How Focusing On Your Breathing Can Improve Your Fitness
Breathing is a unique process in the human body. It can occur voluntarily or involuntarily and be a conscious or unconscious decision. Breathing also constantly responds to feedback from sensors in your body. Our breath can be stifled by our emotional state, body position, or posture.
Posture and breath
When you inhale your diaphragm contracts and moves downward expanding the chest cavity and giving the lungs space to expand. This simultaneously lifts the ribs and sternum. When you exhale the diaphragm relaxes and expands into the chest cavity as the ribs and sternum lower.
The key muscles or primary movers in this process are the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and abdominal muscles. Secondary mover muscles include upper trapezius, scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, and pectoralis minor.
These secondary movers can become tight and overworked if you have bad posture. Poor posture is categorized by rounded shoulders and a forward head position. This can lead to a decline in respiratory function and can exacerbate breathing muscles and contribute to even worse posture.
To jump start your muscles involved in breathing try this stretching and breath practice:The Abdominal Vacuum.
Wondering why you should worry about your breath when it’s so easy you can do it in your sleep?
Let’s start with the the one we all care about
A study at the University of Portsmouth showed that runners who performed inspiratory muscle warm-ups and training, experienced 15% increase in performance after 6 weeks.
Bringing a mindful focus to breath can also help improve energy. Individuals who practice deep breathing exercises report more energy, improved mental acuity, and better sleep.
An improvement in breath capacity will lead to a healthier digestive tract. The body has more energy to divide towards digestion and is more efficient at eliminating toxins.
Breathing techniques designed to bring increased awareness the breath can carry over to other areas of life. It trains the mind to be less emotionally reactive while simultaneously reducing cortisol levels.
Breathing practice has been shown to lower resting heart rate and blood pressure. Try deep belly breaths where the stomach fully expands and holding it at the full exhalation and inhalation points.
Many breathing techniques focus on unwinding, shutting down, and moving away from the flight or fight response we are used to feeling. Breathwork also has many powerful applications to get us fired up and improve our understanding of its effects on the body.
When lifting heavy weights, a full belly breath can be held inside the abdomen throughout the lift. The Valsalva Maneuver provides internal pressure, supporting the spine and bracing the skeletal muscle throughout the lift. Limit this maneuver for maximal exertion efforts (eg. greater than 80% of your 1RM and 5 reps or less in your working set).
Breathing can also be used to prime your body into a peak state. Using rapid forced inhales and exhales through the nostrils stimulate the immune system, increase circulation, and leave you feeling alive, alert, and awake.
Now that you know a little about how breathing affects the systems of your body, what areas do you want to incorporate a breathing practice into? Whether its for health, relaxation, or to improve athletic performance we could all benefit from taking a deep breath now and then!
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Here we are, mid-December, and life is busy! This is the time of year when most people’s healthy habits get derailed, and before you know it, we are feeling left with less energy. Here are five ways you can add fitness to your day, even during the busy holiday season:
1. Increase Physical “Work”
Technology has caused a major shift in the way humans live, and physical activity has become an optional daily occurrence. However, with a creative mindset we can still take advantage of many events in our days with good old fashioned labor. Try some of these challenges to increase your work capacity throughout the day:
At the grocery store steer clear of the shopping cart. Try to only use a basket (or two) to carry your food. As you navigate the aisles you’ll be improving your grip and building core strength with a bonus deadlift thrown in any time you set your basket down. By choosing to carry the items you will also develop awareness around what you’re purchasing. The bottom line, you get more fit and only the essentials make it home. Your inner hunter-gatherer will be proud!
Park far away in the parking lot. It’s just as fast as driving up and down the lanes to get as close as possible.
Take the stairs. Every step counts and if you’re really motivated try throwing in some lunges!
Leave the car in the garage. Take a new approach to your daily travel and try to walk or bike to work.
2. Stretch It Out (Every Chance You Get)
A terrific habit to build is to practice full range of motion and proper biomechanics in the daily activities you already do. How many times a day do you catch yourself hunched over, chin to chest with your neck craning to look into a screen. Ouch! Focus on good posture with shoulders back and eyes gazing straight ahead. See how it affects your mood, confidence and energy levels!
While grabbing items off of a bottom shelf or cabinet, hold the bottom position of a squat and drive your knees out to the sides. Spending 10 minutes a day in the bottom of a squat can be life changing for your spine, hips, and knees!
If you’re talking on the phone or typing at your computer incorporate ankle rolls at the same time. Rotate your foot at the ankle as if you were at the beach writing your name in the sand with your toes. Make sure to practice each letter of the alphabet.
Driving to and from work? This is a great time to work on externally rotating your shoulders while sitting up tall with a proud chest.
3. Equalize The Sedentary Activities
Take advantage of time that doesn’t require movement to work postural muscles or build in fitness breaks. Alternating work and rest periods will increase metabolism and improve circulation. This can even be a great opportunity to develop your strength. By practicing strength daily you can make remarkable improvements in a short amount of time. Strength is a skill and the majority of initial gains in strength are due to neuromuscular adaptations to training.
