Ever been to a fitness class where the windows fogged up because of the powerful exhaling coming from your group? Or maybe you were putting in work at the gym and got distracted by your neighbor’s noisy breathing? Have you asked yourself, “Why do some people breathe so intensely while they work out?” If any of these sound like you, my recommendation is extremely cliché—if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Many yoga classes encourage a regulated style of breathing called pranayama. In Pilates, breathing is part of the preparation for every exercise. “Keep breathing” is a common recommendation offered by fitness instructors when someone is having a hard time working through a movement. But why is that? I’ve found two convincing reasons to focus on breath while working out: it can improve your physical performance and reduce stress.
Al Lee, author of Perfect Breathing, reviewed many studies on the effects of breathing while writing his book. In one study, he learned that breathing during sustained exercises (e.g., running, cycling) reduces muscle fatigue. By paying attention to our breath and pushing ourselves to make breathing a key part of our routine, we can actually get more out of the same workout. Efficiency, for the win!
Lee goes on to explain how it’s possible to reduce stress through active breathing. Focusing on a task like breathing forces you to be in the moment rather than thinking about what happened yesterday or what’s going on tonight. By paying attention to your breath, you can clear your mind to make more objective decisions. Stress is often driven by emotional reactions, so an objective thought process naturally reduces stress.
Active breathing during a workout is a win-win for your body and your brain. And unlike many modern health solutions, it’s free. If you still experience frustration because of the distracting noises coming from your fellow gym fanatics, just remember—everyone is there to work on themselves. So, lean in to your own workout and stop worrying about what other people are doing. This is your time, so make it all about you. And don’t forget to breathe...