How is breathing related to your level of physical fitness?

I developed a 10 minute cardio routine to train people to breathe and build their cardio endurance. It sounds easy enough. How difficult can breathing and 10 minutes of exercise be? The routine is broken down into 10 one-minute intervals. You can do just about anything for one minute, right?

When a person sits for long periods of time they tend to develop what I call shallow or neck breathing. This type of breathing allows only a small amount of oxygen into the lungs. What are you doing right now? You are probably sitting with your belly protruding (Pull your belly button back toward your spine – every second counts!) and your chest barely rising and falling with each breath. Breathing this way day in and day out doesn’t exercise the diaphragm and prepare the lungs to be able to do their job when it comes time to exert energy.

If you are saying to yourself, “Yeah, but I can run for three miles just fine,” you are what I call a hamster in a wheel. If your current cardio routine involves only walking, running, or using the same machine each time you exercise, you are becoming a pattern breather because your body never has demands placed on it. If your body could speak, it would say, “Here we go again. No need to stress out. He/she’s just going to read a magazine while on the elliptical for a half hour.” This is exactly the reason people plateau and then become exceedingly frustrated when they are unable to achieve their goals, even though they exercise daily. Changes will occur in your body as it adapts to the new demands forced upon it; you must constantly change your cardio routine in order to build and maintain cardio endurance.

As a swim coach for the past 12 years, one of my greatest points of emphasis to my athletes is their breathing patterns.  The body responds properly to a consistent oxygen intake at a steady rate.  For some, controlling a breathing pattern is natural and for others it is a learned skill.  Breathing patterns can have different tempos but the important aspect is that it is consistent. Varying breathing tempos adds extra stress on the cardiorespiratory system.

Breathing is directly related to increased fitness levels.  This is because the body is able to deliver more oxygen to the muscles providing the fuel needed to sustain activity.   The more efficiently you breathe during exercise, more effort can be exerted to increase your fitness level.  I’ve coached many people through breathing exercises to improve their running and it is amazing what little adjustments in posture and breathing patterns can make.

As far as posture is concerned, running hunched over with your shoulders folded forward restricts air flow since the lungs cannot fully expand.  Hold the shoulders back, look straight ahead or slightly up to keep this posture.  This allows more room for the lungs to expand taking in more oxygen while at the same time engaging the core muscles.  This will also help in daily posture.

I cycle my breathing by counting, I breathe in 3 counts and out 3 counts.

Pairing breathing to exercise activity can be improved by taking yoga classes.  Yoga movements are based on inhaling and exhaling.  A good rule to follow is to exhale on the exertion and inhale on the release.

I find in my experience that your natural breathing is essectial to fitness.  I make it a point to ensure that my client are breathing normally during a training session no matter how hard the training get.  Many begining clients will hold their breath when pushing,  they may grunt or yell because that is what they grew up watching and it looks cool.  You have to understand that you are taking quality oxygen away from each repetition or movement when you do that.  If you simple breath through it you will get the full benefit of the exercise. 

One tip is to count while working out. You can't count if you are holding your breath.  Once you trust in your breathing you will totally notice that you are lasting longer and working harder because of it. 

Breathing is very important with physical activity and frankly very important in life.  If we do not breathe then I believe you know the end result.  When you complete physical activity you are raising your body temperature and your heart rate.  By being able to control your breathing patterns you will be able to assist in controlling your heart rate which will assist in regulating your body temperature.  If you do not control your breathing then the end result may include overheating and feelings of lightheadedness.  Figure out a breathing pattern that works for you and stick with it.  A suggestion would be to breathe in when you are lowering a weight and to breathe out when pushing the weight away from your body.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
In a healthy person, physical fitness determines the point at which you experience breathlessness. The more regular physical exercise your body is used to, the more efficient your muscles are. They'll use oxygen better and create less carbon dioxide, and the lungs and heart will end up being more efficient too. This is why a fit person can do more exercise without getting breathless than an unfit person can.

Certain illnesses can mimic the effects of being unfit, but, unfortunately, at much lower levels of exertion than simple exercise, so that even crossing a room, getting the mail, or doing a lap around the coffee table can lead to major huffing and puffing.
You: Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty

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International bestselling authors of YOU: The Owner's Manual and YOU: On a Diet give you all the tools and know-how to stay young and defy the ageing process. Drawing lively parallels between your...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.