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Breathing In and Breathing Out

Add breathing to the list of things I never thought about before thanks to Gain Strength and Conditioning. Breathing is a skill, just like standing, sitting and walking. Breathing is one of those things that is automatic-meaning, you don’t really have to think about it to keep doing it-but paying attention to how you breathe can have both positive and negative effects on how your body reacts to stress, including training stress.

I have been told I am good at breathing, but only when I am lifting, and swinging, and doing other things at the gym, not running and not getting through a hectic, stressful day. I have been known to hyperventilate to the point of full blown panic attacks, and for awhile (before I started working out again) I would not be able to sleep because I would never know when my heart would start racing and I would need a paper bag to breathe into. This dysfunctional breathing became normal for me for a period of years.

Once I understood what was happening to trigger the abnormal breathing events and why my body parts would go all tingly, I was able to use breathing to help stop and prevent a trip to the ER. Thank goodness this all disappeared when I headed back to the gym.

As I headed back to the gym 8 years ago and started running 4 years ago I started paying more attention to diaphragm breathing. Eventually, I got the hang of it, especially when lifting. But when I run, I am a mouth breather. I once asked my former trainer how I should be breathing during a run and he told me, “However you can, it doesn’t really matter.” So, mouth breathing and huffing and puffing it was. Until now.

For months now my current strength and conditioning coach has been casually referring to his own breathing practice and the benefits and effects of practicing the Wim Hof breathing method.

Wim is able to hold his breath with ease for over six minutes while his entire body is submerged under water. Cold water, obviously. It’s possible for everyone. The base lies in proper breathing.

Through a proper breathing and training it, you can train to hold your breath longer and make conscious contact with your heart, autonomic nervous system, and immune system. It also has a positive influence on your blood circulation.

Although part of the Wim Hof breathing method is to train the body to withstand extreme cold, the breathing part is pretty fascinating.

Brian MacKenzie of Power, Speed and Endurance fame is also a proponent of proper breathing training, but in a slightly different way. Mackenzie is a fan of the breathing mask, which limits oxygen intake and forces the body to adapt in a similar way to high altitude training.

I am not a huge fan of Mackenzie-he is a little rough around the edges and egotistical for me to take too seriously, but my coach, AND Wim Hof, AND Brian MAcKenzie, AND most recently a Runner’s Connect podcast with Patrick McKeown (The Oxygen Advantage) have made me give it a closer look.

My coach has been asking me to try nose breathing during recovery between sets, during running warmup and cool down, and I am now adding it to whenever I need to breathe-even if it is a little uncomfortable. According to McKeown, breathing less, by combining nose breathing with occasional breath holding is a good thing for the muscles, which do the work. That is enough for me. (To hear the full scientific explanation I recommend listening to the Runner’s Connect Podcast.)

In addition to helping me increase my anaerobic threshold, mindfully breathing also triggers the parasympathetic system which helps to decrease the heart rate and increase blood flow. More blood to the muscles during training means they can work longer before lactate threshold is reached. And the beauty of practicing breathing is that you can do it anywhere, anytime.

There appear to be so many benefits to paying attention to how we breathe it is definitely something I am going to add to my ever growing list of skills to work on.

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