How to “exercise” breathing awareness during your workouts

We typically are aware of many things we do, therefore control ourselves for the most part.  However, this topic isn’t really concerning over-eating or minding our manners for example as this is about learning to be in-tune with bodily functioning as well.  I’m sure a few people are out there chuckling and assuming that “bodily functioning” must be referring to common embarrassing topics such as “flatulence” or “belching.”  I hate to disappoint you but that’s not what I mean either although as nasty as those two are; they are health-related.  I’m talking about a particular function that we naturally do such as breathing and only make an effort to be aware of under various circumstances; at least with your typical gym-rats and/or athletic-type individuals.  These factors are also ultimately responsible for the fluctuation of our heartbeat rhythm which can either be effective or ineffective.  Given this, they range from panic-attacks, relieving stress, and of course exercising.


Oxygen is essential to life and how we breathe can compromise our life’s daily activities.  It’s necessary to understand that with workouts comes the importance of breathing which can make-or-break your progress.  For instance, many people claim they cannot run long-distance because they get cramps, pains, run out of breath, etc.  Yes, a lot of them are most-likely out-of-shape and not very healthy anyway, therefore deciding to suddenly run a 5 or 10K isn’t exactly ideal as they would need more conditioning and of course, improved health.  But aside from that, if they simply took the time to train themselves how to properly breathe, they wouldn’t be as susceptible to those aches and pains and actually improve their endurance or “progress.”


To give you a better idea is almost as silly as the game, “connect-the-dots.”  Your heart pumps blood, your blood contains oxygen.  That oxygen saturated blood is then filtered through your lungs with each breath and then transported up to your brain to prevent black-outs and brain damage—kind of important— in addition to various muscles.  It then recycles back into your heart to “pick-up” another load of oxygen and runs the same route a million times a day.  Talk about boring and repetitive but extremely essential.  Although breathing is done effortlessly and natural to your bodily functioning, it does not come naturally at first when you expend a great deal of energy, especially during an intense workout, like distance running or strength training.


As you know by now, training in general does not just mean performing a specific workout.  It also requires the mental training and “exercising” awareness of how to breathe rather if you’re in an anaerobic or aerobic state of oxygen levels, i.e., the 5/10K runners example.  Basically, if you have trouble controlling your level of fatigue it’s quite possible that you’re not entirely focusing on the overall involvement, specifically your lungs.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a visual learner and I like a simple set-up so think of blowing up a balloon for instance.  The air you inhale is (oxygen-rich) that is blown (or exhaled) into a deflated, rubbery pocket that expands.  Let’s pretend now that balloon/rubbery pocket is your muscle.  That exhaled air forces your muscles to expand in size from the blood flow that is saturated with oxygen that you breathed in giving you the strength to perform whatever it is you’re doing.  For the sake of the balloon, it becomes its intended shape just like that muscle while maintaining the expansion of that pocket until it’s released.  Once you let the air out it gets weaker and smaller in size, returning back to its original flat form, just like that muscle.


Need another example?  Okay, think of a King Cobra.  When it is ready to strike, it inhales becoming larger in size (at least in the width to make itself look more threatening/bigger) but also gives him that energy in which gives it the capability to strike at an amazing pace and force.  That big breath it took of air is again, filled with oxygen giving it that power to appear larger and perform to the task of what it’s intending to do, just like your workout.





Aside from the energy and nutrients from food that provide your muscles to perform an exhausting workout, it’s ultimately useless without giving your muscles adequate air to accompany that energy.  Of course, I’m loaded with examples, so now let’s actually talk about exercising and pick a particular work out such as the bench press which is done by numerous “up and down” repetitions.  Therefore, at a given point in each repetition you are the most vulnerable and weak, i.e., the “down” position.  Your body requires sufficient oxygen in order to carry out the exercise to push the bar to the “up” position.  This is when you train your lungs to inhale before you carry-out that rep and exhale as you perform or begin that rep to ensure you are not only getting the extra “push,” but not depriving your brain either which can cause black-outs and/or serious injury.


The same concept applies doing dumbbell arm curls, (a workout that beings in the opposite position of doing bench press).  At the beginning of the exercise your arm is extended (in the “down” position) while you’re collecting oxygen by inhaling.  This gives you what you need to isolate and engage your muscle and carry-out the repetition.  That air is then funneled through your veins to be dispersed to your bicep as you decrease your range of motion by bringing your arm into a flexion state, (aka the “up” position).  Finally, returning to an extension position by fully straightening your arm and increasing your range of motion to the starting point is when you inhale to do it all over again–properly.   This is known as an effective, full-repetition.  Seeing that this is thought-out process clearly does not make it “natural” in comparison to your regulated breathing patterns sitting around watching Netflix or for newbies in training.


Over the years the things that have become second nature are walking, even riding a bike.  With time, breathing adequately during your workouts will also become second nature as long as you’re consistent.  A good way to look at it is; walking pigeon-toed is not normal and doesn’t feel right so your body will adjust accordingly with each conscious step.  The same theory applies to working out.  Your lungs will eventually tweak its patterns when you realize what feels right as far as having enough oxygen or not when you practice or “exercise” awareness with each repetition.  It’s understandable that this whole concept can take your breath away but the glorious trait about being human is that we adapt; not just in climates, but more importantly, routine and lifestyle.


Author: Heather Prescott was born in Los Angeles on May 18, 1978 where she grew up until age 30 when she joined the Air Force. She won ‘Most Physically Fit Female’ in Basic Military Training (BMT) and was also recognized as one of the most fit-females in her squadron at her assigned duty station. Her professional experience includes American Council on Exercise (ACE) certifications as both a Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist; is an all-natural, Nationally-Qualified Figure athlete with the NPC/OCB/NANBF/ABFF organizations with 11 competitions under her belt nation-wide consistently placing in the top 3. Heather has also written 2 books, “On-Season Off-Season;” a cookbook designed for individuals transitioning from poor eating habits to learning and understanding how to take clean-eating one-step at a time; each recipe 500 calories or less! Her second book, “Highway To Health,” is a book that breaks down the fitness industry’s most commonly misunderstood FAQ’s that discusses strength training, bodily function and regulation, clean-eating, nutrition, weight-loss, building muscle, even competition prep to name a few. To learn more about Heather, visit her website at: where you can also connect with her via social media!

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