How often do you think about your breathing during a workout?
As a runner, I was always taught to “control my breathing.” This has carried with me into my workouts I do at CrossFit. For example, during a workout like Fran, I try to make sure I take nice deep breaths to “control my breathing.” I never really thought about how slow controlled breathing might transfer over to how I move in my WOD. That’s not exactly how I want someone to describe my Fran… slow and controlled!
This week at one of my classes at OPT’s training facility in Scottsdale, we did a short WOD of 250 row, 4 rounds of 5 KBS, 5 burpees, and then another 250 m. row. I went hard on my first row, trying to focus on slow, deep breaths in and out. I felt great coming off the rower, and jumped into my rounds of KBS and burpees. After the workout, we all sat down to discuss what the trainers noticed and the big topic of discussion for everyone was respiratory rate. The biggest criticism we got as a group was that we tried to control our breathing way too much. Most people we breathing during that first row anywhere between 35-45 times a minute and we were told that was too slow for intense exercise.
So first of all, lets look at what is happening physiologically when you do a hard workout, say for example, Fran. As you start the first round of 21 thrusters, your respiratory rate starts to increase as a response to the exercise to deliver oxygen to your muscles. You begin to work harder, your muscles need more oxygen, and you begin to breathe faster. Also, as your exercise becomes more intense, your tidal volume (the amount of air that is breathed in and out in one breath) increases. The more you train and raise your respiratory rate, the more efficient your body becomes at delivering oxygen to the body through stronger diaphragm muscles and increased lung capacity. Essentially, our bodies want to breathe faster to deliver more oxygen to our muscles, so why would we try to slow that down?
Our minds also respond to the increased respiratory rate. If you notice your movement during a workout, it tends to mimic your breathing pattern. So on a thruster you may take a breath in as you move down into the squat and breathe out and you stand up and press the bar out at the top. If you try to slow your breathing down during your thrusters, your movement will most likely slow down as well. Add in a break on top of that and a few extra breaths, and you really will throw yourself off. So, going back to the workout I did at OPT, by controlling my breathing on the rower, when I got off the rower my mind was already set in that slower pattern and my movement on the burpees and KBS mimicked that slower pattern! If I had allowed myself to breathe more naturally and rapidly, I would have still had plenty of oxygen intake for my muscles, and my mind and body would have been ready to move at a faster tempo.
We learned to think of our airway as one big tube starting with both the nose and the mouth leading through the lungs all the way to the diaphragm. Think of each breath coming in through that tube at both the nose and the mouth and ending at the base of the lungs with the diaphragm. Allow air to pass freely and rapidly through the mouth and the nose as you breathe and do not try to control it or slow it down.
I experimented with this on the next workout. First of all, it’s nice having one less thing to focus on. By not controlling my breathing it freed my mind to concert on other parts of the workout. I also noticed that by breathing faster I was moving faster, and even though my respiratory rate was fast, I felt calm and didn’t feel like I was starving for oxygen or gasping for breath.
It’s something to try out, especially if you notice yourself trying to slow your respiratory rate down intentionally during a WOD. So the next time we have a metcon programmed I challenge you to try this! See how you feel, see if you move faster, and let me know what you think!