Next to a weak posture, a person's breathing pattern is the next dead give away to their fitness level. Fit people tend to breathe slower and easier. Unfit people tend to gasp and pant. When you watch animals or children playing, they will run themselves to exhaustion, stop, catch their breath and then run around some more. The average adult acts terrified of taking in a healthy lungful of air. It is as if they have forgotten how to breathe. This really is a tragedy since when you run out of breath you run out of performance, period. You can pick out most of the unfit people during an exercise class. They are the ones who are choking and gasping in the back of the room. People with low stamina typically hold their breath or pant when they exercise. Fitter people tend to take longer, calmer breaths. Watch professional athletes in action and you will often see them breathing calmly and deeply.
Controlling my breathing helped me win a welterweight kick-boxing championship against a younger, fitter opponent. By the fourth round, he was out of breath – and out of gas – at which point his coach thread in the towel.
Proper breathing increases the absorption of oxygen into the blood. The co-regulation of breathing with exercise helps relax muscles and release tension, especially in the neck, shoulders and mid-back. Strong exhalation can draw strength from the deep support muscles. This is why weightlifters and martial artists often yell or shout as they exhale. This allows them to bring muscles into play that they do not normally use.
To make the most of your effort, during most abdominal exercises, BREATHE OUT WHILE CONTRACTING YOUR ABDOMINALS. This will give you deeper contracts and harder, more defined muscles. You will also be getting better results for your efforts than the red-faced beginner who grunts through a basic routine.
To understand what I'm talking about, try the following experiment: take a deep breath and then hold it while performing a crunch or sit up. Not much fun is it? Now try letting your breath out as you do a crunch or sit up. It may feel strange, but it should be easier.
Note: It is too much carbon dioxide rather than not enough oxygen that causes fatigue. This is why it is essential to breathe out stale air during exercise.
When you breathe out hard, you are making more lung space for more oxygen. More oxygen burns more fuel. More fuel burning, means more fat burning.
For those who would like a little more formal breath training, consider the following techniques that can be practiced just about anywhere. However, do not be fooled by the simplicity of these exercises; They are simple, but effective. Try them and reap the benefits.
1. Take a deep breath and then force all of the air out of your lungs. When you think that you can not exhale any more, tighten your abdominals and force out a little more air (do this three times). Repeat this exercise three or four times through the day with a few hours break in between. At first it will feel like you are running out of air and you might start coughing and feel a bit dizzy. If performed correctly, you should feel this deep in the lower abdominals. Usually it takes about five to ten sessions to learn to do this properly and then it becomes a habit.
2. Next, repeat the first exercise, but exhale while pressing your lips against your teeth allowing only a small slit for the air to escape. This will force your transverse abdominal muscles to contract. Some yoga textbooks claim that this also helps remove toxins from the blood.
3. The next exercise, called the Complete Breath is a bit more advanced. First, inhale into your lower lungs (this will make your abdominal wall actually swell a bit). Next, expand your ribcage and lastly, raise your collarbone. By contracting the abdominals, THEN the ribcage and FINALLY the upper chest, you can achieve a wave-like motion. Although it may feel awkward at first, the Complete Breath can be learned within a week and has been used to treat serious breathing conditions such as asthma. In one variation, asthmatic children are taught this technique by having them lie on their back with a rubber duck on their stomach. They are then encouraged to perform the Complete Breath by making a wave with their abdominals. If you want to try this at home and are missing a rubber duck, a paperback book will do the trick. Occasionally, you will find that you can do this exercise sitting at your desk or in your car.
If you are still feeling that you can not get the breathing right, we can solve your problem right here and now by reuniting you with your natural born ability to breathe deeply with one of two surefire methods. The first method is to have you sprint up a hill multiple times in succession. The second, and more immediate method, is to have you jump into cold water (a cold shower will fit the bill nicely). If you care to try either of these methods, I guarantee that your heart and lungs will immediately kick into high gear and you will have no trouble whatever, drawing in long, deep breaths. In fact, you probably will not be thinking of much else except your next lungful of air!
I myself have rediscovered this cold water treatment several times over the years. I first read about it in a book called Zen Combat (by Jay Gluck) and later in Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods (by Robert W. Smith). It also comes strongly recommended by naturopathic doctors and old time fitness pioneers like Paul C. Bragg and Jack Lalanne. Champion grappler Matt Furey also advocates cold showers.
Another take on the cold shower is the polar bear plunge. For several years, some friends and I would go Polar Bear swimming on New Year's Day, in Vancouver, Canada. It was always good for a laugh, not to mention the fact that it was a great way to clear a hangover and, I must add, contrary to popular belief, no one ever got sick from doing it. For me, there is nothing quite like bringing in the New Year with a plunge into cold water. Also, as masochistic as it may seem to some people, it is also a great way to kick-start the day and it reminds us in less than a couple of heartbeats about the importance of deep breathing.
By now, I'm sure that most of you have found several excuses not to try this little breathing experiment. "Wait-a-minute!" You're saying. "I can not believe this guy is telling me to go jump in freezing cold water." Well, here is where we can separate the doers from the talkers. So you can either start practicing those breathing exercises right now or, alternately, go hop into some cold water. It's nice to have options, is not it?
For more tips, read the download: Stomach Flattening