As an Oxygen Advantage breathwork instructor I have been trained by Patrick McKeown to teach my clients to breathe through the nose. Ok, I can handle that. But, he surprised me when he said that we should be breathing through our noses even when training. And even when training hard.
This was completely the opposite I learned in all my exercise classes I’ve been to in my lifetime, and that’s a lot! Every instructor reminded us to not hold our breath, exhale through our mouths and then demonstrated how to do this. This has led us to a culture of a bunch of mouth breathers in the gym. I have been doing this myself most of my life.
MOUTH BREATHING DURING EXERCISE
What happens when we start running faster or going harder in a spin class. We open our mouth and breathe faster and harder. The mouth doesn’t filter, warm or moisture the air, like a nose does making us feel more tired, but also exposing ourselves to bacteria, viruses and pollutants in the air. Imagine you’re running on a city road or spinning in a small room with 20 other sweaty mouth breathers. Everyone is breathing hard with their mouth open. We are basically inhaling toxic particles straight into our lungs with every breath. The dry cold air (remember our nose warms and moistens the air, the mouth doesn’t) makes our airways constrict, making breathing more difficult. That’s why we feel so exhausted after a workout.
THE FUNCTION OF OUR NOSE
Our nose is an amazing system that filters, humidifies and warms the air we breathe. It also regulates our blood pressure and protects us from invading pathogens. When we breathe through our nose we engage the diaphragm, stabilize the core and improve our stamina. It also makes us slow down our breathing rate, so that the lungs get more time to extract oxygen from the air. This in turn triggers the autonomic nervous system into parasympathetic mode, or rest and digest, so we feel calmer and less stressed.
So, you can see that just keeping our mouths shut, we can :
1. be less stressed
2. be less dehydrated
3. exercise longer and harder
4. have a better functioning core
WHAT’S GOING ON?
Breathing though our noses creates a build up of nitric oxide (NO), which is a gas that builds up in the sinuses around the nasal cavity. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means it opens up the blood vessels so that we can get more blood flow into the lungs for a more efficient uptake of oxygen. What’s more, because our nostrils are much smaller than the big pie hole (our mouths), it creates extra resistance for airflow which results in 10 to 20% more oxygen reaching the blood.
BENEFITS OF NOSE BREATHING FOR ATHLETIC PEOPLE
The research has shown that breathing through our noses during exercise has many benefits:
1. More oxygen uptake
2. More oxygen delivered to the muscles
3. Improved functional movement
4. Conservation of moisture to help prevent dehydration
5. Protects the inside of our mouths, such as our teeth and gums
6. Increased training load to allow the body to run harder with less air
7. Better recovery
WHERE TO START?
First, be prepared that this may not come to you so easily and feels “unnatural’, especially if, like me, you’ve been trained to breathe through the mouth while training for so long. It’s a little hard I have to admit.
When I am in a group HIIT class, I really do my best to keep my mouth closed and notice that at the end of a session, everyone is doubled over inhaling and exhaling hard. I am there, struggling to keep it in. I am also somewhat “dying inside”, but because I am focused on controlling the breath, slowing it down, I am in a much less stressed state. I am more calm and focused. I see that I recover my breath much quicker. And over time, I see that I am able to go harder, faster and stronger with each exercise.
When you start to nose breathe, just breathe as you normally do during training and notice how you’re breathing. Awareness first. Take notice of not only your breathing patterns, but your heart rate, your fatigue, and pains, thoughts or sensations. Now you have a marker to see where you’re at and then compare them to how you feel over time as you switch to nose breathing.
It really takes getting used to. While I am on my bike, I notice my nose starts to run. This is nothing to be alarmed by. Patrick says it decreases over time, but honestly, it still runs for me. That being said, my nose doesn’t run when I go for a jog.
The instructions given specifically to runners by Patrick on the Oxygen Advantage website on how and when to nose breathe are such:
Low to moderate-intensity exercise: continue with nasal breathing in and out.
Moderate to high-intensity exercise: breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth
High-intensity exercise: breathe in and out through the mouth
Run with your mouth closed as much as you can. When the air hunger is too strong, switch to mouth breathing.If you feel as if you aren’t getting enough air, simply slow down and allow your breathing to normalize. Nasal breathing should not be too hard and fast.
In six to ten weeks, air hunger diminishes the more you exercise with your mouth closed. This translates into reduced ventilation for a given intensity and for the duration of physical exercise.
These are instructions specifically for running, but we can apply it for any sport, with the exception of swimming. Once the intensity becomes too high, then we can give ourselves a break and start mouth breathing. Yes, we can try too hard.
Check out the Oxygen Advantage website for a full breakdown on nose breathing for runners. It’s very comprehensive.
Check out the podcast interviews I did that highlight the importance of breathing, the hows and solutions.
Breathing Through Menopause – Patrick McKeown
Airway Hygiene – David Edwards
Breathing To Control Stress – Bob Soulliere
THE OXYGEN ADVANTAGE
I decided to go through the Oxygen Advantage program not to become a breathing instructor. I was just curious about the science and how to implement the practices myself. Although I do wind up teaching a lot people along the way. I absolutely loved the program, the support staff was brilliant and it was worth every penny. They have many different programs on their website specifically for athletes, yogis, females and more.
I also can highly recommend Patrick’s books:
The Oxygen Advantage – this is what piqued my curiosity in the first place
The Breathing Cure – mind blowing, but pretty scientific
Enjoy and breathe….through your nose!