When you plan a workout, you typically think about duration, cardiovascular vs. strength, intervals, reps, sets … but do you think about your breath? One of our most basic body functions, we seldom consider our breath during our workout – but it could be the little thing that makes a big difference. Though we typically go about our day without even thinking about breathing, taking a few moments to think about your inhale and exhale can have a great impact on your workout.
As a Pilates instructor – and one-time singer (I trained for about 8 years, between high school and college) – I’ve found that breath control serve a number of functions, and keeping you from passing out on that heavy set is just the tip of the iceberg. Breath control can allow for greater muscle activation, increased power, better heart rate control … and yes, it can even make exercise feel easier! The key is to focus on deep, diaphragmatic breaths, rather than the shallow, chest breathing to which most people are accustomed.
Diaphragmatic breath is one of the most efficient ways of breathing, and a diaphragmatic exhale can even help to increase power output during strenuous exercise. To do so, inhale through the nose, concentrating on expanding the lungs, while allowing the diaphragm to drop lower into the belly. To test this, place your hands on the abdomen. As you inhale, you should feel the ribs expand, and the abdominal muscles relax, as the lungs completely fill with oxygen. On the exhale, think about tightening the abdominal muscles back in, while expelling every last ounce of oxygen from the lungs (ideally, you want to exhale through the mouth).
So, there you have it! It may take a few tries to get used to proper diaphragmatic breath, but one you are accustomed to it, you will find that you will naturally start breathing more deeply. As I always tell my classes when encouraging controlled breathing – more oxygen means more blood, more blood means faster recovery, and faster recovery means faster gains … which means a leaner, stronger, more fit you!