Breathing: conscious versus unconscious


Breathing is an action we take for granted. It’s instinctive, requiring no cognitive thought. But what if, like dolphins, it had to be consciously done? What if we decided to concentrate on it and set out to try to breathe more efficiently? What sort of impact might it have on our training, or on our everyday lives? Becoming conscious of how we breathe may seem silly, but it can make a difference.

Instinctive breathing

Most of us breathe through our mouths, with associated body movements concentrated in the neck and shoulders. This leads us to take small, short breaths, making the heart work harder to push blood around the system. However, it turns out while this may be instinctive and easy, but it’s inefficient, as we are neglecting the use of our primary breathing muscle.

Take a deep breath

Our primary breathing muscle is the diaphragm and one of the simplest ways to use it is to breathe in deeply through the nose and then into the belly. By consciously using our diaphragm to breathe we can consume more oxygen in a single breath, which brings significant benefits:

  • It enables the take-up of more oxygen into our system, so decreasing our rate of fatigue when performing endurance based activities
  • By bracing the abdominal wall and increasing the amount of oxygen in our body we create more internal pressurization. This in turn provides more stability for the spine when lifting weights, which is especially important for big compound movements such as squats and deadlifts.
  • In daily life deep breathing through the nose and diaphragm can decrease stress. Breathing using the mouth, neck and shoulders only delivers short breaths, meaning we must take more of them. This puts pressure on the heart to beat faster, which can lead to further unnecessary stress on the body

There’s no question that for all of us drawing breath is instinctive, but don’t just take it for granted. Becoming conscious of how we breathe can bring benefits. Survival is our strongest instinct, with the body seeking to be as efficient as possible to ensure it, but this doesn’t mean it performs the required actions in the most efficient manner. Breathing is a good example of how nature can be improved upon, with the effort to challenge your instincts bringing rewards in your exercise routine and beyond.

Go on, take a deep breath and feel the difference.

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           About the author

Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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