Today I was absolutely exhausted when I finished work – but I had planned on going to Flywheel, where one of my favorite instructors teaches on Thursday nights. It’s a rare Thursday night that I’m in Dallas, and I love Kelly’s class, so I forced myself to go. Surely it would be fine once I was there in the class right?
Sadly not. My legs were weak and wimpy and not having it, and while I had gone into the class hoping that I would have a magic reprieve of energy, I knew by the third song that it wasn’t an “on” day for me. But that’s okay. Not every class has to be record setting, and not every race has to be a PR – even if we’d like them to be.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re having a tough time with something, people will tell you to “take a deep breath”? For me, that works if I’m actually crying, since it interrupts the hiccuping and whatnot. But if I’m struggling with a tough hill in a spin class, or working on a challenging spreadsheet at the office, it’s not the breathing in that I neglect. (Trust me, in that first example I’m sucking in wind like crazy.) It’s the breathing out.
I think it was the Insanity workout videos that first taught me the important of breathing out. Shaun T told the audience to take one big huff of a breath out – and then keep going with the workout. Surprisingly, it worked. Exhaling really deeply seemed to somehow energize me and allow me to keep going. I’ve used those big deep huff breaths in many athletic endeavors since – when I’m scaling a tough hill in a marathon, or trying to win the 30 second in-class race at Flywheel. Breathing out deeply in one big exhale seems to clear my mind, focus me, and give me an extra boost that helps me go my hardest.
Since then, I’ve seen the advice to breathe out repeated other places as well, and it seems to keep popping up all over the place – like this Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast that reminded me that breathing out is even more important than breathing in. According to one article, even swimmers have a lot of trouble breathing out – despite the fact that breathing is one of the first things you’d think you have to master in order to do strokes like crawl, breaststroke, and butterfly. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s neglecting to breathe out – it’s human nature. Your body doesn’t let you forget to breathe in (try it and you’ll start choking before too long), but you don’t always focus on getting all that stale air out before you take in new fresh air – and that can cause a lot of problems.
When you get tense, you tend to hold your breath and to bottle it up inside like angry emotions. You might not even realize you’re doing it, but your shoulders tense up and your breathing becomes even more shallow as a result. Supposedly, 70% of your body’s natural toxins are released during exhalation – and yet this is the part of breathing that we sometimes pause. Not good! A sigh can express frustration, yes, but a sigh can also be cathartic and help us to re-energize and move forward.
As I’ve been getting overwhelmed with various challenges lately, I realized that not only am I literally forgetting to breathe out, but I’m metaphorically forgetting that too. If you keep trying to breathe in but you never release any of the old air, your lungs run out of room and you just can’t do it anymore. Similarly, I continually take new things on and add things to my life – but I’m not releasing the old stuff that will clear the way for the new. I forgot to breathe out.
With all the hype these days about running on air, which focuses on rhythmic patterns of in and out breaths, let’s not lose sight of the fact that breathing is actually quite simple. Whether you use a 5-2, a 3-1, or a 2-1-1-1 pattern, it’s fundamentally the same: air in, air out. But those two parts are both important, no matter how long their duration or cadence! You can’t jump to the counting breaths and coordinating footfalls until you’ve really, truly remembered to start breathing out.
Back at Flywheel tonight, whenever I started struggling on the sprints and hills I huffed a big breath out, as deep as I could. It helped me to clear my mind and refocus on my current goal (doing well in the class) instead of daydreaming. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out at the end of class that I got my second highest Flywheel score, and I think a lot of it had to do with remembering to breathe out. It’s amazing how powerful an exhale can be!