So, you’ve scheduled your workout for today, but you don’t feel like you actually have the energy to do it? If you’re looking for a way to get pumped when you’re feeling tired or have trouble calming down after an evening workout, try these three easy exercises for before, during, and after your workout.
Breathing is one of those bodily functions that we rarely pay enough attention to. We tend to take shallow breaths throughout the day unless we’re physically exerting ourselves (e.g. climbing stairs) or focusing on our breathing for a specific reason, like meditation, sports, or singing.
In fact, our breathing is connected to many different aspects of both our mental and physical health. When we are scared or excited, our breath automatically quickens, or we can energize ourselves by consciously taking short, diaphragmatic breaths. When we need to relax, we breathe more deeply to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system and thereby calm ourselves down.
There are many ways to use our breathing to get the most out of our workouts, as well as ongoing debates about the risks and benefits of one specific breathing technique used in weight training. We’ve broken it down for you below, so you can give your body what it needs to perform well and build strength in a healthy way.
It’s time to get started with your workout. What you need now is to rev up your nervous system with some energizing breathing exercises. Bellows breathing or Bhastrika is used in yoga practice to give you an instant boost of energy.
How to do it
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Rest your hands on your knees and take a few deep, even breaths through your nose, filling your lungs with air.
- When you’re ready, exhale quickly and forcefully out your nose and contract your abdominal muscles to empty your lungs. Follow this with a quick diaphragmatic inhalation with your abdomen relaxed.
- Repeat this process for 10 breaths, always keeping your shoulders relaxed and still. Make sure your breath is coming from your diaphragm.
Listen to your body and be aware of how this breathing exercise makes you feel. Not only is it a great way to get energized up before a workout, it’s also a good alternative to coffee in the morning or when you are suffering from an afternoon slump.
Breathing Techniques for Resistance Training: Valsalva Maneuver?
In the early 18th century, Italian anatomist Antonio Maria Valsalva first wrote about what later became known as the Valsalva Maneuver, which is done by forcefully exhaling against a closed airway, usually by closing your mouth and pinching your nose or holding your breath. Originally he identified this breathing technique as a way to clear pus from the ear. It is also used in weightlifting. When you lift heavy weights, you naturally hold your breath, which creates pressure in your abdomen, thereby supporting your back and allowing you to lift more weight.
If you are using the Valsalva Maneuver so you can lift heavier weights, be aware that it puts additional strain on your heart and can affect your blood pressure.
The safety of the Valsalva Maneuver has been the subject of many studies. This technique has been shown to increase the weightlifter’s risk of heart attack and stroke, as holding your breath also causes spikes in blood pressure and heart rate.(1) Some researchers have shown, however, that the risks associated with holding your breath while weightlifting or resistance training are statistically insignificant. Using the right training techniques can reduce any potential risk.(2)
In order to avoid unnecessary risks, especially if you have cardiovascular issues, the safest bet is to practice controlled breathing for general strength training.
How to do it
- Inhale when you’re ready to lift the weight or perform the bodyweight exercise.
- Exhale as you lift the weight or do the strenuous part of the exercise. Using push-ups as an example: as you push away from the floor.
- Inhale as you lower the weight or do the easy part; during push-ups this is when you lower your body toward the floor again.
Don’t Forget to Cool Down
You’ve really pushed yourself to the limit, your pulse is elevated, and you’re dripping with sweat. Don’t just call it a day and hit the shower. Cooling down is an important part of successful recovery. It’s even more important if you work out in the evenings and have trouble falling asleep afterward. If you want to really benefit from the effort you’ve just expended, you’ve got to commit to the cool down phase. And yes, we’ve got breathing tips to calm your body and mind and bring you back to earth.
Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing after a workout is a great way to bring your nervous system back into balance and help you relax. It stabilizes your blood pressure and slows your heart rate.
How to do it
- After you’ve finished stretching, take a short walk or get into the child’s pose to bring your heart rate down, then lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose; the hand on your chest should remain still while the hand on your belly should rise.
- Slowly exhale through pursed lips as you let the air out of your belly. Do this for several minutes.
This is also a great way to relieve stress and generally calm your mind when you’re feeling anxious.
So, don’t take unnecessary risks when you’re already pushing your body to build muscle. Take care of yourself so you can recover well and actually reap the rewards of your hard work. Warm up, keep breathing, and cool down when you’re done.