gases) is passed back into the alveoli where it can be expelled as you exhale.
The more consciously you breathe, the more easily oxygen travels throughout your body, the more toxic waste gases are released on the exhale and the more potent you are in whatever you are doing.
How to Use Conscious Breathing to Improve Your Fitness
Start out by noticing the way that you typically breathe while you exercise.
If you have taken a yoga or pilates class, you are probably aware of the differences between breathing from your chest and from your abdomen, i.e. diaphragmatic breathing.
Especially in the practice of pilates, deep breathing and breathing patterns are integral to the exercise movements. Deep inhales allow tense and tight muscles to release and equally deep exhalations activate core, stabilizing muscles.
From where does your breath come in general and when you exercise?
You can get a better idea of this if you place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Now, with ease, inhale. Which of your hands moved the most?
If you found that the hand placed on your chest seemed to float up with your inhalation higher than the one on your abdomen, you are chest breathing and you are not alone! This is very common.
When you breathe consciously, you become aware of the way that you tend to breathe. Information is power, after all.
You can practice altering your breathing to allow as much oxygen to flow to all of you as possible. The keywords here are: soften and open. Slow, deep breaths (through the nose if possible) that originate from the diaphragm are the goal– even when you are exercising.
There are specific breathing techniques that can be used when an exercise requires the abdominal muscles to tighten. There are also breath patterns and strategies you can use to better support weight lifting and other exercises.
In general, however, it is important to keep the belly soft to support optimal lung capacity (the lower lungs are where most blood circulates) and the diaphragmatic breath.
You can soften your abdomen by slowly expanding your belly out as you inhale and then slowly letting it come back toward your spine as you exhale.
Guide your attention to your abdomen and your breath. Allow the breath to do the softening and notice as you feel more open and your breath drops down into your abdomen.
You can do this while you run, do a push-up and especially as you are warming up preparing to exercise.
Even (and especially) those with asthma or other respiratory disorders can practice conscious breathing while exercising and in their day to day living and can vastly benefit from it.
Of course, please consult with your health care practitioner if you have questions or concerns before attempting these suggestions.