When talking about endurance training, whether it is running, cycling, swimming, rowing, etc., few people ever address one of the most important pieces of the puzzle: breathing. The way you breathe can change the way you feel while training, even if your pace and intensity don’t change at all.
Breathing is much more than just an oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expulsion system for your body. There are things happening at a cellular level that are crucial to endurance training and performance that are directly affected (improved or limited) by breathing. The important part of breathing, however, may not be what you think it is.
Most think that the most important part of breathing is the inhalation of air. Don’t get me wrong, this is crucial to the function of muscles, organs, and other systems of the body. However, when exercising, the overlooked aspect of breathing is the expulsion of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide increases the acidity of the blood, altering the pH levels of the blood and promoting the buildup of lactic acid. This is why anaerobic exercises (not involving oxygen), build lactic acid so quickly. When we exhale carbon dioxide, we are aiding our body’s pH regulating system, allowing for the control of the pH level of the blood, decreasing the buildup of lactic acid and allowing the muscles to increase their endurance capacity.
That may be a lot of jargon, but the gist of it is that breathing out and expelling carbon dioxide allows the body to buffer the buildup of lactic acid, which allows the muscles to resist fatigue for a longer period of time. Breathing out directly affects our endurance. If our breathing is shallow and out of control, our body is not able to use that buffering system and this causes lactic acid to build up and our perceived fatigue level to rise significantly.
So how can we use this information to help our training and overall performance? We need to keep our breathing under control. Make sure that when you breathe, you focus on breathing OUT as much as on breathing IN. For example, while running, it’s especially easy to make breathing mechanical by tying your breathing to your foot strikes. In the rhythm of your feet, breathe in for two steps and out for two steps when going faster, and in for two/three steps and out for three steps when going slower. Program yourself to do this mechanically and subconsciously and your fatigue levels when running will be significantly lower.
In swimming, this is also incredibly important. Many people breathe out too much when swimming, which purges their lungs and leaves them gasping for breath. This imbalance of input and output also increases fatigue levels and affects training capacity. Make sure your breath-ins and breath-outs are natural, regular and not forced. Breathe out steadily under water without letting everything out so that when you take that breath, you're comfortable and able to take a easy breath in.
Cycling can use many of the same principles, especially when riding at higher intensities. The rhythm of your breathing may not be as mechanical if your cadence is constantly changing, but the principle of breathing out enough and breathing in naturally and evenly affects your cycling just as much.
Breathing has a direct impact on how fatigued you feel and how well your body resists fatigue. Practicing these principles can transform your training for the better. So give it a shot and let us know how it goes. We hope this information is valuable to you! Should you have any questions, leave a comment or send us a direct message!