What’s the one fuel at your immediate disposal during a long or grueling workout? Oxygen. It’s obvious; still, most of us think of breathing only when we’re sucking wind. That’s a mistake, because boosting your oxygen intake before, during, and after a workout gives your muscles the means to push harder and longer, and helps to make training actually feel a lot better. (Which is why I think people get a runner’s high: The constant cardio forces them to breathe.)
I recently began a breathing practice with one clear goal — to flood my lungs and blood with O² — and it’s made sprints, strength training, and swimming seem more effortless. Here’s how to work it into your training.
During any physical activity, the demand for oxygen rises, leading you to breathe more heavily. But if you reverse that process — increasing your oxygen intake before you train — you can get ahead of the demand curve. So before working out, take 50 quick breaths, inhaling deeply through your mouth for one and a half counts and then exhaling forcefully for one count. (You want a slightly longer inhale to boost the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide.) This takes a little over a minute and helps you begin exercising in a kind of superoxygenated state. Note: Because the surge in O² and the decrease in CO² may make you feel dizzy, never do this breathing technique before a water workout. (The method will, however, train your lungs so that you can swim stronger in the future.)
During: Feed Your Muscles
As you exercise, do miniversions of the technique, taking 10 deep inhales and exhales before a set of sprints, a lift, or a circuit. This keeps the level of O² in the blood high, supplying the muscles with a constant stream of fuel.
We tend to breathe more heavily for hours after a hard session; it’s the body’s way of correcting an oxygen debt. By repeating the 50 breaths immediately postworkout, you’ll speed this process and get a jump start on muscle repair.