Here’s a riddle for you:
You do this 20,000 times a day, yet it is likely your weakest muscle.
For something we do 20,000 or more times a day without thinking about, as soon as I ask people to draw attention and connection to their breath, a weird shift occurs. It’s as if they think they’ve signed on for a one-way trip to Hippy-Dippy land where they’re forced to burn incense, ball themselves up into pretzel poses, and spend hours praying incantations to a Buddha statue.
I sense the anxious energy in the room as we spend the first 2-5 minutes just settling in, focusing on the breath in hopes it can let the monkey mind unravel. The boredom and monotony strikes as our brain projects a million reasons to do ANYTHING else but focus on the simplicity and direction of our inhales and exhales.
I acknowledge that they are waiting for us to DO something. To stretch, strengthen, improve mobility and relieve some of the nagging pains that go along with being a human. This is the product that they are promised. This is why they’ve carved out the time to show up for Mobility|Gains.
So a part of me feels like I am not yet ‘selling’ my clients on WHY and HOW we use breath as our foundation and gateway into understanding and manipulating our bodies for better performance.
I think the fitness industry (especially CrossFit) has come a long way in their understanding that you can only be as strong as your mobility allows. More people now know WHY they need to stretch, strengthen weak links in isolation, and re-pattern their horrible movement mechanics. Every year more products pop up on the market about the new bulletproof way to knead out your sticky bits.
There is a whole industry now focused in on injury prevention, self care and myofascial release, but still no one is understanding and preaching the ultimate key to an effective and long-lasting mobility routine that results in improved performance and reduced injury.
The key, of course, is your breath–your life source that feeds you with oxygen, fills you up with space, and keeps you calm in the storm.
Mobility|Gains actually started as a result of complaints the owner at Brick CrossFit (JP) had received after I started incorporating breath work and “Movement-with-Breath” sequences as warm ups while teaching CrossFit. While some people really dug the change, some members were really uncomfortable with being forced to be alone with their breath for 2-3 minutes and find a way to sync their breath to their functional and explosive movements.
The complaints flooded in…
“I’m sorry did I step into a yoga studio or a CrossFit box today?!”
“I’m going for a run…I’ll be back after this whole “meditation” stuff is over.”
And my personal favorite:
“Emylee, now I know you went to Bali recently and love that whole ‘Namaste, shove incense up your asshole stuff’ but CrossFit classes aren’t the time or place for that.”
Clearly they didn’t get it.
So after some convincing, JP let me have a time and place to gauge interest and see if Mobility|Gains satisfied a demand for members at the gym.
I am proud to say that over 30 people showed up to the very first Mobility Gains class (then called CrossFlow) And from that moment on, a mobility monster was born.
Ever since, I have been trying to create a safe space to get connected and explore the inner functionality of your mind, body and spirit, and show you that if you can cultivate power over over breath, it bleeds into every facet of your life–from performance to relaxation.
So just in case anyone has any qualms about “wasting” 5 minutes doing what I now call “Respiratory Muscle Strengthening” (because strength appeals more to athletes than mindful meditation) here are the top 9 reasons a daily breath routine will improve athletic performance and make you a happier person.
…as if keeping you alive and oxygenated wasn’t enough. 😉
1. Last longer with Less Effort
You never think about breath until you’re neck deep in a workout huffing and puffing, wondering why can’t catch your breath to save your life. In terms of exercise, it’s no surprise that the body demands an increase in oxygen as well as breathing ventilation. This requires our respiratory muscles and intercostals surrounding the lungs to contract forcefully and rapidly as intensity increases. A stronger diaphragm and intercostals mean you can slow your breathing rate down whilst getting more oxygen to your muscles. Improve stamina and strength of your respiratory system, and breathing becomes more efficient, requiring less energy—which leaves more energy for you to put into the task at hand. This is a classic example of why it’s always better to work smarter instead of harder.
2. Ditch the Stitch
Cramping in the body is a sudden, involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles that generally results from muscle fatigue and lack of oxygen to fill up the tissues. Breathing slower increases oxygen saturation in cells, fills up space against constricted muscles, and eases the stitch away.
