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!
By now you should all know that negative effects of prolonged stress on the body. I’ve written about it frequently, it’s discussed regularly on Oprah, Dr. Oz, and the like. But for those of you living in a constant state of stress, I thought it time to revisit the issue, remind you of a few important stress-facts.
The kind of stress I’m addressing – that of situational, circumstantial, environmental and relationships – starts in the head (emotional). If not dealt with quickly and thoroughly, it moves into the body where if left unreleased, ricochets around your insides like a pinball! A mind/body under stress releases Cortisol. Higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream (like those associated with chronic stress) have numerous negative effects, such as:
- Impaired cognitive performance
- Suppressed thyroid function
- Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
- Decreased bone density
- Decrease in muscle tissue
- Chronic digestive and intestinal issues
- Repeat muscle spasms (lock of the muscles) in the neck and back
- Serious weight gain or loss
- Higher blood pressure
- Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences
Increased abdominal fat, which can in turn result in higher cholesterol, heart attacks, and strokes
So for those that counter with there’s no way to change my current situation or circumstances to alleviate the stress, I say: think again. Not to sound like our founding fathers, but “where there’s a will there’s a way.” If you have enough motivation, you can overcome – and change – anything.
So what’s stopping you?
Think on your situation for a while. Look at what fears (because it always comes down to fears) are stopping you from changing/ending your stress. Hopefully by next week you’ll come to terms with what’s keeping you imprisoned by stress and you’ll be open to positive approaches to dealing with it.
Next week I’ll discusss tools and strategies that you can utilize to reduce your debilitating stress.
Remember: stress kills!
How many times a day do you worry about your weight? Do you spend hours wishing you looked differently, obsessing about what you’re eating (or not eating), and/or trying every single “get six pack abs” video, exercise pins on Pinterest, and/or radical weight loss diets?
We are a Nation of obsessed bodies! I have clients, friends, and family who spend massive amounts of time fretting over what they can eat, when they can eat, and how they can change their diets to accommodate quick weight loss, while still enjoying all the things they love to eat and drink. First everyone followed The Zone, now it’s Paleo; P90X was replaced with Insanity (literally).
On DLF’s Pinterest page (http://pinterest.com/DaneLifeFit/), I see at least 25 new and different “these are the best exercises for toning the abs” pins every day! Of course, many of the people (mostly women) who pin these to their boards might not remember (or know) that the models in the pictures are usually women in their early 20’s, who work out 2-3 hours a day, and eat a very strict and regimented diet.
I am routinely questioned by clients obsessed with reinventing the workout to affect a change faster and better: is alternating sprints with incline walking better use of a treadmill than 40 minutes of straight running? Are core workouts on a ball or TRX cable better than old-fashioned weight lifting (now re-named the less intimidating “resistance training”)?
Dear friends and followers, the answers to these questions that plague you day and night, and all that you obsess about when it comes to nutrition and exercise, is this:
ACCEPTANCE is the first step.
Accept your body type.
Are you an ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph? (Look ‘em up!) Take two people of equal age, height, and frame. They may look the same, but they can have a weight differential of as much as 15 pounds. There’s more to a healthy body than an average height-weight scale that our doctors impose upon us. There’s more to you than what size shirt you wear.
Accept that permanent change happens slowly.
There are no quick fixes to re-shaping the body, especially if you want these changes to stick. Remember too, that a”diet” implies temporary. Therefore, as soon as you resume your “normal” (old habits) of eating, you will gain weight again. As for exercise, if you have or make little time for it, or just plain dislike it – no video, class, trendy running of 100 steps in Brentwood will work in the long run because you will get bored, or see so few results that you’ll give up.
So rather than obsessing, let’s accept. With that hurdle jumped, we can address those issues that we can actually do something about.
Set a realistic goal for what your body can look like.
Once you figure out what your body type really is, and how much time you can give to exercise and proper nutrition (see the points below), you can set a realistic goal – one that you can actually achieve and then feel satisfaction and accomplishment about.
Where there’s a will there’s a way. If your job or home responsibilities are too stressful, I guarantee with a little “un-panicked” soul-searching you can find a way to make even a small change that will allow you enough time to schedule regular and consistent exercise. Between the positive stress-reducing effects exercise offers, and the changes in your body that will please your head, even that small change will result in something huge.
As for financial concerns, there are very inexpensive options to exercise and nutrition that you can adopt. You don’t have to join a gym or shop at Whole Foods to make these changes.
Again – change happens slowly. So make a plan, and step by step execute it. Think of all the time you sat around wishing and obsessing instead of doing. If you start taking baby steps towards your goals – and stay focused – within a matter of months, you will be closer (or even there) to achieving what you wish for.