Challenge yourself to take your exercise or sport to the next level by learning correct breathing technique. Polishing the moves of a sport or exercise routine can absorb your attention so you may not even think about breathing. But breathing posture, spacing inhalations and exhalations, and cross-training to improve breathing muscles will contribute to enhanced fitness and a better performance.
Nerves and stress lead to shallow breathing, just when you need all systems firing to master a new skill or demonstrate mastery of an old one. Sports psychology professor Karlene Sugarman recommends circle breathing to relax and focus you before an important match or a challenging workout. Circle breathing requires drawing in breath slowly through your nose, taking it all the way down to the core behind your navel and filling your lungs to the top of your chest. Hold the breath for two counts, then exhale for four counts and release all tension. Keep your mind on your breathing as you do five to 10 circles in succession and notice your increasing concentration and relaxation.
In yoga, breathing itself is an exercise. Pranayama breathing is a technique that increases the energy or life force in your body. There are several types of Pranayama, all of which encourage full, deep breathing, reduce toxins and stress, boost the digestive and immune systems, and promote peace of mind and self-control. Kapalabhati Pranayama, or Skull Shining Breath, is a relaxed inhalation and an explosive exhalation that contracts your abs and empties your lungs. Ujjayi Pranayama, or Conqueror Breath, balances your inhale and exhale and calms your mind. Kumbhaka Pranayama is breath retention, either after an in-breath or an out-breath. It strengthens your lungs, diaphragm and rib cage muscles. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is alternate nostril breathing said to synchronize both sides of your brain as it purifies your energy channels. "Yoga Journal" recommends daily practice of Pranayama techniques that will gradually lead to mastery.
Breathe deeply, using your diaphragm, to really fill your lungs while exercising and improve your stamina, speed and endurance. When you take in a full breath and expel that breath completely, you empty carbon dioxide and increase oxygen that will burn more fat, lower your heart rate and slow the production of lactic acid, which creates muscle fatigue. Belly breathing takes some practice for most people, who default to shallow chest breathing under exertion. Exercises like Pilates Hundreds help to strengthen your diaphragm and stretch the intercostal muscles between your ribs to open up the body for deeper breathing. Breathing through your mouth while running or working out lets you take in more oxygen and really fill your lungs -- and that leads to stronger performance. A study conducted at Brunel University in England and published in the "Journal of Applied Physiology" found a direct correlation between respiratory muscle strength and leg muscle endurance.
Pull together form and function as you're counting off laps in the pool. Breathing improperly will sink your freestyle faster than a weight belt, so master a few tips to stay afloat and keep the oxygen flowing. Brian MacKenzie, a UK-based fitness coach, says to bubble out all your air into the water before turning your head to inhale. Trying to exhale and inhale as you rotate to take a breath will leave you gasping as you run out of time. Be careful to roll to the side as you breathe in -- don't turn your head and look up, pushing your body down in the water. As you are breathing to one side, your opposite arm should be extending, not pulling down and back. This will keep your head above water while your mouth is open.
- Brian Mac: The Benefits of Breathing Techniques
- A-B-C of Yoga: Pranayama - The Art of Yoga Breathing
- Stew Smith: Breathing During Exercise
- Yoga Journal: Breathing Lessons
- Brian Mac: Effective Breathing, Whilst Swimming, is All in the Balance
- Yoga Journal: Pranayama Poses
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Exercise-Induced Respiratory Muscle Fatigue: Implications for Performance
- Runner's World: Lung Power
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .