Breathing Dynamics

Breathing Dynamics: What happens with Breathing and Why It Matters.

We Are All Concerned With Human Performance

For a long time, we as athletes or coaches have ignored a key component in human performance, breathing. Breathing is the only system function of the body that is both automatic (involuntary) and voluntary. Because breathing is automatic we don’t think much about how we breathe or how well or efficiently we are doing it. If it is so automatic, you ask, why does it matter if it is voluntary?

Because breathing is automatic, if we don’t do it well our body sends the signals to its other parts to change the way things are currently working so breathing is easier and sometimes more efficient. But, as you will see, that is only a short term solution.

The great thing about the voluntary function of breathing is our ability to do something about it. If we, as athletes or coaches, want to make a change ourselves to improve breathing and do it better, we must understand it better.


Breathing – Common Knowledge, Intuition and Training

Years ago athletes and coaches discovered that if a physical activity works the peripheral muscles it makes a person breathe more. So the rationale became "if I do that activity a lot or under stress and in an organized fashion I will improve my breathing". Others did the same and soon this method became common knowledge as what to do for a workout. Sprints, stairs, running hills or going someplace with high altitude was the typical method of working out. Unfortunately, the body works differently or counterintuitive to this belief.

The Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Dilemma
When talking about training we as coaches and athletes, have been taught to quickly put an activity into the Aerobic or Anaerobic category. Generally the inquiry ends there. Let’s look deeper. This is really a "fuel" conversation usually concerned with the activity of peripheral muscles. One should also consider the breathing muscles and their fitness. Lets look at a few examples.

A sprinter’s body does not know he is in an anaerobic activity. In the later stages of his race his body is responding as though there is a major trauma and starving for air.

A marathoner may never breathe hard during his race. However, if the breathing muscles fatigue they will shut down his legs.

A golfer doesn’t breath hard during his activity but if his breathing muscles get tired it can affect his skill level.

When we use intuition and common knowledge as the basis of our training, we ignore breathing and skip straight to thinking about cardio training and results. This traditional training approach does not take into account what really happens in the body.

Intuition and common knowledge don’t take into account what really happens in the body.

There is more to breathing than just getting air.
There is a hierarchy in the body. Most coaches and athletes have heard that the body protects the brain and the heart to keep them functioning. What we have not been told is the body also preferentially protects its respiratory functions. And, we also were not told the extent of the periphery muscle shut down that takes place to allow the body to focus everything back on the vital respiratory functions. Breathing also plays a major role, perhaps even dictates, periphery muscle performance.

The Human Carburetor?

When talking about breathing the analogy of the carburetor of a car comes to mind because breathing and the respiratory system muscles perform similar functions to the carburetor.

What if you were going to race in an auto race and you had to choose from two cars that looked identical. But, one car had a standard carburetor and the other car was customized with extra breathers and other performance enhancing equipment sticking up out of the hood? We all know which one we would choose to race. Yet, we rarely consider improving breathing efficiency to aid human performance.

We also fail to consider the implications of an inefficient "human carburetor."

What if your carburetor was polluting your fuel?

Because your respiratory system is key in the elimination of lactates from the body, if it is not functioning at its maximum then lactates and other impurities remain in the bloodstream and the muscles and adversely affect performance and recovery.

What if your carburetor had the ability to deflate your tires?

When the body preferentially supplies oxygenated blood to the breathing muscles from larger muscles like the legs, the legs do not perform as well and in effect the tires are deflated, are not as efficient as they need to be, and require more fuel to keep going.

What if your carburetor could drain your radiator or raise havoc with and even disable your thermostat or air conditioner?

By breathing more efficiently, you can keep cooler and reduce dehydration just as the thermostat in your car regulates the temperature and the radiator maintains the coolant.

Exhausted Cyclist
The carburetor in your car is expected to go millions of repetitions without diminishing performance. With the human carburetor it often happens in the first dozen repetitions. In the human body the longer and harder the respiratory system has to work the more its performance begins to diminish and drop off. And, there is a point of diminishing performance in both the respiratory system and the body itself.

A Brief Look at "Breathing Dynamics"

The Breath Mechanism. Inhalation consists of an upward expansion of the Thoracic cavity and a pulling down of the diaphragm to create a vacuum for the air to enter. Exhaling should be a reversal of this process; however, most individuals simply allow the air to escape with no muscular assistance to completely empty. If any of the twelve sets of breathing muscles are inefficient the entire mechanism is affected.

Breathing Dynamics is a combination of the components, actions and processes which take place during the act of breathing. Lets look briefly at a few and how they may impact human performance.

Icon: Stealing Blood
"Stealing Blood"
The blood in the body goes where it is needed in a specific hierarchy. In order to meet the needs of the heart, brain and respiratory vital functions the body will "steal" oxygenated blood from the peripheral muscles.

Icon: Heat Removal and Production
Heat Removal and Production
Breathing and sweating are how the body expels heat from the body. Inefficient breathing reduces the rate at which heat can be expelled, speeds up dehydration and becomes a major contributor to the heat buildup in core body temperature.

Icon: Removal and Production of Waste Products
Removal and Production of Waste Products
The twelve sets of muscles involved with breathing act as a pump for respiration. They aid in the removal of waste products from the working muscles and are major contributors of waste products when inefficient.

Icon: Altitude Training
Altitude Training
Even elite cardio vascular athletes can be brought to a stop at higher altitude because the breathing muscles are not fit enough to keep up with the increased demand for air.

Icon: Heart Rate, Respiration Rate
Heart Rate, Respiration Rate
The less efficient the muscle the more it has to work to accomplish its function and thus increases the rate of activity.

Icon: Energy Expenditure
Energy Expenditure
Efficient breathing uses fuel at a rate of about 14% of an athlete’s expenditure. That amount can double within a few seconds of stressful exercise.

Icon: The Performance Crescendo
The Performance Crescendo
As the body fatigues normal body functions are turned off to better protect and supply the brain, heart, and vital functions, including breathing. These are signaled by rising respiratory and cardio rates, loss of form or mechanics, acute respiratory distress then blackout.

Icon: The Tale of the Tape
The Tale of the Tape
An adult male is typically capable of expanding the thoracic cavity three inches. "Bulking up" and other strength activities can diminish this capability. The diaphragm is capable of flexing from less than an inch when sedentary to six inches. The diameter of the air passageway in the esophagus can be improved by up to a full centimeter through training.

When looking at improving human performance it is imperative to consider the dynamics of breathing. Otherwise, it is like driving your car with all the warning lights on.

Improve Your Respiratory Muscle Performance for Performance Results

As with performance enhancements to a car, efficient respiratory system performance helps the overall performance of the heart and reduces the stress on that system to provide a more efficiently performing engine. A more efficient respiratory system means you are getting more air per breath so you have greater access to oxygen to be processed by the body and elimination of lactates to aid in your recovery.

Winning Race
Including respiratory muscle training with PowerLung into your current training program improves the performance of your respiratory muscles and your respiratory system. Using PowerLung as little as five minutes twice a day will increase the strength of your respiratory muscles so they do not tire as quickly. Instead, your respiratory system remains efficient for longer and provides you greater control over your performance.

For the competitive athlete hundredths of a second make a difference. For the sports and fitness enthusiast better breathing means being able to participate more fully and have more fun while participating. Now you know how breathing works, why it matters and how you can make the changes to make a difference for your performance and your enjoyment. It’s time to add PowerLung to your training, exercise or fitness program.