Breathing for Health
You can survive days without food, hours without water, but only a few minutes without oxygen. Considering the average person inhales and exhales over 25,000 times per day, it stands to reason we should take our breathing habits as serious as our diet and exercise. Indeed, how we breathe has immediate impact on our physiology as every organ and system function hinges on the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
How to Breathe
Due to poor posture, muscular imbalance, stress, and poor cardiovascular conditioning, many people suffer from some issues that can be easily remedied with proper breathing mechanics. We will start with a simple exercise to understand the different roles of the belly vs. chest.
Lie on the floor face up. Place one hand on your chest and one on your bellybutton and breathe as normal through the nose. Which hand moves up and down more with inhalation and exhalation? If you’re like most people, you breathe predominantly with the chest. With that in mind, try to move the belly up with the first 2/3 of inhalation and the chest with the last 1/3. This is diaphragmatic breathing as encouraged in yoga, meditation, and relaxation programs and is a more “natural” way to breathe – just like a baby.
Breathing During Exercise
Unfortunately, many popular exercises inhibit this style of breathe. For example, pushing moves like the bench press coupled with spine flexion moves like crunches create tightness in the front of the body. With this tightness comes a rounding of the shoulders and forward head posture that constrict the movement of proper respiration.
When performing pull-based exercises with the palms facing away from you, such as pull-ups or lat pull-down, inhale during the pull phase of the movement. Pull-based exercise with a supinated (palms face in) grip should be performed with an exhalation during the pull phase. For most all push-based exercises, inhale during the bend and exhale with braced abdominals on the push.
For heavy weightlifting, the breath should be used to stabilize and protect the back. For example (with a deadlift): breathe deep diaphragmatically, tense the glutes and abdominals, and hold. While lifting, exhale through pursed lips or hiss to move through tough sticking points. Upon lockout, re-inhale sharply with the nose, hold, and lower the weight.