Need Some Air?
Refining the cadence and quality of your breath can unleash your body’s true potential — in the gym and beyond.
When Freediving National Champion Tanc Sade isn’t holding his breath — which he can do for more than seven minutes — he’s doing the same thing we all are: breathing. Except Sade — who recently broke a national record with a 218-meter swim on a single breath — knows a thing or two more about how the air our body takes in affects us.
“Breathing is something we do all day, every day, but few do it correctly,” he says. “Most people 'shallow breathe' half breaths that go no deeper than the chest. Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple way to relieve stress, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and leave yourself revitalized to carry on with your day.” Even more: It could boost your performance. Studies have found that when your breathing muscles fatigue, so do your other muscles.
The good news is that strengthening your lungs could be as easy as a few deep breaths every now and then. Here are three exercises that promise to breathe a calm strength into every aspect of your life:
1. Deep and Shallow Breathing
The exercise: Sit in a chair or lie on a mat. Place one hand on your chest and take a deep breath into your hand. Now place the same hand at your stomach’s base and take a deep breath. Focus on getting your stomach to push your hand up while your chest remains still. Repeat for 6 to 8 breaths then combine the chest and belly breath together. Imagine you're pouring water into a well. You want the well to fill up starting from the bottom of your diaphragm up to the top of your chest.
The benefits: Maximizing oxygen and opening up the lungs. Tight muscles and tissue surrounding the ribs isn’t a good recipe for an aerobic workout — but deep breathing can help loosen them up.
2. Breathe Out Stress
The exercise: Take a big, slow inhale. Hold it for three seconds, then, placing your top front teeth on your bottom lip, release a passive exhale. Your exhale should take at least twice as long as your inhale. At the bottom of the exhale, pause for a moment, then repeat.
The benefits: It slows down your heart rate, so it's helpful in stressful, anxiety-inducing situations. “I employ a similar technique before I'm about to compete. It settles the mind, slows down your heart rate, and relaxes you,” says Sade.
3. Release Tension
The exercise: Lie down on the floor and combine the two exercises above. Close your eyes, and on every exhale, focus on relaxing a part of your body, starting from your feet and working your way up to your forehead.
The benefits: It's good for “channeling where you use your energy,” Sade says. When you’re tense, you use more energy than you need to. “With time, you'll learn to locate where you're carrying tension and relax.” That’s important considering chronic tension can contribute to migraines, back pain, and chronic fatigue.