Updated: April 12, 2022
If you could do ONE thing to get your feet pedaling in the right direction as we work our way out of the pandemic – as well as instantly improve athletic performance, boost cardiovascular fitness and relieve stress – wouldn’t you try it?
Most of us don’t breathe with the efficiency necessary for maximum performance. There are two types of breathing: chest (shallow) and diaphragmatic (deep). Diaphragmatic is the most efficient means of respiration because “deep” breathing pulls air into the lower lobes of the lungs first, where there is more oxygen-rich blood available.
Most people breathe mainly in the chest (shallow) by expanding and lifting the rib cage with the intercostal muscles in between the ribs. This action requires a higher heart rate than deep breathing. Chest breathing fills the middle and upper lungs, but not the blood and oxygen-rich lower lobes.
Chest breathing increases stress levels by activating the “fight or flight” response in the body. The stress and tension associated with fight or flight parallels the relationship between breath and the mind. When the breath is shallow and unsteady, your mind has a similar unsteadiness. When the breath is deep and smooth, your mind has a connection to the body that lowers heart rate, perceived exertion and stress levels during exercise.
Even though diaphragmatic breathing is beneficial and easy to learn, it is hard to make it a habit. Developing an awareness of the following factors will promote more efficient breathing:
Breathe Through Your Nose: Proper diaphragmatic inhalation is best achieved by breathing in and out through your nose (out through mouth is acceptable if nose exhale is too difficult). Inhaling through the nose engages the diaphragm so the stomach expands and the lower lobes of the lungs have access to more oxygen. This extra blood available for oxygen exchange in the lower lungs is an important component of improved performance and enhanced recovery from exercise.
Be Flexible: Like a thrown pebble creates ripples in every direction on a still pond, the breath should create movement in all directions in the body. The lungs’ ability to expand is related to the flexibility of the diaphragm, rib cage and spine. If the rib cage turns into an inflexible “cage,” the lungs will not take in as much oxygen as they normally would.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our Breathing to Enhance Performance and Reduce Stress course or any of our other online courses.