I’m sharing one of the introductory videos in our Mindful Running Training Program called Breathwork 101. Breathwork is a huge component of the training we cover in this 6-week program. In this video I explain how you can improve your running by slowing down your breath (which simulates high-altitude training).
You may have heard me mention how years ago, training at the Olympic training center, I was struggling badly with asthma until I learned some powerful breathing techniques, focusing on the exhale to calm my lungs down.
That gave me a clue that there was more to breathing than I ever thought. Years later, after struggling with bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia, my asthma returned, and I was told I had a very small lung capacity and there was nothing I could do about it.
That didn’t make any sense, so I began reading up on breathing, and became pro-active, doing breath work in bed, at my desk, and during training to flip things around…
The changes were dramatic. Not only did my asthma go away, but my lung capacity went WAY up, and in races, people would often comment, “Can you shut up Michael—I’m busy suffering!”
We all think we know how to breathe. Truth is, ever since childhood, our breathing’s gone off-track. As baby’s we were “obligatory nose-breathers.” We breathed only through our noses so we could drink our mother’s milk. But then we got sick, our noses clogged, and we panicked, cried, yelled out and gasped, which helped us force air through our mouths.
And so it began, we quickly learned to breathe through our mouths in times of anxiety, stress or crisis.
Mouth breathing’s not economical.
In essence, we’re gulping air, without the heating, humidifying or filtering we get from the nose, before it enters the lungs. It’s a rushed motion which triggers a fight-or-flight response, leaving our bodies in a state of panic or fear with a raised heart-rate, and rapid shallow breathing, ineffective at best to bring in air. But unless our parents told us otherwise, that’s what life taught us to do.
So in running, we all tend to breathe in through our mouths and high into our lungs. This leaves us winded…despite thinking we took a deep breath, raises our heart rate (requiring more oxygen), constricts our blood vessels—making it harder to get in enough air, and triggers the fight-or-flight mechanism of the body.
That’s why when you a see a panic attack, someone’s given a paper bag to breathe into…not to gulp in more air, but help them slow their breathing down.
For running, VO2 max is not the be-all, end-all.
This is confirmed by the likes of Dr. Timothy Noakes, author of the Lore of Running. First off, the major limits are in the mind. But secondly, it’s not about how much O2 you can get into your lungs, but how much you can get into your muscles! (Watch my interview with Dr. Timothy Noakes here.)
When we’re constantly blowing it out through our mouths, we can’t absorb it into our bodies.
The answer to this lies in slowing down the breath, and breathing deep into our belly. Like a pyramid, the lungs are their largest at the bottom, and that’s where the real gas exchange takes place—if we give it enough time.
So we need to belly breath, to train our diaphragm to work as a bellows, and to learn to breath more through our nose, which spins air down to our belly. When we do this, we exchange more air, and we relax the body as well.
Watch the video above from the Start Here section of our Mindful Running program, to learn more of the basics on breathing.
Our Mindful Running program is a day-by-day, 6-week program, and nearly every day you’ll be focusing on breathing exercises to transform your running, and your nervous system.
Even if you don’t get the program, start working today to breathe more through your nose and to breathe deep into your belly.
CO2 is the key to getting more oxygen into your cells
At first, it’ll be tough, you’ll think “I can’t get in enough air”. That’s actually not true—the body doesn’t use oxygen as a gauge for breathing, only for blacking out. Instead it uses carbon-dioxide (CO2). Strange as it seems, when you think you’re gasping for air, you’re actually trying to blow off CO2—that’s what forces you to breath.
Here’s the very very cool thing. Unless trained, we’re lightweights at holding onto CO2. We try and over-breathe, using quick shallow breaths to blow it off quickly. But that hurts us two-fold. First, we don’t have time to get in enough oxygen. And second, and THIS IS THE BIGGIE, it turns out, CO2 is the key to getting more oxygen into your cells. It is a VASODILATOR, meaning the more CO2 is in your body, the more oxygen gets into your muscles.
We just need to grow comfortable with a bit more CO2 in our bodies. So when practice breathing through the nose, if it’s mildly uncomfortable, that’s okay.
Simulate high altitude training
Try practicing nose and belly breathing while sitting in your chair, working to slow your breathing down. We normally breathe at eighteen breaths per minute. See if you can get yours to ten, or to seven, or even five. Then try going for very short walks, or even slug-like slow jogs, again slowing the breathing down, while breathing only through the nose and expanding your belly.
In essence, you’re simulating high altitude training, which very quickly makes dramatic a difference to your body. Over time, work to breathe entirely through your nose, at any speed or effort.
As you get this, you’ll find your perceived effort goes down, even as your speed goes up!
Check out the video above to find out more, and don’t forget to sign up for the free webinar on Tuesday to help get you ready for the cold, and help make this your best fall and winter running ever!
This is Michael Sandler saying, Be Mindful, Have Fun Out There, BREATHE DEEP, and Run Free!