“But Nic,” you say to me, an incredulous grin spreading across your face, “I know how to breathe. I’ve been doing it, literally, since I was born. I don’t need your help on this.”
You fool. You poor, ignorant, and yet extremely beautiful (who says you can’t score friends with flattery?), dumb bastard. My heart goes out to you, it really does, for when I am jogging up my 30thflight of stairs with 25 lbs of paper strapped to my back and singing “Tea for the Tillerman” by Cat Stevens, you will still be laying a few yards from our starting point, face down in the dirt, flecks of dust working their way into every crevice of your features and with sweat and tears running together and mixing with the soil to create a sad, sad, sad mud mask. “It’s not that you don’t know how to breathe,” I will laugh once I reach the top, “it’s just that you’re doing it wrong.”
I’m not going to use this article to extrapolate on how breathing keeps you alive. If you haven’t come to the conclusion that breathing in oxygen isn’t one of the most single important acts you will ever do on this planet, then I have nothing I can teach you. Nor will this be an article saying that you can lose weight simply by breathing. Yes I’ve seen the websites and have heard the claims, but until all the doctors around the world agree it works, I’m going to stick with the things I know work. Besides, we are starting to talk about exercise and working out, and how you can use these activities to lose massive amounts of weight and change your life, and when it comes to that the status quo or fancy-ass, new-age bullshit is simply not enough.
You have to realize that this journey is not just about weight-loss, it’s about training your body and making it stronger because losing a lot of weight is hard work. Start thinking of weight-loss as an Olympic sport; it’s something you need to aggressively prepare for, and something you will have to work long hours for weeks and months on end to even be ready to play in the games. And before you lift one weight, take one step on the running track, you have to be able to control your breathing or it will take you twice as long to achieve your goals.
THE SIMPLE RUN DOWN OF YOUR BREATH WHEN YOU EXERT YOURSELF
1. You start to do some sort of physical activity, maybe with the idea of exercising in mind. Jogging down your street, or walking up some stairs, or running away from a bear after you have stolen one of its cubs; whatever.
2. As you start to move your body more and use muscles in your legs and arms and many other places (because while running away from the big bear you’re also fighting off the enraged bear cub in your arms), those muscles are going to start calling out to your brain saying that they need more resources or else they’re going to fail and you’ll be eaten by a large ursus arctos.
3. Your brain, calling out to the other stations in your body, declares that the legs need to go faster and so require more energy. “But the normal batteries are almost drained, Sire,” the metabolism will scream back in a Scottish accent. “THEN USE THE RESERVES, DAMN YOU!”
4. So the body starts dipping into the reserved fuel it has kept for such emergencies, created by fat and carbohydrates. But to process the fuel and turn it into energy in the quickest way possible, it also has to up the oxygen levels in the body as well as use up more stored water to start the important chemical reaction to create more power. “LUNGS, WE NEED YOU TO WORK HARDER SO WE ALL DON’T DIE!!!”
5. The lungs, one of the postal workers of your body as they never get a day off, shoots back a, “Righteo!” and starts gulping more oxygen to meet the body’s demands.
6. But the muscles also scream, “WE NEED MORE AIR TOO! WE’RE SUFFOCATING DOWN HERE!!!” So the lungs start taking in even more air and redirecting it to both your energy-processing plant and your muscles.
7. To get the oxygen everywhere it needs to go in time, the lungs call out to their brother-in-arms, the heart, for back up. The heart wastes no time and starts beating faster, delivering oxygen and water to the entire body through your blood.
8. Your metabolism gets the air and water and begins to transform the carbs and fat into energy, which it sends to your muscles. The muscles also get a big dose of oxygen and water which give it an extra boost. The brain, who’s really just a big, smart drug dealer, also sends out endorphins to the rest of the body to help numb the pain of the physical labor.
9. The brain, also sensing your body is beginning to overheat, activates the hypothalamus and begins redirecting water to your skin via your sweat glands. As the sweat evaporates into the air, the skin cools, and the brain is able to monitor your temperature via a control panel right behind your eyes.