For office work or writing try a standing desk or treadmill desk.
If you’re at home watching television try to practice push-ups, squats, or core exercises during the commercial breaks. One popular method technique is called “grease the groove. The premise is simple, pick a movement you want to improve at and perform a set of the exercise with half of your maximal reps (eg. if your max number of pullups is 10, you will want to perform sets of 5). Rest at least 15 minutes between sets. Repeat as often as possible throughout your day.
4. Get Outside Every Day
Getting outdoors is the perfect chance to reset and reconnect with your body, and there’s no better place than Tucson to take advantage of the beautiful December weather! Whether it’s a park you swing by on the way home from your work or stepping out on the back porch with your morning coffee making time for the outdoors is an essential. Moving outside requires us to apply our bodies to move in new and challenging ways. Some recommendations:
Climb a tree, seriously when was the last time you did? Go now, you can thank me later…
Walk or run barefoot. Connecting your feet with the dirt, grass, or sand feels great, allows full range of motion, and strengthens the feet.
Find a rock, log, or another odd object to be your new “pet rock”. Take your new found pet on a walk and enjoy this new test of fitness.
5. Find A Community
One of the best ways to add fitness to your day is to surround yourself with people who care about their health. Positive social support has been proven to improve adherence to exercise and dietary habits. If you feel like you need help in achieving your health and fitness goals maybe joining a tribe of people on the same journey is the best way to add fitness to your day!
Need more action in your life? Schedule your Free 1 Hour Intro with Crossfit Purgatory here!
You’ve gotten into a consistent fitness routine and are finally starting to feel good about the healthy choices you are making! Often, we tend to adopt new favorite foods along the way. At the top of the list for many are coffee, wine, and bacon. These foods are dietary staples in the fitness community, and are usually considered somewhere in the category of “not bad enough to worry about and maybe even good for you.” It’s worth taking a deeper dive into the health benefits and potential pitfalls which can occur when eating these favorite foods.
More than 450 million cups of coffee are consumed everyday in the United States alone. Coffee is also the world’s number one source of antioxidants due to widespread consumption and high levels of polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids. Despite its amazing capacity to fight free radicals in our body, most people reach for a “cup of joe” each morning for one reason only – that energizing boost of energy!
Caffeine can be great before a workout due to the increase in focus, energy, and alertness, helping us feel ready to perform. It has even been shown to reduce pain associated with exercise, making it a powerful training partner.
A cup of coffee can be beneficial post workout as well. When we exercise, our bodies utilize glycogen, a form of glucose stored in our muscles, as a fuel source. In one study it was observed that athletes who consumed caffeine with carbohydrates after exercise had 66% more glycogen in their muscles 4 hours later. This significant boost in glycogen storage means you have set the tone for success in your next workout in terms of available energy.
Challenges arise when the quantity and timing of caffeine consumption begin to interfere with rest and recovery. Caffeine has been shown to interrupt sleep even when consumed 6 hours before bed time. Individual caffeine sensitivity can vary from person to person, so listen to your body. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic, meaning the more coffee we drink, the harder we need to work to keep ourselves hydrated.
Red wine has long been touted as “heart healthy” and the best choice if you do wish to drink. However if you are a competitive athlete, trying to build muscle, or on a mission to lose fat there really isn’t a place for alcohol in your diet. All alcohol is merely empty calories. Wine can also interfere with sleep, testosterone production, and put extra wear and tear on your already busy liver. However, If you do find yourself in a situation where a drink is fitting, red wine can be a better choice than cocktails or beers in terms of calories and sugar.
What about the heart health benefits and antioxidants in red wine, don’t those make a glass worth it a few times a week?
Yes and No. Mostly no…
The link between red wine and heart health is still unclear, and a positive correlation between the two has not been found. Red wine also doesn’t seem to perform better than other alcohols in terms of cholesterol and heart health. Some of the hype around red wine comes from its resveratrol content. It is possible that resveratrol reduces LDL levels and prevents blood clots. Unfortunately, to reap these potential benefits requires drinking high quantities of alcohol, thus creating other potential health problems. Resveratrol supplements may not be absorbed that well. Look for other good sources in foods like blueberries, peanuts, and plain old unfermented grapes!
Bacon. Crispy. Crunchy. Delicious.
Is there any dish that can’t be improved by its presence?
Bacon may be the most controversial and beloved food in existence. In the wake of the paleo dietary movement and a shift in the way our country views dietary fat intake, bacon has become the “little cheat food that could”.
Bacon is made from pork belly and contains high levels of both monounsaturated and saturated fats. Bacon also contains oleic acid, found in other healthy fats like olive oil. The ratio of different fats in the diet, genetics, and lifestyle choices all contribute to how much saturated fat we can consume for optimal health.
While bacon may not be so bad for you after all, you have to be choosy. Consider the quality of the pork and the processing it undergoes during curing. The process generally involves curing cuts of pork belly with salt and sugar, then applying heat through a smoking process. There is also generally the application of some form of nitrates or nitrites to help preserve quality and appearance of the bacon.
