Friday, November 8, 2013

Rhythmic Breathing

For thousands of years, breathing has played a key role in Eastern philosophy as a means to live life with vitality and improve a sense of wellbeing.  Breathing also plays a major role in exercise, especially aerobic exercise where the body experiences impact stress and repetition.  By improving how we breathe and the pattern in which we breathe, we can improve our fitness and lower our risk of injury.

Many runners and walkers develop a two-two or three-three pattern of breathing by inhaling for two or three foot strikes and exhaling for two or three foot strikes.  The result is they always exhale on the same side.  When your foot hits the ground the force of the impact is as great as two to three times your body weight, according to Dr. Dennis Bramble and Dr. Carrier of the University of Utah. If you develop a two-two or three-three pattern, you run the risk of injury to one side of your body.
Bramble and Carrier also explain that improper breathing is an additional problem that exaggerates the trauma of the impact of each foot strike.  Their research shows that most times your foot strikes the ground at the beginning of an exhalation.  When you exhale, your diaphragm and core muscles relax which creates instability in your core.  Less stability at the time of impact only heightens the risk of injury.
Improper breathing, or breathing from the chest cavity and not your belly is a main reason for core instability during foot strikes. To improve your breathing form, one must learn to breathe from their belly. Belly breathing means as you inhale, you contract your diaphragm fully to allow the maximum volume of air into the lungs.  Simply focus on raising your belly as you inhale and lower your belly as you exhale. Belly breathing will engage your core as you breathe while allowing maximal oxygen intake.
One you have mastered breathing from your belly, its time to transform your breathing pattern which Budd Coates refers to as rhythmic breathing.  What rhythmic breathing does is allow you to exhale on alternate foots strikes that will equally distribute the impact force from running or walking and greatly reduce injury. Coates recommends a three-two pattern of breathing, breathing in for a count of three and exhaling for a count of two.  This pattern works well at slower to moderate intensities as you begin to adopt the pattern. As you reach a hill or your intensity increases, simply move to a two-one pattern. The objective is to keep an uneven pattern to insure you exhale on alternate foot strikes.
Currently suffering a hamstring strain on my right leg, I tried out bellying breathing then rhythmic breathing with a three-two pattern this weekend.  It took a bit of effort and focus to get the pattern down.  Once I was comfortable with the pattern I was able to notice exhaling on alternate foot strikes.  I also noticed my hamstring was less sore when I was done.
Some additional information on breathing for runners.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.