Whether your clients are out-of-shape or long-time exercisers, everyone can get value from learning how to breathe better.
What is Breathing Training?
Hopefully this isn’t too much of a shock – but breathing is the practice of taking air in and out of the lungs. Breathing is a natural element of life – so much so that most people don’t put much thought into it. However, there are techniques and proper ways to breathe that can maximize performance in aerobics and help your body in many ways. Breathing training is basically applying the same principles to physical training to breathing muscles.
Health Benefits of Breathing Training
Watching tv or sitting all day can lead to poor posture, which can lead to muscle tightening in your anterior chain and weakened muscles in the back. All these things limit your breathing capacity.
Further, many studies show that better breathing patterns help with reducing anxiety and depression. While stronger breathing muscles would certainly help anyone in aerobic exercise or high-intensity workouts, or a musician trying to improve their capacity to play a wind instrument, it also helps anyone that wants a happier and healthier life.
Training Breathing Can Help Performance in Athletics
Just like there are muscles that help you lift things, there are muscles that take part in pulmonary function (breathing). Many people live their lives in shallow breathing patterns. Shallow breathing is often a side effect of a sedentary lifestyle and anxious thoughts. These shallow breaths make our brain think we are in a threatening situation, which just furthers feelings of anxiety.
Deep breaths, instead, tell our brain that everything is good. Deeper breaths affects posture, helps lower stress hormone levels, and helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Luckily, a deep breath is a relatively easy thing to teach. After all, even the simplest exercises need to be taught initially.
Breathing and Muscles
Did you know when you yawn it’s because you’re not getting enough oxygen to your brain? This is often because you’re tired and your involuntary breathing is slacking – but it can also be because of prolonged shallow breathing, even if you’re just sitting at a desk fully rested.
There are several muscles present in your breathing function – the intercostals, the trapezius, the transverse abdominis, the sternocleidomastoid (to name a few). Unfortunately, many of these muscles go unused through much of the day for most people due to sitting all day. And, as with most muscles, they grow weak after lack of use.
Luckily, proper breathing is something that can be trained.
A Couple Great Breathing Exercises
If you’ve ever let your friend who is really into mindfulness give you a breathwork session, you’ve probably heard of box breathing.
Box breathing is a progression of four count segments.
1. Inhale through the nose for four
2. Hold for four
3. Exhale all your air through the nose for four
4. Hold for four
This breathing exercise helps to slow your respiratory rate and take less but more effective breaths.
This exercise focuses on taking breaths that use more of your lungs. Shallow breaths only scrape the surface of your lung capacity. Deep breaths into your diaphragm use your lungs more fully and exercise more of those breathing muscles mentioned above.
For this exercise, have your client lie on the ground in a supine position with one hand on their chest and one on their stomach.
Have them inhale for two count – the first count focused on filling up the ‘top half’ of their lungs and the second filling up the ‘bottom half’. Their hands should help with focusing that breath into the two areas. The first count into the chest will raise their hand on their chest. The second count into their stomach will raise their hand on their stomach.
Then they should exhale with a sigh, in a relaxed nature. Ideally, this sigh would relieve all air from their lungs. This exercise will sometimes make people dizzy, because you’re getting air into parts of your lungs that aren’t visited too often – so be aware of this possibility.
Breathing for Athletes
To help with maximizing strength, strength athletes need to focus on specific breathing patterns to boost their ability. To do this, the athlete can either practice 360-degree breathing where a full breath expands the torso in all direction, or intra-abdominal pressure breathing where the athlete contracts muscles in the core and forces air into the diaphragm to help with control and boosts lifting ability.
For endurance athletes, efficiency in breathing to help slowing fatigue is the goal. The best way to do this is consciously taking deeper breaths throughout your workout. Research more advanced exercises to help strengthen breathing muscles. Stronger breathing muscles will help with these deep breaths during workouts.