Besides being mindful of your posture, position and pace during your workout, the way you breathe could also affect your risk of injury and the efficiency of your workout.
Breathing is both a voluntary and involuntary function of the body, and can be performed consciously and also unconsciously. For that reason, most of us do not pay enough attention to our breathing, neglecting this important part of the workout.
Ideally, different breathing techniques and patterns should be engaged for different forms of exercise, in order to improve the intensity and duration of your workout.
Those new to running often find themselves huffing and puffing through the run, quickly feeling out of breath and attributing this feeling to their lack of stamina. While that may be true, the way you breathe is a reason too. Rapid, short intakes of breath causes heart rate to increase, making you work harder than you might actually have to.
Taking controlled breaths can allow more oxygen to reach the muscles, helping you to run faster and longer. Experts advise breathing in through the nose, and exhaling through the mouth, taking in full inhales and exhales as much as possible.
Most runners feel comfortable taking a breath every two steps: Taking two steps while breathing in, and taking another two steps while breathing out.
Other than running, going for spin classes, working on the elliptical, or attending a Zumba class can provide a good cardio workout. The breathing techniques are similar to running, so try to keep your breathing controlled, instead of taking erratic, short puffs of breaths.
Strength training or weightlifting
As a rule of thumb, inhale during the less strenuous phase of the lifting movement, and exhale on the more demanding phase. For a simple bench press, inhale before lifting the weights, and slowly exhale through pursed lips while you lift, and inhale again on the way down, or when you return to the starting position.
However, if you’re lifting heavier weights, the Valsalva Maneuver may work better. That involves taking a deep breath immediately before lifting, and holding your breath through the lift. While holding your breath may sound dangerous, this helps to tighten the core and gives stability to the spine, in order to help you maintain proper form. Ultimately, it decreases the risk of injury when lifting heavy weights.
Although it might be a stationary position, but your breathing while performing a plank exercise can help engage your core muscles better. When inhaling, take a long breath through your nose, tightening every muscle in your body – the abs, glutes (butt), and leg muscles. Then, slowly exhale through your mouth, while keeping your muscles engaged. You should repeat the tightening process again in your next breath.
Your body needs all the oxygen it can get to replenish the energy stores that you have depleted over your workout, which is why you often breathe harder during the break than during the workout. If you’re performing an interval exercise, practice deep breaths in between sets to get more oxygen to your lungs and muscles. This diaphragmatic breathing – focusing on filling and emptying your abdomen instead of raising or lowering your chest – helps you to push yourself harder on your next set of exercises.
Focusing on your breathing patterns while working out might be challenging at first, but it will become a habit as times goes by. When that happens, you can move on to optimise other parts of your workout such as pace or body positions.