Breathing based exercise programs

Okay, begin breathing in and out of only your nose. Good. Now allow the out-breath to come from your mouth, while still breathing in through your nose. Good, okay now begin to breathe much more deeply, while keeping your breathing pace the same. Good, good. Now as you do this, try to make your in-breath expand your stomach instead of your chest. Excellent. That's perfect. So perfect. Now as we progress into the exercises, continue this breathing pattern. What this will do is allow your body to preserve it's heat through your nasal breathing, release the toxins from your mouth, and ensure better oxygen delivery to your body.

This is what I'm talking about. If you've ever taken these classes, you know the emphasis they lay on breathing patterns. I hope you find it funny. If you don't, let me explain why you should. The first thing they always talk about is the increase and preservation of body heat. Understand that your throat and nasal passage connect after like two inches. That's why you can spit snot. This doesn't allow for much room among body heat differences. Beyond that, breath in really deep through your mouth, then breathe out slowly into your hand. Notice it's really hot. Now breathe in really deep through your nose, then breathe out slowly into your hand. Notice it's the exact same temperature. Your body has the wonderful attribute of heating the air immediately when you breathe it in. Your nose does not. So heat has nothing to do with which cavity the air transfers through. Thus, while they're telling you to breathe strictly in and out of your nose or mouth, or whatever combination of the two, disregard these instructions and breathe through whichever one is more comfortable.

Now regarding control over the pace and depth of breathing, we have to get a little more specific in the disproof. But before we can explain the flaws we have to understand how breathing works. This will take just a minute, so follow along.

When you breathe in, a percentage of that air contains oxygen. Your lungs offload this oxygen to the blood, where hemoglobin (oxygen carrier molecules in your blood) carries it to the working cells (i.e. your working muscle), and this is where it is used. Does that make sense? Ensure that it does, because we're going to go a step deeper here.

Breathing in and out of your lungs is guided by several factors. It starts with the working cells. These cells use oxygen in what's called cellular respiration as a result of cellular metabolism. When this happens, it creates a concentration gradient in the amount of oxygen between the working cells and the blood that supplies them. The cells use up their oxygen, proportionately the blood has more, so the blood offloads oxygen to the cells until their concentrations are even. However, this causes a fall in the concentration of oxygen in the blood, which makes your blood have a lower concentration than that of your lungs. So your lungs begin to offload oxygen to the blood until they're even. This then brings down the oxygen concentration in your lungs, making their concentration lower than that of the atmosphere. Thus you breathe in and get some of that air. This process is constantly working, hence you're constantly breathing. Does this make sense?

Okay. So what causes your breathing to quicken and/or deepen without you thinking about it, is increased cellular metabolism. This should make sense to you now. When you increase the oxygen used at the cellular level, it works right through all the steps we just discussed and straight to your lungs.

Cellular metabolism is therefore the automatic trigger for your breathing depth and frequency. Because of this, your breathing will match the oxygen demand exactly providing that the possibility exists given the external environment and internal conditions. If you're at a phenomenal altitude or you just gave blood, you're messing up the oxygen concentration in the air or the ability to transfer it to the cells. These are obviously issues that would interrupt the whole process. But in a regular environment, your breathing naturally matches the exact need almost perfectly. Therefore, you purposefully changing your breathing patterns will likely make it less perfect.

This can happen by a couple different mechanisms. Let's say you change your breathing frequency. If you slow it down, you've got less oxygen being run through the little cycle. Or if you speed it up too much, the oxygen is moving through your lungs so quickly, your alveoles won't have enough time to effectively transfer it to the blood. So in either of these situations, you're getting less oxygen to the cells. This means their metabolism is not met by respiration. And if their metabolic needs are not met, they die. So your body switches to the use of the glycolytic energy pathway. This makes you fatigue fast with the buildup of lactic acid, while using strictly carbohydrates to meet your metabolic needs. No fat. Probably not your goal, so breathe at whatever rate your body would be doing anyway.

The other way to influence breathing is through changing the depth of your breaths. And realistically this is kind of okay. It's pointless, considering if you're not currently choking, your body is breathing at a depth that transfers the perfect amount of oxygen anyway. But breathing deeper isn't lowering your oxygen uptake- so it's not necessarily devastating to you on those grounds. But it's not really helping either, because your cells either already have as much oxygen as they can use, or already have as much as they can get. Hemoglobin, being what carries oxygen through the blood, can only carry so much, and if it's already saturated, having more oxygen available isn't helping any more to be transfered. This is why oxygen tanks on the sidelines of NFL games changes football players' oxygen utilization by 0%. A bunch of televised ridiculous morons.

But having unused oxygen isn't hurting you. The fact that you're hyperventilating by this point might be though. Hyperventilation works like this: any time you're modifying your breathing to have more fresh oxygenated air go in, more air goes out as well. I know you realize that when you breathe out, it contains carbon dioxide. Think about how it gets there. Remember how everything else regarding breathing is a result of concentration gradients? So is this. Your new breathing technique keeps bringing in more and more air into your lungs with a lower concentration of carbon dioxide than your blood. So you continue to offload it from your blood and then breathe it out into the atmosphere. This makes you have an unnaturally low carbon dioxide concentration in the blood, which causes you to get numb, dizzy, lightheaded, etc. Basically side effects. It causes side effects.

So essentially my argument is this, physiology tells us that breathing naturally is perfect, and purposefully breathing differently is sketchy and has a good chance of hindering your performance in whatever you're doing. So it's up to you whether you want to participate in these "breathing practices" or not.

Okay... Now that I've completed destroying this type of exercise philosophy, I'll explain to you that they actually are good for something. They're good for nothing if you're healthy and your body functions remotely close to how it should. But if you're 60ish or older and often feel somewhat short of breath, your body probably isn't functioning as it's intended to. If this is you, you probably smoked a lot and were hugely inactive. I guess that's okay. It's not, but whatever. You can probably benefit from this because your body is a disaster. Or if you're 80ish, these types of exercise philosophies might be okay too because your body is naturally a disaster at that age. Good luck with that.

And if you don't want to reach the stage where the breathing focussed exercise plans become useful, do some cardio now and again. Prevent the disaster stage from coming to you.


Question: When I was doing that breathe-in-then-breathe-out-into-the-hand test for heat, it's way colder when I breathe out fast then when I breathe out slowly. Why?

Answer: It's not. It's the exact same. Think weather channel on this one- wind chill. The speed of the air changes your perception of its temperature. The point is this though: your body heats air very fast regardless of how you perceive it on the way out. Capish?


Question: Okay, so the classes probably don't work for most people I guess, but is there any benefit you can get through breathing changes?

Answer: Possibly. We'll say the physiological possibility exists. There's a time lag between the time you start exercise and the time the oxygen concentrations change and cause you to increase your respiration. This means there's a period of time where you've already started exercise, but your oxygen intake hasn't yet matched the demand. Although this is just a small metabolic change during a matter of seconds, seconds can dictate performance in some athletic events. So if you can get your oxygen concentrations higher closer to the working cells immediately before this period, there is a conceivable benefit. But this period of conceivable benefit is like 5 seconds long. It's not a 50 minute exercise routine. So yes, there may be an un-preached benefit.






[BACK]