Breathing Matters

In 2013 I first addressed how important breathing is to your fitness goals, with specific focus on breathing correctly when exercising.  Lately with all the political unrest in our country, I feel everyone is holding their breath in general and that will only serve to increase our internal stress levels.  So for that reason, I have updated an earlier post to remind us all to BREATHE!

Women in labor know full well the importance of breathing. Deliberate breath control is a natural tool (vs. medicinal) to managing pain. Those studying Martial Arts know it too, same for distance runners.  Actors, singers, dancers must all incorporate breathing into their art. But the importance of breathing for successfully improving your fitness stamina and goals is often overlooked.

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Let’s start with the clinical basics. When you breathe in, you deliver oxygen to your muscles; when you breathe out you remove carbon dioxide from your system. (Carbon dioxide is the waste gas that is produced when carbon is combined with oxygen as part of the body’s energy-making processes.)

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Most runners or cardio-enthusiasts understand the importance of proper breathing to achieve endurance for the length of their run/cardio. It’s kind of automatic. But proper breathing for those performing resistance training (weight lifting) does not happen automatically within the body, and many times the breath is even held during exercise.

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The fact is that successful resistance training must include the proper oxygen delivery and removal of carbon dioxide to the muscles. Not only is this crucial to allow energy to continue throughout your entire workout, but the specific focus of your breathing will allow you to lift more weight, more often, and therefore, burn more calories and exhaust the muscle. Exhausting the muscle is the first step to rebuilding it (through proper nutrition and rest), thereby creating more lean muscle tissue which eats fat.

Woman working out with dumbbells

When you hold your breath you increase tension throughout your entire body. For proper muscle training, you need to isolate the tension to only the muscle(s) you are seeking to work. In other words, if your back and arms are tightened (tense) while performing a chest press, your chest is sharing the weight load and therefore not benefiting from the targeted exercise.

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So here’s a quick guideline I instruct all my new clients to memorize: when lifting, pushing or pulling (the exertion) breathe OUT. So if you are performing a biceps curl, take a breath in before you start, then exhale on the exertion (the lifting of the weight) and breath IN again as you lower the weight to starting position. If you are performing a leg press, take a breath in before you start, then exhale on the exertion (the pushing of the weight) and breath IN again as you lower the weight to starting position.

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Another aspect of breathing I wish to address is for children. Between the higher demands on their brains in school, the jam-packed schedule of school, homework, sports, etc. that many kids experience, and any tensions at home or in the world at large — breathing is key to keeping their volatile emotions stable.  Spend some time with your children each day teaching/reminding them to breathe slowly and to consciously relax any tension in their bodies.  (This is especially helpful at night before bed.) Perhaps the whole family can share in a 1-minute meditation where everyone can shed some of their internal stresses.  There are smart-phone apps or YouTube videos that can guide you through these easy (and relaxing) short meditations where breathing is emphasized.

Meditation

It’s a simple thing but it can make a huge difference in achieving your fitness goals, and as stated at my introduction, breathing through emotional stress is also paramount to keeping our bodies happy and healthy.  So breathe on … especially when watching the news!

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