It’s likely that you’ve heard of breathwork before. Or maybe you haven’t! Either way, there is often confusion about how it should be employed both within a fitness regime as well as in your day-to-day life. Here at Evlo, we believe that breathwork can make or break your fitness routine. And beyond your fitness routine, it can have massive implications on your daily response to stress.
Breathwork is an all encompassing practice that includes specific techniques like inhaling/exhaling at equal intervals, elongated inhales, elongated exhales, etc. It is a structured practice that can be incorporated into a fitness routine or used as a practice in and of itself. Benefits of breathwork include improved mood, decreased stress, and improved ability to recover- if used appropriately.
We strongly recommend focusing on diaphragmatic breathing. However, there is a lot of misinformation about what it means to breathe diaphragmatically. Diaphragmatic breathing is not belly breathing.
Here’s what to focus on instead:
Breathwork is an excellent way to begin an individual workout. This is how we start every single class at Evlo.
We can use this diaphragmatic breathing to accomplish two separate tasks:
We like to view the initial breathwork as the “pause” between your daily life and your workout. Often, we come to our workouts in a disconnected state- not really thinking about how we are feeling both mentally and physically. This initial breathwork practice forces us to slow down and authentically check in with ourselves. It is during this practice that we can decide what we have to give our workout for that day.
Know that no matter what the answer to that assessment is, it is enough. This genuine assessment allows our physical and mental selves to feel safe when stepping onto our mat for each workout. Knowing that we will not jump right into an aggressive warm up or work allows us to show up each and every session.
Exercise is a natural stressor for our nervous system. With that, we get an upregulation of our sympathetic nervous system. Think fight or flight. This stress and upregulation is not a bad thing. But we can allow ourselves to more gently ease into this state using breathwork.
To begin to more slowly up-regulate our sympathetic nervous systems, we can increase the length of our inhales during that initial breathwork session. Focus on elongating the rib cage expansion (number 2 in the diaphragmatic list) portion of the breathwork process. Simultaneously, quicken the pace for your exhales. This ratio gets you set and ready to go for class.
Once the work portion of class begins, we recommend (most commonly) pairing your exhales with the exertion of an exercise. For example, you’ll exhale during the lifting portion of a biceps curl and inhale during the lowering phase.
We recommend using the same pursed-lipped exhale mentioned in the diaphragmatic breathing portion of this post. When incorporating diaphragmatic breathing into an exercise like a biceps curl, you receive lumbar stabilization benefits from the breathwork itself. During that pursed-lipped exhale, your deep core contracts, creating a more stable environment for your lumbar spine to contend with the weight you are lifting in the biceps curl.
There is a unique circumstance in which we recommend “reversing” this breathing pattern: cobras. A cobra is an exercise performed from a prone position in which you actively lift your chest away from the ground utilizing your lumbar extensor muscles. Due to a phenomenon called reciprocal inhibition, you want to pair this specific lift with your inhale. Reciprocal inhibition states that when one side of the joint (in this case the spine) contracts, the opposite side reflexively relaxes. As we know based on the info above, the deep core and muscles anterior to the spine contract with a pursed-lip inhale. Therefore, to avoid inhibition of the lumbar extensor muscles, we cue an inhale to lift.
Incorporating breathwork into your cool downs might be the most important addition of all. In a cool down specifically, you’ll want to elongate the exhale while decreasing the inhale. This focus on exhalation helps to stimulate the vagus nerve, a nerve extremely involved in the upregulation of our parasympathetic nervous system.
As mentioned above, exercise places us into a sympathetic state. This type of stress can be good for our bodies. However, we run into trouble when we don’t get out of this state after the workout is over.
Insert: cool down breathwork. The specific emphasis on elongated, pursed-lip exhales can aid in bringing us into a more anabolic state. Anabolic processes are processes that build our tissues up. Catabolic processes tear tissue down (like exercise). In order to build muscle tissue, we have to be able to get into an anabolic state post-exercise. This specific type of breathwork is our ticket there.
Breathwork can also be used as a form of stress relief separate from your fitness routine. In fact, a recent study shows that 5-minutes of daily breathwork outperforms mindfulness meditation in regards to stress relief and improved mood.
If you enjoy guided breathwork, search “breathwork” in the search bar on our platform. It includes short practices like this one that can be done daily. Not a member? Check out our 14-day free trial below to incorporate breathwork into your daily life, including as a part of your fitness routine.
Listen to Dr. Shannon Ritchey, PT, DPT as she integrates the most current literature with her experience as a fitness trainer to give you tangible takeaways to improve your fitness.
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