Joseph Pilates said, “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly”. But what does “correctly” mean? Yogis believe the mouth is only for eating and talking and that all breathing should be done only through the nose. In Pilates, you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. There are other breathing “rules” for strength training, running, cycling, and the martial arts.
Why should there be different breathing styles for different exercise formats? Isn’t breathing simply a matter of inhaling and exhaling? Yes and no. The answer lies in the way the breath is used to enhance the performance of the workout. Let’s take a quick peek at exercise breathing techniques.
Take note that this is just a short overview. Advanced breathing techniques can be very detailed and technical and can even be highly specific to individual athletes competing in the same events. What works for you may not work for someone else.
There appears to be three basic breathing styles regarding the use of the nose and mouth.
• Exclusively through the nose
• Exclusively through the mouth
• Inhaling with the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
There are a only a few techniques that inhale with the mouth and exhale through the nose like the advanced yoga breath called Sitkari Pranayama.
Inhaling through the nose has four distinct advantages. It acts as a filter to prevent dust and other particles from getting into the lungs, it warms the air, and it prevents gas from getting into the stomach, and it naturally controls the intensity of your workout by controlling the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Breathing through the mouth allows you to take in larger than normal volumes of air. This can be helpful when you need a lot of oxygen quickly during vigorous aerobic exercise. But mouth breathing can also lead to mild hyperventilation if you release carbon dioxide faster than is necessary.
A certain level of carbon dioxide in your blood “tells” your body that it is time to inhale. Blood vessels dilate in response. When carbon dioxide is given off too quickly, low levels fool your body into thinking you don’t need to inhale just yet. Blood vessels constrict, which restricts the amount of oxygen you need. This can lead to premature fatigue halfway through your workout.
However, some people have absolutely no hyperventilation problems with two-way mouth breathing during the more intense portions of their exercise. The technique seems to work for them.
Inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth is a common technique in aerobics classes and other forms of cardiovascular exercise like walking, running, cycling and swimming. Some people like using two-way mouth breathing when the exercise intensity climbs and going back to nose-mouth breathing when the intensity is reduced.
A Pilates class is a noisy class. A taekwondo class is even noisier. The “noise” is caused by forced exhalations . The technique is also popular in other martial arts and heavy lifting weights. The contraction of abdominal muscles assists the diaphragm to push upward to expel air from the lungs. Forced exhalations are useful when you need to create power to kick, throw, pull, push, or punch. Some runners use a similar technique called “rhino breathing”. The term is self-explanatory.
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