While we all breathe, few of us are conscious of it and the impact that it has on our performance and health. This is unfortunate because how you breathe is an important factor and most of you reading this have one or more breathing dysfunctions.
One of the most common is Overbreathing. This is where you breathe more than is necessary to meet your metabolic needs, breathing in more Oxygen (O2) and breathing out more Carbon Dioxide (CO2) than is necessary. While this may not seem like a big deal, chronic Overbreathing can cause some health and performance problems.
I recorded a video/ podcast covering Overbreathing and how it can be holding back your health and performance. You can watch the video replay or listen to the audio replay below. You can also find the podcast on Itunes, Podbean, Spotify and all other major podcasting platforms.
So how do you know if you suffer from Overbreathing? Well, the easiest way to tell is to check to see how many breaths you take in a minute. Anything over 10 breaths per minute is Overbreathing, with 6-8 breaths per minute being optimal.
If you Overbreathe at rest then odds are really high that you do it while working hard as well. And this means that you chronically Overbreathe, which impacts a few things.
First, it is metabolically inefficient. Each breath you take requires energy and so the fewer breaths you take to meet your body’s need for oxygen the less overall energy that you will use. This is helpful from both a health and a performance standpoint.
Second, Overbreathing disrupts the natural levels of the gasses in your blood. This creates a new internal environment for your body to react and adapt to.
While taking in more O2 might seem like the right idea, especially during periods of high effort, the flipside is that you are also blowing off more CO2. Again, this may seem like a good idea on the surface but doing so causes some different problems.
In the short term, your body needs CO2 to offload oxygen from red blood cells. Called The Bohr Effect, this means that you need CO2 present in the blood to get oxygen to working muscles. Blowing off more than is needed means that you have less CO2 to unlock oxygen, which means that it takes longer to get it where it is needed.
In the long run, chronic Overbreathing and blowing off too much CO2 also causes your body to adapt in some less-than-optimal ways.
One way that it adapts is by lowering the set point for when you trigger the “I can’t catch my breath” feeling that we all dread so much. This is caused by rising levels of CO2 and your body’s tolerance to it – the more it can tolerate the harder you can work before triggering that feeling.
When you chronically breathe out too much CO2, especially at rest or during your daily activities, then you create a new, lower set point for your body to trigger that feeling. Your body adapts to the lower levels of CO2 by becoming less tolerant and more sensitive to it, which is the opposite of what we want on the trail.
The other way that your body adapts to chronically lowered levels of CO2 is to break down bicarbonate to maintain blood pH balance. Your body requires a strict Acid/ Base balance in the blood and Overbreathing creates a shift in that balance that your body has to react to.
By breaking down the bicarbonate that is in the blood your body keeps the pH level balanced, however this comes at a price. You now have less bicarbonate available to buffer lactic acid and the acidic environment created by hard efforts. This means you are less able to deal with this environment and your ability to push hard is diminished.
So while it may not seem like a big deal, Overbreathing creates both short- and long-term problems that affect your health and performance. The good news is that it isn’t hard to fix and just requires some time and attention.
The main thing you can do is to shift to nose breathing and become more conscious of your breathing. Check in on your breathing throughout the day and make sure you aren’t mouth breathing or Overbreathing. By simply doing these two things you will make a big impact.
You can also spend some time each day doing Breathwork, which is just a way to help you slow down your breathing while creating a higher CO2 environment for your body to adapt to. Something as simple as breathing in to a 4 count and out to a 6 count for 5 minutes can start you in the right direction.
As a side note, Breathwork is basically a form of meditation, which has been shown to have its own benefits for focus, stress levels and health. There is also a lot of science behind these practices now, making them more mainstream and less fringe than in the past.
If you care about your health and fitness then you have to include breathing as part of your overall focus. Ignoring it while spending time and energy on things like cardio and strength training is not only holding you back but potentially having a negative impact on your health. Everything you do starts with your breathing and so spending some time and energy on optimizing it only makes sense.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems
p.s. I know how important breathing is to your health and performance, which is why I created the Guide To Better Breathing For MTB. In this 40 page manual you’ll learn everything you need to know to understand what makes up optimal breathing and how you can apply it to your daily life, your workouts and your rides.
It’s the only breathing guide made by a rider for fellow riders and is guaranteed to help improve your health, performance and mindset. Sure, there’s a lot of great free info out there about breathing but if you want to cut out the guesswork around what to do and how to get started, plus having it explained in a MTB specific context, then click the link below to get your copy of the Guide To Better Breathing For MTB.