Breath is vital for life, and is an action that many of us take for granted. This works OK until our breathing comes under more pressure from physical activity, such as running.
For many runners breathing becomes a limiting factor in their performance. Whether that's from becoming breathless or the cardiovascular system not being able to deliver sufficient oxygen to the working muscles to maintain the effort.
Anatomy of the Respiratory System
At the base of the lungs is the diaphragm - a dome-shaped muscle that separates the thorax (chest) from the abdominal area. The diaphragm also forms the top part of the "core cylinder".
Inspiration / Inhalation
To breathe in the diaphragm contracts and moves downwards, allowing the chest and ribs to expand as the lungs fill. Inhalation is an active process.
Expiration / Exhalation
To breathe out the diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards, allowing the chest and ribs to contract as the lungs empty. Exhalation is a passive process.
Why You Need To Breathe More Effectively To Run
Using the diaphragm to breathe increases lung capacity in order to deliver more oxygen into the body.
When breathing normally ie. not physically exerted, we tend towards upper respiratory breathing, with the breath landing high up in the chest and using only a small amount of lung capacity.
As physical activity levels and intensity rise more oxygen is needed to fuel the muscles. Therefore the deeper you can breathe and the longer you can maintain this, the more oxygen you take in with each breath and the longer you will be able to run for before having to slow down to catch your breath.
In addition if the diaphragm works sub-optimally or fatigues quickly this will adversely your ability to recruit your core muscles effectively, and leave you more open to poor posture, instability and increased risk of injury.
How Pilates and Yoga Help With Breathing
Both Pilates and Yoga encourage participants to breathe more deeply by recruiting the diaphragm. Like any muscle the diaphragm gets stronger if it's worked in a constructive way.
Pilates and Yoga combine controlled, deep breaths with movement. This helps to develop strong control and awareness of breathing.
Creating more awareness and control of breath is essential to avoid shallow breathing and breathlessness at the beginning of a run and at the end when fatigue is kicking in.
A Simple Breathing Exercise for Awareness, Control and Relaxation
This simple exercise is a good introduction to breath work. It promotes greater awareness and control, as well as stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to promote relaxation.
1) Sit in a relaxed but upright position (avoid slouching), or lie on your back
2) Close your eyes to help the mind to focus on what's happening in your body. Bring an awareness to how you're breathing.
3) Count the in-breath from start to finish. Repeat for 3x inhalations.
4) Count the out-breath from start to finish. Repeat for 3x exhalations.
5) Extend the out-breath by 2-3 counts. Continue for 10x breaths,
For example, if the in-breath and out-breaths both last for 4 counts - Breath in for 4 counts and breathe out for 6-7 counts.
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