3. Stand Taller and Lift Heavier
My personal favorite reason to cultivate a deeper breath is that the deeper you breathe, the taller you get. In general, the rib cage should expand in a 3D pattern–top to bottom, back to fro nt, and to the sides. When you breathe, your ribs should expand, creating more mobility and space through the rigid thoracic region of the spine and thereby lengthening it.
In addition, your breathing muscles are an integral part of the core stabilizing and postural control systems. This means when anticipating a load or an impact, it’s best to take a deep breath and then brace the core. Not only will this make us more difficult to knock over, it will also help protect the spine.
4. Relax, Damnit. You’ll recover faster.
Breathing deeply is the fastest way to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, aka the relaxation response, which makes you feel relaxed and jumpstarts your bodies natural ability to recover, restore and replenish.
Stress is at the core of most diseases and really attacks the body’s ability to function and recover. When we breathe shallowly, the body does not receive as much oxygen as it needs and it makes our muscles constrict. You can literally feel this when you are stressed–we wear the weight of our world on our shoulders, in our jaws, and through our hips. The sympathetic nervous system is triggered when we feel stress or anxiety and sends out spikes of cortisol and adrenaline. It is the parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts this. Breath is the gateway for these two systems to communicate.
You can learn to turn the switch on and off with little transition time and use your breathing practice to get back into the gym quicker after a killer workout that straight up shocks the central nervous system!
5. Panting Isn’t Sexy…Nor is it Intimidating.
Nothing is more of a mind fuck than your opponents staring you down with a cool and calm energy while you are hunched over panting like a dehydrated dog.
Panting = Weak
Belly Breathing = Strong
Inside you could be dying, but if you have the secret weapon that keeps you cool, calm, and collected, you will scare your competition and crush the game.
6. Don’t Pass Out
In class, I see people holding their breath. A lot. I always say, How you do one thing is how you do everything, and if you hold your breath in uncomfortable situations, you probably do it instinctively during exercise. Holding your breath increases pressure inside the chest (which is good for stability when explosively executing a lift), but holding it too long can impede the return of blood to the heart and raise blood pressure, causing you to feel light-headed and wobbly.
7. Sharpen Your Focus
Instead of letting yourself be distracted by the clock, the competition, or the myriad of thoughts that flood our monkey minds, when you focus on the simplicity of the inhale and exhale, you begin to clear out distraction and become narrowly focused. When you have total control and connection with your body through your breath, that’s when the task at hand becomes easy and clear, and your ability to adapt to a changing environment is vastly improved.
“Being in a relaxed state is important to achieving optimal performance in any endeavor, not just sports,” says Karlene Sugarman, M.A., author of Winning the Mental Way. “It’s a vital stepping stone to peak performance whether you’re working out, giving a presentation or dealing with your children. The individual that is mentally and physically relaxed and has ‘quiet intensity’ is the one that is going to come out on top.”
8. Breathing is the Simplest Form of Detoxification
Your body is designed to release 70% of its toxins through breathing. Oxygen travels through your bloodstream by attaching to your red blood cells and enriching your body to metabolise nutrients and vitamins. This strengthens your immune system and lessens your recovery time. Carbon dioxide is a natural toxic waste that comes from the body’s metabolic processes and it needs to be expelled from the body regularly and consistently. However, when our lungs are compromised by shallow breathing, the other detoxification systems in the body take over and have to work harder to expel this waste. Why make the body work harder than it already has to?
9. Massage your Organs and Tighten your Tummy
Yep, that’s right. I am arguing that the better you breathe, the thinner you’ll be.
The more oxygen you take in, the more fuel your digestive system has to function properly. Also, extra oxygen in the body will help to burn up excess fat more efficiently. When we are stressed (and most of us live day to day in a fairly stressed state) your body tends to burn glycogen instead of fat. Deep breathing triggers the relaxation response which encourages the body to burn fat instead. When you inhale, your diaphragm descends and your abdomen will expand. This action massages vital organs and improves circulation in them. As you deepen your exhale, you strengthen and tone the intercostals and deep abdominal muscles.
So there you have it. 9 reasons to incorporate more breath-strengthening work into your life! So where should you start? Click here to get the Mobility|Gains Beginners Guide To Breathing, a quick + easy way to strengthen your breathing engine.
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Emylee Rose Covell
Health Coach XFlow Fitness