Breathe Easy: How to Train Your Lungs for a better Running expereinceMay 30, 2023
I’ve been sitting behind this computer quite a bit more than normal these past few days putting all the finishing touches on the behind-the-scenes stuff for Women’s Running Academy (WRA). My last big task for the week in that regard is putting the finishing touches on a bonus lesson I’m including this time around. It’s something we’ve talked about throughout the WRA in the past, but the more I continue to learn and practice, the more I believe it needs its own dedicated lesson(s). What’s that bonus lesson about, you ask? How to train your lungs!
Breathing for improved performance. Breathing for improved overall health. Breathing for improved nervous system regulation (stress management AND improved recovery). Inside the WRA we use the breath as a tool for connecting with your core, finding that “stack” I talk so much about and prepping the body for efficient movement (with running and strength training).
One of the key components of that is getting a full and complete exhale. This is why you have to train your lungs.
Try this breathing exercise:
Lay on your back, with your knees bent up and feet on the floor. Place your hands on your low ribs to start. Take a long, SLOW exhale through your open mouth, “ha” like you are trying to fog up a mirror. Let ALL the are out. Pause. Just let the inhale come.
Repeat. This time when you feel like you got all the air out, pause, then try and squeeze out a little bit more. Pause again and then just let the inhale come.
What you’ll likely notice is:
1- You actually had a little bit more air in there when you thought you were done.
2- Getting it all out turned on your deep core like never before.
3- Inhaling was effortless and your ribs expanded all around.
We use this, the deep core engagement and the effortless inhale with rib expansion to our advantage in the WRA to actually alter the position of your body in space, front to back (think your posture) so you can more effectively “stack” and transfer load through your core in everything you do and side to side for efficient reciprocal movement in your stride (aka. all your movement is stronger and more efficient).
*No, we don’t breathe like this all the time, but it’s an extremely useful tool in the toolbox.
What you might have also noticed:
First, to get that last bit of air out, you crunched down from the top and used your rectus (six-pack abs). That can mess with the stack and prevent you from fully engaging your deep core. Learning to exhale, fully and completely without crunching down from the top, is lesson number 1 in the WRA.
Second, exhaling fully like that had you feeling a little panicky. One quick thing to try here is to hum on that exhale. The vibration stimulates your vagus nerve and helps calm that response of increased CO2 (the byproduct of cells using oxygen) in your blood. This increased CO2 is NOT a bad thing, it’s actually really a good thing.
CO2 helps us use oxygen. Lots of oxygen without CO2 doesn’t do us any favors. Lots of oxygen around not being used can actually be damaging (antioxidants are all the rage for a reason). However, our bodies, especially after periods of chronic stress (could be life stress or training stress, read more about how stress affects running HERE) or trauma can become hyper-sensitive to the CO2 and activate that fight or flight response prematurely (of course there is a point where too much CO2 is not good, however, the threshold is more than we think). Improving CO2 tolerance is key for oxygen usage (performance) and spending more time in the parasympathetic state (recovering better from your workouts).
Find your pulse in your wrist. Begin breathing deeply. Big long inhales. Big long exhales. Do you notice that on the inhale, the heart rate quickens, and then on the exhale, it slows a bit?
Check out this MRI of the heart during deep breathing!
How freaking cool is this MRI from the Max Plank Institute for Biophysical Chemistry of the heart getting a little hug by the diaphragm with every exhale. The ultimate heart rate variability training! That exhale literally slows everything down. That exhale is recovery!
All of this and more is why training your lungs is so important! The first step to all of this and working on closing your mouth and breathing through your nose as often as possible. Taking long full exhales with the humming is great too! And why I’m creating this bonus lesson for WRA called Breathing for Performance, Health, and Nervous System Regulation.
If you are interested in gaining more information and taking your running to the next level check out the WRA. I offer courses for every stage of your running. Click HERE to check them out
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