During our warm up mobility section of training I frequently need to remind members to try to maintain nasal breathing, especially on the inhale. This often continues into the main sections of power and strength work but, why?
What’s so important about sustaining nasal breathing?
Before looking at why we should breath nasally let’s first address mouth breathing and why it’s not such good practice.
A mouth breather does so either due to medical matters or habit. As a chronic hay fever sufferer I do have those occasions when I simply can’t breath in or out of my nose. I have to rely on nasal sprays, tablets and eye drops to help decongest my nasal airways. During these periods the quality of my life, work and sleep are terrible.
Other people do have more permanent physical blockages that restrict nasal airways such as a deviated septum or a history of nose breaks. Facial structure too has proven to be an influencing factor. Jaw structure, inflamed tonsils and irregular tooth growth can force the jaw into a slight open position making mouth breathing a habit and not by choice.
Whilst many people will just ignore the problem and deal with it or not see mouth breathing as a real problem, the health risks are very real.
Here’s a list to scare your mouth closed:
- Mouth breathers have a dry mouth. A dry mouth can’t flush away bacteria from the mouth allowing bacteria them to collect on gums, teeth.
- Sleep apnea / snoring.
- Bad breath (not a direct health concern but, ooh, yuck!)
- Increased occurrence of hyperventilation and asthma.
- Increase of high blood pressure.
- Increased risk of heart disease.
- Poor sleep quality.
- Increased stress.
- Poor exercise performance due to poor oxygen uptake.
- Needs a #10… mouth breathing really does make the subject look somewhat dim-witted. Sorry, had to say it!
Okay, so mouth breathing is clearly something to avoid.
To add to the allure of nasal breathing, here’s a list of nasal breathing pros:
- Smell plays a vital role in our lives. Mouth breathers miss out on this.
- Nasal breathing increases circulation, blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, slows the breathing rate and improves overall lung volumes (1)
- Our lungs gather oxygen on the exhale. Due to the nostrils being small (than the mouth), higher exhalation pressure during nasal breathing allows the lungs to take up more oxygen.
- Nasal breathing warms and cleans the air we breath. Those nasal hairs, they gathered dirt and bacteria. Mouth breathers – they don’t have that mechanism.
- The noses smell receptors have direct extension to the hypothalamus. This lovely part of the brain is responsible for many automatic functions in the body like heart rate, blood pressure, thirst, appetite and sleep / waking cycles.
Breathing through the nose has much more going for it than not looking like a zombie but if it’s something you find yourself falling into on occasions, what can be done.
First off, if the cause is medical – go see a doctor.
If it’s a habit, well then, let’s look at some fixes.
Breathing practice exists in many arenas. In Yoga breathing practice is reinforced but at our gym we practice Crocodile breathing or belly breathing. A simple practice you can manage at home, on the floor or in bed.
Here’s how from the Function Movement Systems (FMS)
Begin in the prone posture by positioning yourself face down, so that your stomach is on the floor with your forehead on your hands, both palms down, one covering the other. Make sure the chest and arms are relaxed, and you are as “flat” as you can get; your neck should be relaxed and comfortable.
Breathe in through the nose and feel the air move down past the chest into the “stomach.” When this happens, you will feel the abdomen push out against the ground. This should happen naturally without you forcing your stomach out.
Exhale fully before beginning the next breath cycle.
Practice this for maybe 15 to 20 breaths. I would encourage this prior to commencing your gym warm up.
Some people have been known to fall asleep during this practice – kind of proves the benefit of nasal breathing albeit embarrassing if you fall asleep in the gym!
Hopefully this brief look at nasal vs mouth breathing will encourage you to take a look at your own breathing patterns and maybe during your next gym session, try to maintain nasal only breathing.
(1) Swift, Campbell, McKown 1988 Oronasal obstruction, lung volumes, and arterial oxygenation. Lancet 1, 73-75