The average person breathes more than 23,000 times a day, often without second thought. Breathing comes naturally to most of us, so we often don’t think about things like a proper breathing technique. However, using the correct technique can help maximize performance during aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling or swimming.

Breathing involves taking air into and out of the lungs. When you participate in aerobic activities your bodies uses this air to fuel your muscles so they can function properly. While all of your body’s muscles play an important role in your ability to perform, the diaphragm is among the most important. It’s the muscle that’s responsible for 80 percent of your breathing. This muscle’s main function is to support breathing, which can help your body adjust to increases in intensity during your workout. Like your other muscles, you can do exercises to train your diaphragm and boost your overall aerobic performance.

Four Factors for Full Breaths

From an early age, you were likely taught to breathe with your upper chest. While this practice does increase the volume of your breaths, you still can improve the amount of air you are taking in by using your diaphragm correctly.

The first step to improve your diaphragmatic breathing requires you to increase the flexibility of the muscle. To do this, you’ll need to control your diaphragm by using your abdominal muscles to press your abdomen forward, allowing your diaphragm to flex downward. This will cause your lungs to be filled with the maximum amount of oxygen while eliminating the amount of carbon dioxide that escapes your body in exhalation.

To get the most out of your breathing during these diaphragm exercises, make sure you focus on the following:

  1. The mode
  2. The intensity
  3. The frequency
  4. The duration of exercise stress

By focusing on these four criteria, you can develop a safe, accurate, effective and individualized plan to reach your fitness goals.

Training Your Muscles with Your Breathing

During the first two weeks of training, muscles become more efficient at using the oxygen supplied by the cardiovascular system; however, after the first two weeks, actual changes in the muscle occur—that is why it is important to begin training regularly more than two weeks before an event!

Before you begin walking or running, make sure you spend no less than 10 to 15 minutes stretching your upper and lower body. Focus on the foot and ankle muscles, calves, hamstrings and quadriceps, as these are the primary muscles used to propel the body forward. It is important to steadily build up your cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength to avoid bone, joint or muscle injuries. After conditioning your muscles properly for optimal performance, you’re more likely to have a a safe and successful race!

Penn Medicine is the presenting sponsor for the American Lung Association’s Penn Medicine Radnor Run, which is Sunday, October 28th. The American Lung Association is the leading organization dedicated to saving lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The event includes a 5-mile run and 1-mile fun run/walk for all ages, as well as a Penn Medicine Health Fair and Lung Cancer Awareness Tent. Proceeds from the event support the American Lung Association.

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