When selecting your bacon product, focus on where the pork came from and how it was raised. The best brands will be pasture or humanely raised and organic. The ingredient list should be short and not too sweet. That means pork, water, sea salt, and a small amount of sugar in the form of brown sugar or maple syrup. If you see a long list of preservatives and words you don’t recognize, steer clear (true for all foods!)
Finally, some brands will use different sources of nitrates, and even if the brand claims to be nitrate free it will often contain an ingredient like celery powder which has naturally occurring nitrates. Nitrates can convert to a carcinogenic compound known as “nitrosamines” under high temperatures. If you like your bacon crispy, then you increase the chance of consuming these compounds. Our body blocks the effects of these carcinogens in the presence of Vitamin C, so grab a slice of orange or grapefruit with your bacon to play it safe!
Follow these guidelines and you’ll be sure to enjoy your “healthy” vices in the most appropriate ways possible. If you have questions about nutrition and how other dietary and lifestyle choices are affecting your training we can help! Just email email@example.com to schedule time with our Nutrition Coach, who can help you create a personalized diet plan to fuel the best you possible!
Diet and nutrition are a highly individual journey and no one answer is true or right for everyone. The simple fact of the matter is that when it comes down to it, you have to figure out what works best for you. However there are some overarching philosophy that can channel your approach to healthy eating. When you figure out a style and frequency in your relationship with food that works well you will notice improvements in energy levels, focus, mood, and of course physical performance.
Paleo, Ketogenic, and Atkins diet have helped change many of the negative perceptions of fat in the diet. As Americans a far bigger threat to our health is a diet that contain high sugar and processed foods.Fats are not only not bad for you but are an essential source of fuel and micronutrients that make us healthy. It’s important to choose the right types and amounts of fats in your diet that let you operate at your best.
The chemical structure of a fat or fatty acid determines what role it will play in our bodies. Based on this structure we are able to classify fats in certain classes that share similar characteristics.
Fats can be divided into saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are found in red meat and coconuts and up until recently have gotten a bad rap as culprits of heart disease. Monounsaturated fats are found in plant foods like nuts, avocado, and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats include Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s which can be found in fatty fish, flax seeds, and walnuts and are associated with a variety of health benefits.
Fats are essential for energy requirements, hormone production, and make up the wall of every cell in your body. They are also directly related to our immune system and having the right ratio of fats is very important for a healthy inflammation response.
Carbohydrates are found across a wide variety of foods and depending on the structure of the molecule our body will respond to eating carbs in very different ways. Carbohydrates have a direct relationship with the glucose levels or blood sugar in our bodies. When our blood glucose levels become elevated our body releases a hormone called insulin to store this extra energy for later when we might have a greater need for it. This glucose is stored in the muscle and liver in long chains known as glycogen or the glucose can be stored in adipose tissue to be utilized later (aka fat storage).
Your goal should be to optimize the amount of carbs that are being stored as glycogen and minimizing excess carbs that would contribute to fat stores. Selecting the right types of foods like vegetables are beneficial because they contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and have a low glycemic index. The glycemic index measures how much a food increases our bodies glucose after consumption. High GI foods include white bread, white rice, and cereals. These foods can be very bad for your waistline, because if your body is not prepared to receive fuel and store it as glycogen they will immediately be stored as fat.
Our bodies can become insulin resistant and requires higher and higher amounts of insulin to store the glucose. Resistance training however, can increase our insulin sensitivity. That means that our cells are highly responsive to storing glucose when insulin is present. Focus on consuming low glycemic carbohydrates that provide key nutrients and avoid high sugar or refined ingredients.
Protein is found in and comprises most of the cells in our body. It is found in a variety of animal and plant sources. Protein is important because it contains amino acids, tiny molecules that are the building blocks of muscle and also used for the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. Some of these amino acids are considered essential meaning they must be provided from a dietary source. Without these essential amino acids we will not be able to repair our tissues and certain vital processes will cease to happen.
Since protein helps us recover from and perform optimally during our workouts it is important to consume after a workout for muscle repair. Real food sources of protein include beef, chicken, eggs, and fish. Try to include these foods as staples in your diet. These foods have amino acid content that is similar to what our human body requires for repair. This is also known as the biological value of the protein. Vegetable sources of protein have a lower biological value and may lack one of the essential amino acids needed by humans. These foods must be strategically combined by vegans or vegetarians so they consume all the amino acids needed for tissue repair. As a vegan athlete it can be challenging to meet your needs without supplementation and can be difficult to get a full spectrum of key micronutrients.
Try to consume 1.0 to 1.5 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. For a 200 pound man (90 kg) that means 90 grams to 135 grams of protein per day. This will provide enough amino acids for your bodies daily needs. Unfortunately eating more protein doesn’t mean it automatically turns into muscle. Unused protein will be broken down and utilized as a fuel source by the body.
Hopefully knowing a little bit more about each of the macronutrients and how they act in your body will help you to make informed decisions. If you have more questions around a healthy diet give us a call today!