What’s the number one topic with the body right now? Lungs! Let’s talk about how we as athletes can better our breathing and understand what our body is doing while we are gasping for air like a fish out of water.

What happens to my lungs when I exercise?

During exercise, two of the important organs of the body come into action: the heart and the lungs. The lungs bring oxygen into the body, to provide energy, and remove carbon dioxide, the waste product created when you produce energy. The heart pumps the oxygen to the muscles that are doing the exercise.

When you exercise and your muscles work harder, your body uses more oxygen and produces more carbon dioxide. To cope with this extra demand, your breathing has to increase from about 15 times a minute (12 liters of air) when you are resting, up to about 40–60 times a minute (100 liters of air) during exercise. Your circulation also speeds up to take the oxygen to the muscles so that they can keep moving.

Breathe with your belly

When you breathe in and your belly expands, your diaphragm contracts, allowing space in your chest cavity for the lungs to fill. This causes a decrease in pressure, allowing air to flow into the lungs. Breathing out moves the diaphragm back to its original position. With shallow chest breathing, you aren’t making as much room and can’t fill your lungs as much as when you take a deep belly breath.

The respiratory diaphragm is tethered to abdominal muscles and can only move as much as they allow. If your abs are constantly tight, the diaphragm can’t go through its range of motion, which is a descent on inhalation. When the diaphragm goes down, your gut bloats and you get a little baby belly temporarily. And when you exhale, the diaphragm slides back in towards its rib attachments and hides away in there, and everything kind of gets suctioned up. If you are walking around pulling your belly button toward your spine you are going to restrict the diaphragm’s movements.

Having a strong core

The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle of breathing. It is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs. Your abdominal muscles help move the diaphragm and give you more power to empty your lungs. Having a strong core is not only essential for the building blocks of strength but also strong lungs.

What is diaphragmatic breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing is intended to help you use the diaphragm correctly while breathing to Strengthen the diaphragm, decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing, decrease oxygen demand and use less effort and energy to breath.

Practice diaphragmatic breathing

  1. Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage.
  3. Breath in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  4. Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through your lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.

Applying belly breathing

I did my first 5-200 meter sprints with 30 seconds of rest with my normal breathing. I noticed my recovery was taking between 15-20 seconds before I was taking normal breaths again. From 6-10 I focused on belly breathing. I noticed instantly the difference in my recovery, I was recovering between 10-15 seconds. Next time you are doing a WOD and trying to catch your breath. Try belly breathing and enjoy climbing the leaderboard.

Written by: Wes Steel