What’s the difference between breathing well and breathing poorly? It all starts with the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the primary muscle in breathing. It is located at the boundary between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. When you breathe properly, your diaphragm contracts and you abdomen protrudes; this allows your lungs to fill with air. Inside your lungs is where oxygen truly enters your body, through 300 million alveoli, most densely located in the lungs’ lower lobes. Thoracic breathing, which is often shallow and gasping, does not engage the diaphragm and prevents your lungs from taking in the maximum amount of oxygen. This shallow breathing can cause tension, stress, and anxiety, as well as dizziness and high blood pressure. In a workout, thoracic breathing causes shortness of breath, cramps, muscle pain, tension, fatigue, weakness and loss of concentration.
Quick Tip: The “Reverse” Breath
Take a breath in. Exhale slowly and completely out of your mouth, releasing air until there is nothing left to exhale. Repeat, breath in and slowly breath out, observing how your body works to breathe. What can you observe about your breath?
You probably noticed that when you exhale completely, your body automatically takes in more air. Your lungs work like a vacuum, expanding to draw in the maximum amount of air. Often we think of an exhale as the conclusion of breath, when in fact exhaling is the first step in preparing your body to receive a full, oxygen rich, diaphragmatic breath.
You can use the Reverse Breath at the beginning of your warm-up to fully oxygenate your body, which will help to energize your workout.