Summer Work Out: Aerobic Fitness, Make Each Breath Count


One of the first things that track or cross country coaches across this country will focus on with new runners is the act of breathing. It might seem a silly thing to spend much time with. After all, breathing is something that happens naturally. Why should one have to devote energy to developing so-called ‘better breathing’?

For so many who are breaking into a new workout routine, this question is among the first to be asked of their personal trainers, doctors, or other aids. Yet, there is good reason for coaches and trainers to focus so heavily on the way an athlete breathes. Though it may seem odd, people can literally burn themselves out well before their muscles tire, simply by breathing incorrectly. This is especially true when doing cardio workouts. Controlling this portion of the exercise can actually improve stamina, strength, and performance.

Though the act of breathing is involuntary, proper breathing during exercise is not. Most people do not find a beneficial rhythm without taking the time to focus on it. To train oneself on how to breathe properly during cardio, experts suggest counting through breaths. The inhale should last for a count of three and the exhale should last for two. It is also wise to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Part of the reason that this is recommended, especially to beginners is because the act of breathing through the nose makes it easier for a person to concentrate on the pattern. Learning to do this without focusing so much attention on it requires practice, but in time, the body will begin to do so instinctively and oxygen flow to the muscles and lungs will be at a premium. When that pattern gets off kilter and breaths become shallower or faster, the body cannot properly balance oxygen and CO2 levels.

Similarly, during lifting or physical training exercises, proper air flow helps to defend against internal injury. Muscles, vessels, and other tissue are susceptible to rip, tear, hernia, and more. Exhaling when the body is exerting force can actually help to prevent these problems. Thus, one should breathe out when pushing, pulling, or lifting weight and should breathe in when returning the weight to its starting point. It is absolutely essential that a person never stop breathing during a workout. Many beginners will hold their breath when lifting heavy weights. This puts the body at extreme risk. Blood pressure is allowed to spike and blood flow to the brain is slowed. Thus, it is essential to gain control over breathing before allowing this to become a habit.

Aside from finding a internal balance and preventing injury, there are many other benefits that come with proper oxygen flow during exercise. One of the first things people notice is that the heart rate remains lower. Breathing improperly often forces one’s heart to race. In order to keep up with increased oxygen demands and the amplified carbon dioxide levels, the heart works faster to pump more oxygenated blood through the body. When more air is flowing through the body, this is no longer necessary. Furthermore, increased oxygen can actually help a person burn fat. Because the body require hydration and oxygen in the chemical breakdown of fat cells, more of both can actually improve how quickly the body does so. As a result of these things, the body is not working as hard to retain internal equilibrium and can afford to expend that energy in other ways, such as climbing that last hill, sprinting that final quarter mile, swimming those final laps, or doing one more repetition on the bench. When breathing correctly, the body is capable of doing more and progressing faster, which is the ideal scenario for a person trying to get in shape.

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