10. As the muscles use up the energy and oxygen, they also create some toxic waste in the form of lactic acid (a kind of . . . uh . . . acid, that can be processed by the liver to create more glucose) and carbon dioxide. As the blood delivers fresh oxygen to the muscles, the muscles say, “HERE!” and throw this waste into the blood stream. From there it is taken back to the lungs, where the blood says, “Uhhhhhh, we don’t know what to do with this,” and the lungs take it and breathe it out as you exhale.
And so this cycle continues, allowing you to keep running from the bear for as long as you can keep this system in balance. You’re probably still gonna die because the bear’s system is a hell of a lot stronger than yours, and there’s that whole “Mother’s Instinct” thing at play, but at least you won’t shame us all by dying in the first five minutes.
This is the basic routine your body goes through every single time you exercise and it’s important to learn because it stresses the need for two things. One, which is water, I have already spoken about. The other is oxygen, and it’s vital that you understand how important it is to creating energy. To keep with the over-simplification theme I’ve got going on today, here’s a simple equation:
WATER + OXYGEN = FAT BURN = ENERGY = MORE STAMINA & STRENGTH
Your body needs to use water and air to process fuel into energy, so if you’re breathing right, the above equation is bound to take place inside of your body thereby setting of a chain reaction that will feed itself. But if you aren’t breathing correctly, if you don’t have enough oxygen in your system, the equation simply doesn’t happen. Like, at all.
So what are the wrong ways to breathe?
- Breathing too shallow (not breathing in deeply enough), which will not supply enough air to your body.
- Breathing too fast (short rapid breaths), which will not give the body enough time to absorb the oxygen.
- Breathing too slow and/or deeply, which will not give the body ample time to expel all the carbon dioxide and cause the lactic acid to build up in your muscles.
And it’s not just with aerobics; you also need to breathe correctly while lifting weights or stretching. The things that can happen to you by not breathing properly include, but are not limited to:
– A side stitch (intense-stabbing pain under the lower edge of the ribcage)
– Full muscle failure, which is what happens when too much lactic acid builds up in the body
– Nose Bleeds
– Blacking Out
– Passing Out
– Organ Damage and/or Failure
– Death (I mean, you’d probably die if all of these things happened to you at once)
So what is the right way to breathe? Well, not doing any of the above, for one thing. But it’s also about control, not just the speed at which you’re breathing. While doing aerobics, you should be able to hold a leisurely conversation without having to gasp for air. And after you are finished exercising, you should be able to return to a relatively normal breathing pattern within thirty seconds or so. While lifting weights, you want to exhale while exerting (e.g. the push up part of the push up, or when you life a weight instead of lowering it), or else you might burst a blood vessel in your eye, among other things. While stretching, you always want to exhale going into the stretch.
But this also has to do with how hard you push your body, which is why you can’t go balls to the wall when you first begin exercising. Take a look at that equation again. Do you notice how burning fat is not the final step in the process, but rather it is the second step? The people who believe that weight-loss is at the end of the equation end up working too hard when they start off, and they either fail or injure themselves. That is because their bodies had not been trained enough to handle the stress. You need to focus on making yourself stronger and increasing your stamina so that you can one day race up a mountain without stopping. But the extreme feats come at the end, not the beginning, and if you make your goals about strength and vitality, when you finally achieve those goals, guess what? YOU’VE LOST TONS OF WEIGHT!
But that’s for later. For right now, just concentrate on your breathing while taking a walk. Focus on breathing in and out in a constant, steady stream. Don’t try to fill your lungs too much, nor exhale all the air out either. When you get the hang of it (when you start to breathe that way automatically whenever you begin to move), up the speed of your gait. You will find that you will need to speed up your breathing as well, which is fine, just always keep control. If you find it hard to carry on a conversation (or if you’re alone, singing a song), don’t try to compensate with your lungs. Instead, slow down to a simple trot again. If you ever feel dizzy or light-headed, stop walking, sit down and breathe normally until the dizziness goes away. The day will come when you find yourself pushing your body to its utmost limits, but for today just focus on breathing in and out. In and out.
In . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and out.