The average person doesn’t get to work on their recovery immediately after a workout. Some people may leave the gym following their final set, while others get home from a run and go about their day. Failure to enter a recovery state after a workout leaves the body in a state of sympathetic response (high stress). By regulating your breath after a workout, however, you can take your body out of a stressful state and enter the recovery phase.
How Does Deep Breathing Enhance Recovery?
When you focus on controlling your breathing patterns, you work to down-regulate your autonomic nervous system (ANS). By “calming” your sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the ANS, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, another part of the ANS responsible for the body’s rest and digest state. This means that deep breathing can aid with stress management, helping your body enter a calmer state. A few studies found that breathing at certain frequencies can influence heart rate variability, an indicator of sympathetic and parasympathetic activation.
Why Is Breathing Beneficial After A Workout?
Exercise can be physically demanding and can initiate a stress response as a result. Working out triggers the release of epinephrine and adrenaline, both of which increase heart rate, blood pressure, and energy supplies. When you breathe deeply, you counteract this stress response that the body endures during a workout. Ultimately, this can be valuable in your body’s recovery efforts. What’s more, down-regulating your breathing can be especially beneficial if you exercise later in the evening. High-intensity workouts that are too close to bedtime may disrupt sleep. By restoring your autonomic balance quickly after a workout, though, you may be able to rest and relax more easily.
How To Perform Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a breathing practice that requires you to actively engage your diaphragm. The proper way to practice this exercise is to sit up straight or lay supine (on your back). Both of these positions give you the best access to your straight spine, allowing you to fill your lungs more completely. Follow the instructions below to learn how to engage in deep breathing.
- Sit up straight or lie flat on your back.
- Allow your breath to flow in and out naturally for a couple minutes.
- Begin by placing one hand on your abdomen just below the rib cage and the other on your chest just above your heart. Try to feel the movements of your abdomen and chest as you learn the breathing technique.
- Take a big inhale through your nose, keeping your abdomen relaxed. If you do this correctly, you should feel your abdomen rise while your rib cage expands.
- Exhale through your mouth, pursing your lips slightly but keeping your jaw relaxed.
- When you breathe out, make sure to release all the air from your lungs. You should feel your rib cage push all of the air out of your lungs, and you should feel your abdomen contract. Repeat this process for about five to 10 minutes.
Box Breathing Technique
Box breathing is another way to promote relaxation by decreasing stress levels. This practice is a type of yoga deep breathing, involving counting during your breathing. People tend to follow the 4-4-4-4 breathing pattern, as it is square like a box, hence the name. Navy SEALs actually use box breathing, but they refer to it as combat breathing. Learn how to do it below.
- Inhale slowly through your nose, counting to four in your head. Allow the air to fill your lungs and belly.
- Pause and hold your breath for another four seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth for four seconds, ensuring that you expel the air from your lungs and abdomen.
- Finally, pause again and hold your breath for four seconds before repeating the process.