Learn to Breathe
It may seem strange to mention something we do all day every day, but one of the most common side effects of modern sedentary lifestyles is how it makes us less effective at breathing.
The average person breaths 26,000 times a day, if done incorrectly the ribcage and spine becomes locked, restricting the normal functioning of the respiratory system, meaning any exercise we perform will not give optimal benefits.
As humans we come into this world as “obligate nose breathers,” which means that we do not possess the involuntary ability to breathe through our mouths.
Mouth breathing is a learned response triggered by emergency stress. Today scientific studies are proving again and again what the eastern traditions have known for centuries: when we breathe well, with the nose and diaphragm, we create the optimum conditions for health and fitness.
With proper breathing, the heart rate lowers by around 20 beats compared to breathing inefficiently. This is due to the abdominal contractions effect on the parasympathetic nervous system.
The vagus nerve (the tenth cranial nerve), which regulates much of the parasympathetic activity in the body, attaches to the heart and is stimulated by pressure initiated by the abdominal muscles pushing on the diaphragm and the heart during exhalation. This stimulation activates the parasympathetic nervous system to lower heart rate, producing a calming effect, meaning each and every breath will be rejuvenating and invigorating!
Balance the External and Internal
When the word exercise is mentioned most people think of activities such as running, weight training, aerobics and cycling. These could be called external exercises, activities we would use to work out.
It is important to balance these activities with Internal exercises such as slow walking, Qi gong, Yoga and Tai Chi which cultivate more energy than they expend, leaving enough energy to stimulate and fortify the bodies healing processes. In fact any traditional gym exercise can be made into an internal exercise by performing it slowly, with deep breathing and a relaxed mind, which means picking a familiar exercise where no thinking is needed!
The combination of low intensity movement and proper breathing with a quiet mind stimulates digestion and elimination, as well as encouraging a reduction in stress hormones and elevation of sex, growth and repair hormones. If the body is low on energy and vitality is drained a visit to the gym may do more harm than good. In this case internal exercises will be the best choice.
An exerciser may find that after a short time of doing internal exercises they have increased their energy and can begin to add some external exercises to their program.
Avoid Excess Fatigue
When you train smart and avoid excessive fatigue, strength training and aerobic exercise are a great way to achieve a fit and healthy body. Strength training studies clearly show that you can positively gain strength and power without going to fatigue or muscular failure.
One scientist’s review of the research on this topic (Willardson 2007), encourages not to train to failure as this may be a contributing cause to overtraining and overuse injuries.
Even when performing aerobic exercise, such as running and cycling, fatigue should not be a factor. The goal should be to end a workout feeling stronger and more energised than when you started. This applies to beginner exercisers and professional athletes alike.
Yes, even the majority of an elite athlete’s training is done within their limits, the Olympic weight lifter may be lifting 200kg, the runner may be doing 5 minute miles and the cyclist tough hill climb intervals but, to them, the training is comfortable due to the many years of conditioning.
When peaking for competitions athletes may push to the limits in training but fatigue is carefully monitored, but of course in competition they go all out.
Working within your limits should not be confused with not progressing; the goal is to get better with each workout, this could mean more weight, distance, volume, time, or density.
The best exercise plan is the one the exerciser loves to do, so whatever exercise is chosen, above all else, it should be enjoyable!