The Underestimated Power of Carbon Dioxide
I'll be the first to admit that I was never a biochemistry guru. However, after learning about the Buteyko Method and practicing PRI, I am astonished with what is possible from breathing correctly. More specifically, the highly underestimated power of controlling carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide has direct impact on metabolism, heart/circulation, nervous system, immunity, sleep apnoea, hormones and much more. Looking at the overall picture, you should start realizing the irrelevance of an individual goal if you fail to appropriately breathe.
Over-breathing or hyperventilating is a huge problem in today's society. If one is hyperventilating it doesn't mean they're carrying a brown paper bag to normalize breathing like you may think. Most people and athletes all around us are struggling for air and fail to identify the problem. For an athlete, the increase in popularity of hyperventilation yields a decrease in performance and poor CO2 utilization. Conversely, It's safe to say that one of every athletes goals is to maximize performance. However, the athlete must acquire proper foundations to achieve success.
Never mind the Olympic lifts, squats, and deadlifts; can this individual breathe? Can this individual maintain proper oxygen and carbon dioxide levels? This topic of breathing during exercise is one that most are somewhat familiar with. Additionally, most athletes and general population are even familiar with the term carbon dioxide and the role it has during respiration. Despite this familiarity, do you have an appreciation for the role that CO2 has on enhancing performance and recovery?
Recovery is an often overlooked component of training and athletic development. In reality, exercise is not healthy for the human body. Exercise breaks us down and can have negative effects physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally. However, appropriate rest provides time for our bodies to heal and adapt in order to make exercise a healthy part of life. Nonetheless, take out the recovery and the only remaining component of exercise is the negative. This is an important variable to consider when looking at the whole picture of improving performance. Too much stimulus and risk over training syndrome and too little prevents adequate growth, development, and adaption.
In combination with over-training, most athletes tend to practice breathing techniques that are less than optimal. This is believed to accelerate the potential for over training and disrupt the normal exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Also, a common pattern of mouth breathing will be the typical driver of asynchronous breathing during an athletes training session or event. Consequentially, during mouth breathing a substantial amount of glutamate is lossed. Why is this potentially detrimental? Glutamate is a powerful amino acid that has profound influences on immunity and energy systems. A decrease in aerobic or anaerobic efficiency for an athlete will produce premature fatigue, decreased force output, and reduced coordination.
Nasal breathing will help maintain the proper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This can be practiced in or outside of a gym setting. A simple exercise of a 3 second nasal inhalation, followed by a 3 second nasal exhalation, and finishing with a 5 second holding of your breath. It is advised the breaths are relatively shallow to decrease the chances of pulling into a compensatory respiratory pattern. The end goal of this simple exercise is to increase CO2, relax the sympathetically driven pattern, and positively train the diaphragm. The end goal of the overall picture is to change the unconscious central nervous system respiratory mechanism.
Anerobic Energy →Lactic Acid→Stimulate Breathing→Hyperventlation
A perfect example of the easily downward spiral of performance can be seen when looking at a sprinter with dysfunctional breathing. Depending on the length of the race, this will be a sport that uses anaerobic pathways from the production of lactic acid. During the event, the produced lactic acid will stimulate the brain to increase breathing. The stimulated increased ventilatory rate leads to hyperventilation. The hyperventilation yields an increased in mouth breathing. Finally, mouth breathing leads to an interruption in the maintenance of CO2 : O2 homeostasis. The low levels of the CO2 create inefficient physiological cellular respiration. As a result, the individual is in a constant defensive state to retain as much CO2 as possible. An athlete that is constantly struggling to maintain homeostasis during performance will never be able to reach their full potential.
Take Home Message: This article is not trying to make you a strict nasal breather only and perceive mouth breath as something not desired. Better yet, to learn an appreciation of different breathing forms and to become more cognizant of your breathing as a whole. Secondly, to understand that breathing patterns can help or hinder training, recovery, and performance.