How you breathe is the difference between good and poor health and maximal and subpar strength development. Breathe with your nose and eat with your mouth.
First of all, breathing is reflexive. This means how you do it coordinates, conditions, and synchronizes other systems to function. For example, breathing through the nose affects the respiratory system by living less and taking slight natural pauses when breathing, the cardiovascular system by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxes your nervous system. Nasal breathing also develops stability for posture and strength in your training. But, if you breathe through your mouth it has an opposite negative impact on all these systems. So, how you do it leads to a path of function or dysfunction.
Nasal Breathing for Health
Breathing through the nose prepares the air to enter the body in 3 ways.
First, the nose airways are lined with hair and mucus. This acts as an air filter to clean the air of bacteria or antigens before it reaches your lungs.
Secondly, the air is warmed as it passes through the nose to the lungs to help the tubes dilate for easy oxygen exchange.
Third, the mucus in your nose produces nitric oxide, a gas that dilates the lungs’ airways and veins and arteries for blood to flow easily through the body.
None of those above functions occur when breathing through the mouth.
Breathing and the Diaphragm
When you breathe through your nose the diaphragm contracts. Think of it as a pump to breathe; it compresses and relaxes to move air. Inhaling contracts the diaphragm and exhaling relaxes it. Breathing through your mouth contracts the diaphragm in a weaker way.
Breathing through the nose causes a longer breath in comparison to the mouth that is shorter. When you breathe in through your nose, the diaphragm contracts and expands the lungs whereas mouth breathing does not and is short into the mid-top of the lungs. When the diaphragm contracts, it expands by pulling down the bottom of the lungs about 30-50% more. And, that increase in 30-50%, exchanges 30-50% more oxygen. Increasing the lungs capacity helps to increase VO2 (volume of oxygen) by exchanging more O2 and CO2.
When you breathe through your nose in a resting state your belly should slightly naturally expand on the inhale and come back to a neutral position on the exhale. Using it for strength training is a little different.
The main issue with mouth breathing is it uses the wrong muscles for the job. When you breathe through your mouth, you use your diaphragm less to breathe and instead relies on the manual force of the neck and shoulders to breathe, shortening and overusing these muscles.
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Breathing Through Your Mouth
Breathing through your mouth leads to higher breaths per minute. Professional athletes take about 5-6 breaths per minute. And, so your heart rate is reflective and based on your breathing rate. A lower heart rate means your heart needs fewer beats to pump blood and becomes more efficient and effective at delivering blood and oxygen. A higher breathing rate leads to a higher heart rate. Therefore, how you breathe, affects the heart.
3 breaths per minute are excellent and equivalent to a heart rate of 45-48 beats per minute.
- 4-5 breaths per minute are about 50-55 heartbeats per minute.
- 6-7 breaths per minute are about 55-60 heartbeats per minute.
- 8 breaths per minute are 60 heartbeats per minute.
8 is considered normal at 60. 8-15 breaths per minute are considered normal to diseased state on the higher end being 15.
The numbers above are values I primarily found and use in my training and are based on the Buteyko Table of Health Zones. If you would like to see the full chart and Buteyko’s chart go to Buteyko Table of Health Zones.
Try it. See how many breaths you take in one minute. Just breathe naturally. Then compare it to your heart rate.
Posture and Stabilization-Pressure and Tension
The diaphragm not only performs breathing functions but also performs postural functions. The diaphragm stabilizes the torso by creating pressure for your core. This pressure produces tension for your hips, abdominals, and spine stability. Poor conditioning of the diaphragm results in a loss of pressure and tension needed to stabilize the hips, abdominals, and spine; causing movements to be dysfunctional,
With strength training, the inhalation creates pressure for the tension of the abdominals. The diaphragm is crucial for this to occur. Try this.
- Inhale, and, as you inhale, don’t let your stomach distend, brace it like tightening your abs for a punch. Now exhale, and when you exhale, the exhale is quick because the abdominal tension pushes the air out.
- Now, I really want you to feel the difference. Contract your butt muscles and hold it. Right away you should have felt the abdominals contract too. Now, inhale again while squeezing your butt. You should feel the diaphragm contraction more as you inhale.
- And, now, this time focus on the exhale. When you exhale, exhale by hissing to control the air out. There is a reflex built-in for the abdominals to tighten more. The harder you hiss, the more the abdominals will tighten.
When strength training, inhale and brace the abdominals through the movement’s stretch and exhale hiss on the exertion. This way, you train the strength of your muscles and breathing at the same time.
Breathing through your nose is the key to good health and boosting your strength. To improve your health, strength training, speed, or sports performance, it is essential to understand the difference between the two: nose and mouth breathing. Breathing is the most untaught and forgotten factor pertaining to health and training. It is rarely taught in health, strength, and fitness programs today and is essential for physical preparation to excel in strength and sport.