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How to Breathe During Your Fitness Workout

How do you breathe during the day? How do you breathe during mild exertion, say a 400 meter jog? How do you breathe during a mile run best time attempt ? If you don’t know the answer, or you haven’t thought about it, now is the time to become more aware of your breathing.

Most people today are stressed out and overworked. Did you know that breathing through your mouth can actually increase stress levels aka sympathetic tone? “Mouth Breathers” use accessory muscles of the ribs to fill the upper and mid lobes of the lungs, but rarely utilize the lower lobes. This causes less oxygen transfer to the blood and therefore is a poor delivery of nutrients to the tissues.

OK, great. So how do we become more aware and try to alleviate this problem? By utilizing Nose breathing, which requires no extra muscle activation and pulls air into all three lobes of the lungs. This lower lung area has a high concentration of parasympathetic nerve receptors to balance the sympathetic nerve activity. You should be breathing from bottom to top, not the other way around. Once you start initiating your breath with your diaphragm, you start the journey to breathing more optimally. What happens when you breath optimally? Literally everything gets better. Body composition, metabolism, stress regulation, immune function, the list goes on.

Now that we know why we should be breathing with our diaphragm, lets talk about how. Start by practicing. You can do this by finding your diaphragm. Place your fingers underneath your lower ribs and push your belly out. This is how your breath pattern should start. Think diaphragm first, chest second. Start by warming up the diagram first, nasal breathing only. Yes, it’s harder and yes, it will take some practice. Once you are unable to maintain nasal breathing and your rate of exertion, you then progress to a breath pattern of nasal - in, mouth - out. When that pattern has been maintained, you can then switch back to a nasal only breathing pattern.

What you will notice is your parasympathetic tone, or your ability to rest and digest, will kick in much sooner. Whether its during a workout or just a stressful day, this practice will bring your heart rate, stress levels and anxiety down by being present and focusing on your breath.

If you are looking to start a regular breath practice, the app “State “ by Art of Breath is a great product that I use daily. You can literally up regulate or down regulate anywhere and anytime. It is intuitive and truly amazing. If you want to dig deeper into the science, Rob Wilson and Brian Mckenzie at have some awesome research on how breath can help with fitness, mental health and even diabetes.

Josh Hildebrand Firefighter /Paramedic Crossfit level 2 trainer


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