When you’re working out at maximum intensity, do you take in air through your nose or mouth? Quite likely if you are like most people, you breathe through your mouth, especially as the intensity of the exercise mounts. More often than not, we tend to take in short shallow breaths when we feel as though our bodies and central nervous systems are being challenged. It’s a defence mechanism of sorts. But experts are learning that breathing through the mouth may not be as efficient or effective as breathing through the nose.
So let’s break this down a bit…
Our nose, unlike our mouths’ –primary purpose is to support our respiratory system. Whereas our mouth’s main function is to start the digestive process. So if this is the case, why would we choose to do most of our breathing out of our mouths, particularly when we are over-exerted, stressed, anxious or frustrated? Well, because it’s easier. In times of distress it often feels better and easier to breath through our mouths. But doing what’s easy– in this case breathing through our mouths, seldom serves us.
Taking in short hard breaths or hyperventilation through the mouth, causes the body to offload more CO2, making it harder to oxygenate our cells. In intense moments, nasal breathing is the ideal way to oxygenate our systems. So what may feel easier at the time actually makes it harder for our bodies to take in oxygen to our entire system.
Nasal breathing helps to calm our central nervous system (CNS) in that it activates the part of the CNS that supports rest, recovery and digestion, rather than the part of the nervous system that is responsible for survival or stress states, such as flight or freeze. This means that, even if the body is in a stressful state of high-intensity exercise, nasal breathing can provide a sense of calm and allow us to function better.
So how can you tell if you take in air mostly through your mouth or nose? The best way to monitor this is when we are at rest. Pay attention to your breathing when you are working or reading or doing any other everyday tasks. Then pay attention to the types of breaths you tend to take when you’re frustrated, stressed or doing intense exercise. Notice the differences, if any. Monitor how you feel when you take shallow ‘out of the mouth’ breaths versus nasal breaths. Are the nasal breaths deeper?
I have a lot of experience experimenting with various breathing techniques. About ten years ago when I was learning how to optimize my training, I taught myself how to breath almost entirely out of my nose when doing intense physical training. Namely during long bouts of cardio or intense runs. I noticed almost immediately what a huge difference it made in my energy level, rate of recovery and overall performance.
If you’re considering practicing nasal breathing, try closing your mouth and relaxing the tongue and jaw. Start by simply nasal breathing during warm-ups and cool downs with workouts. Then try experiencing daily life while breathing through the nose. Nasal breathing can profoundly improve our mental and physical training and at the same time, optimize our athletic and aerobic abilities. So it’s definitely a ‘must try’ if you want to experience a calmer more clear mind in general or when training. But like anything, it takes both time and dedication.