Fitness: Why you need to work on your breath

If you really want to get fit and get the most out of your exercises, you need to first learn how to control your breathing

Pulasta Dhar
First Published13 Jun 2024, 06:00 PM IST
Why doing yoga is a good idea.
Why doing yoga is a good idea.(Istockphoto)

One of the first things you should learn before you start your fitness journey is knowing when to inhale and exhale while doing a particular exercise. The usual norm is to breathe out while applying force on the weights and to breathe in while either returning to starting position or in the gaps between the reps. But it doesn’t always come naturally. Even after years of lifting weights, the body sometimes forgets to follow the required pattern.

Here's an example of why this is important. While doing abs exercises, it is important to blow out air from the stomach when you go into the crunch part of the move. Another way to remember this is to breathe out while you do the raise part of the exercise. If you do it the other way round, you may end up with bulging or puffy abs. And this is different from bloating.

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“Poor lifting practices” and “incorrect breathing techniques” are two possible reasons for bulging abs, states a article titled, How To Get Rid Of Bloated Or Bulging Abs. And this is not just true of core workouts. Not bracing the core during while performing other lifts can also lead to this.

“Having a wide stance with your legs also helps ensure that your spine is neutral, as you don’t want your back to be arched. Otherwise, you’ll have a difficult time stabilising your pelvis and spine, as your abdominals will expand and stretch out,” states the piece.

All of which brings us to how important breath control is in your fitness journey. The world’s top athletes, be they archers, swimmers or runners, go through intense breath control training in order to gain every possible advantage in competitions. But for those who lift and exercise to stay healthy, devoting time to learning breathing techniques could also be a game-changer. This is simply because you will be able to give your body more oxygen while training.

“Your breathing has to increase from about 15 times a minute (12 litres of air) when you are resting, up to about 40–60 times a minute (100 litres of air) during exercise. Your circulation also speeds up to take the oxygen to the muscles so that they can keep moving,” states a research paper titled Breathe, published in the National Library Of Medicine.

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The key to fitness work is knowing how to work on something, rather than why to work on it. Just like you need to prevent your knees from bending inwards during a squat, and train for it, you can also work on breathing right during exercising. But because breathing is an involuntary act, it can be easy to ignore working on it. And the techniques are not the most exciting: pranayama, meditation, or even doing the Wim Hoff breathing technique are all static activities. The trick is in not compare learning these techniques to learning how to do a pull-up the right way, but to think of them as a way to make that pull-up more effective.

What breathing needs, like a lot of exercises, is concentration and focus. Both are important parts of the fitness journey. Meditation is a massive favourite among even international athletes because doing it helps them get better at what they do. “It lowers stress, improves stamina, and balances your hormones including GH (growth hormone) necessary for muscle building,” states an article titled How To Combine Meditation With Exercise For Better Health, published on fitness website There is no rule on whether you can try meditating before or after working out. See what works better and pick a pattern that allows you to make it part of your routine.

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Which brings us to other breathing techniques like yoga and pranayama. A comprehensive study called Health Impacts Of Yoga And Pranayama: A State-Of-The-Art Review, in the International Journal Of Preventive Medicine talks about how breathing involves inspiratory and expiratory muscles and how this can affect physical activity. The paper discusses how breathing techniques of any kind will give you a sense of “control” over how the body is functioning.

“Physical fitness not only refers cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength, but also coordination and flexibility i.e. the full range of physical qualities which can be understood as an integrated measurement of all functions and structures involved in the performance,” states the paper.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.

Also Read 3 barbell exercises you need to try

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First Published:13 Jun 2024, 06:00 PM IST
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