In 2013 I first addressed how important breathing is to your fitness goals, with specific focus on breathing correctly when exercising. Lately with all the political unrest in our country, I feel everyone is holding their breath in general and that will only serve to increase our internal stress levels. So for that reason, I have updated an earlier post to remind us all to BREATHE!
Women in labor know full well the importance of breathing. Deliberate breath control is a natural tool (vs. medicinal) to managing pain. Those studying Martial Arts know it too, same for distance runners. Actors, singers, dancers must all incorporate breathing into their art. But the importance of breathing for successfully improving your fitness stamina and goals is often overlooked.
Let’s start with the clinical basics. When you breathe in, you deliver oxygen to your muscles; when you breathe out you remove carbon dioxide from your system. (Carbon dioxide is the waste gas that is produced when carbon is combined with oxygen as part of the body’s energy-making processes.)
Most runners or cardio-enthusiasts understand the importance of proper breathing to achieve endurance for the length of their run/cardio. It’s kind of automatic. But proper breathing for those performing resistance training (weight lifting) does not happen automatically within the body, and many times the breath is even held during exercise.
The fact is that successful resistance training must include the proper oxygen delivery and removal of carbon dioxide to the muscles. Not only is this crucial to allow energy to continue throughout your entire workout, but the specific focus of your breathing will allow you to lift more weight, more often, and therefore, burn more calories and exhaust the muscle. Exhausting the muscle is the first step to rebuilding it (through proper nutrition and rest), thereby creating more lean muscle tissue which eats fat.
When you hold your breath you increase tension throughout your entire body. For proper muscle training, you need to isolate the tension to only the muscle(s) you are seeking to work. In other words, if your back and arms are tightened (tense) while performing a chest press, your chest is sharing the weight load and therefore not benefiting from the targeted exercise.
So here’s a quick guideline I instruct all my new clients to memorize: when lifting, pushing or pulling (the exertion) breathe OUT. So if you are performing a biceps curl, take a breath in before you start, then exhale on the exertion (the lifting of the weight) and breath IN again as you lower the weight to starting position. If you are performing a leg press, take a breath in before you start, then exhale on the exertion (the pushing of the weight) and breath IN again as you lower the weight to starting position.
Another aspect of breathing I wish to address is for children. Between the higher demands on their brains in school, the jam-packed schedule of school, homework, sports, etc. that many kids experience, and any tensions at home or in the world at large — breathing is key to keeping their volatile emotions stable. Spend some time with your children each day teaching/reminding them to breathe slowly and to consciously relax any tension in their bodies. (This is especially helpful at night before bed.) Perhaps the whole family can share in a 1-minute meditation where everyone can shed some of their internal stresses. There are smart-phone apps or YouTube videos that can guide you through these easy (and relaxing) short meditations where breathing is emphasized.
It’s a simple thing but it can make a huge difference in achieving your fitness goals, and as stated at my introduction, breathing through emotional stress is also paramount to keeping our bodies happy and healthy. So breathe on … especially when watching the news!
The quest for simplistic happiness is a never ending pursuit for many of us. We read self-improvement books, attend guru-lead conferences, learn to meditate, make don’t sweat the small stuff a mantra, and yet that inner peace still eludes us. Well I’ve figured out the key to removing at least 50% of our daily stress. Stop looking in the mirror!
Sounds silly, but let us not forget Narcissus who lost his ability to sustain his life after being unable to pull himself away from his own reflection in the river. How many times a day to you check your teeth, hair, makeup, clothes, etc? More importantly how many times does your reflection change your mood? I have come to realize that there’s a lot of daily negative emotions that are borne from what we see in mirrors.
On any given day a woman’s mood can be tarnished if they think their hair isn’t looking up to snuff. Passing by a mirror you catch a glimpse of your butt or tummy and immediately fall into a funk because you’re “still not thin enough.” When you look at your reflection do you shrug dejectedly because you don’t like the way you look, or do you smile more radiantly because that self-check just responded back with approval. How much power can we give one polished piece of glass?
Even the popular trend of selfies is still “looking in the mirror.” Pursing your lips to make your cheeks thinner and your lips fuller; changing the angle of the photo to catch your “better side.” It’s all so silly and so wasteful of our time and energy.
Have you ever been so busy that you haven’t looked at your reflection in several hours. Your day is speeding by, your mood and energy are up and focused. Then you finally happen into the restroom or home to your closet to change and BAM it hits you. Like Narcissus you stare in the mirror and are horrified to see your hairstyle has flattened, you’ve got stuff in your teeth, or a stain on your shirt. That little moment can ruin all the success of your day.
I have known a few people who are so discouraged by their appearance they avoid mirrors and photographs at all costs. While they may not suffer the little insults the mirror hands out to those of us who love analyzing our reflection, they still have issues with the idea behind a mirror. To avoid one is still negatively time consuming.
Another detrimental aspect of all this mirror gazing is that each subsequent generation picks up the narcissistic habit. My young daughter has asked me a full-length mirror and I’ve not complied. Her self-esteem is going to be tested enough come middle and high school, she doesn’t need to get that self-obsessed yet.
The bottom line is mirrors are a useful tool but they have no power – except what you the user give them. Sure we all want to walk out of the house feeling comfortable with the external package we present. But remember that a mirror cannot change the way you feel. Only your reaction to it can. So if what you see is causing you angst – make sure there’s a real problem to be dealt with (i.e., dental floss or tucking in your shirt) – but don’t let it be a downer. If the problem is larger (i.e., fat loss, acne, bad hair cut) – be proactive and focus on solving the issue, not just lamenting that the damn mirror isn’t your friend. Take your power back – you’ll be less stressed and find more happiness if you just stop checking the mirror.