Every Breath You Take
Think about the last time you attempted a heavy lift or did a series of crunches. Did you remember to breathe? “Most commonly, people hold their breath through a movement,” says Belisa Vranich, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, fitness expert, and author of Breathing for Warriors (St. Martin’s Press, March 2020). It makes sense that you might forget to breathe if you’re focused and concentrating, but even if you remembered to do so, you may still be breathing improperly.
According to Vranich, humans were designed to breathe horizontally, in other words, the section of your torso between your nipples and your hips should expand with every inhale. This engages the muscles that are intended for breathing, which include the diaphragm, intercostals, transverse abdominis, and obliques. Unfortunately, Vranich says, most people breathe vertically, meaning that an inhale causes your chest and shoulders to rise. This action relies on the muscles in your pecs, traps, and neck to engage, and each breath can actually use more energy and oxygen than it pulls in, which in turn makes you breathe faster and take more breaths than a horizontal breather, according to Vranich.
What’s more, during exercise you’re often cued to “brace” your core, meaning that you inhale and hold your breath/muscular contraction in order to create intra-abdominal pressure to protect your spine. The thing is, most people don’t remember to unbrace. “You’ll see folks who are … bracing their belly so much in an attempt to take care of their spines that they’re not actually breathing at all,” Vranich says. “They’re just sipping in air.”
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