We generally don’t think once, let alone twice, about our breathing. The breath is something that’s always there, so we pretty much take it for granted.
The breath has a vital and central role to play in all aspects of life. Exercise is no exception. When you exercise, your body’s demand for oxygen increases. This puts a greater stress on the respiratory system – the lungs, diaphragm and the inter-costal muscles that surround and work with the lungs.
The problem is that we have become very inefficient at the fundamental task of breathing. Most people only use a small percentage of their available lung capacity. We tend to take in little sips of air, leading to shallow breathing that only utilises a small portion of the upper part of our lungs. This has come about, in part, due to our less active lifestyles and our lack of awareness of our own bodies. When you live a lot of the time in your head, it’s hard to think about your breath!
As a result of this shallow breathing, the aforementioned muscles of the respiratory system are under-utilised and, like all muscles that are so treated, they begin to atrophy. The good news, though, is that also like all other muscles, those of the respiratory system can be trained and their ability to function enhanced. Like the biceps in your arms, the respiratory muscles will respond to exercise in the same way. ‘A muscle is a muscle is a muscle’, as one of my former mentors used to say.
The benefits of training your respiratory muscles are manifold. The greater efficiency of the muscles means less energy is used in breathing, energy that can be utilised elsewhere, like in your leg muscles when out jogging for example. The result, your ability to run for longer improves. You’ll also realise improvements in your focus and concentration. Maybe best of all, you’ll learn to become more aware of your own body, the emotions you are experiencing and what’s going on inside. For me, this is the real win here.
As those who practice meditation will tell you, focusing on your breath will help you live more fully in the present moment and less in your head. Not a bad return for a few minutes each day of simple exercise. Breath is life.
Exercise of the Week
A simple exercise to improve the efficiency of your respiratory muscles.
- Start by standing straight against a wall, with good posture. The back of your head, shoulder blades, buttocks and calves should be touching the wall. Relax your shoulders and tuck your chin in slightly.
- Take a deep breath in through the mouth for a count of 4 seconds. Notice your abdomen rise first as air fills your lower lungs. Then notice your chest rise as air filters to the upper lungs. Then exhale through the mouth for 4 seconds, allowing the breath to simply fall out. Focus on completely collapsing the abdomen to push out all the air. Do not pause between inhalation and exhalation.
- Start by doing 2-3 minutes daily, working up to 5 minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening or as desired.
NEXT WEEK A new section to help you train towards a 5km walk/jog, progressing to 10km and right up to a half-marathon.
Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and a qualified life coach. He runs his own business in Westport and is the creator of Bootcamp West, an exciting and challenging exercise programme in Westport. For details of upcoming classes, visit www.bootcampwest.com or e-mail email@example.com or telephone 086 1674515.