A few days ago, I had Zoom meeting with one of my clients. He talked about how bad his breathing was, how he cannot breathe through the nose even at lower intensities. Below is a translated version of an article I wrote for Slovenian magazine, back in March. Most of the cyclists, even professionals don't realize how inefficient their breathing is. Shallow breathing, hyperventilation, mouth breathing, blowing off too much Co2, which is extremely important for proper oxygen delivery into the tissues. Nowadays, with the speed of life, we're stressed most of the time, we're predominantly in sympathetic state of nervous system. As a consequence our muscles are chronically tense. This holds true for primary and secondary breathing muscles as well, diaphragm, intercostal muscles, abdominal muscles. This state prevents us to breathe normally, efficiently, with diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing allows us to fill also the bottom third of the lungs where the concentration of pulmonary alveoli is the highest, making this type of breathing, the most efficient.
In January I took part in a 60-day AEQ® breathing programme, 6 days a week for 10 weeks, at 8pm. What I like about AEQ® programmes, is the clear and understandable explanation. In addition to the explanation, the programme is based on AEQ® breathing exercises and breathing protocols. But AEQ® breathing exercises and protocols are not enough to change breathing permanently. Raising emotional maturity is a prerequisite if we want to keep breathing correctly once we stop doing the AEQ® exercises and protocols. This might be a topic for future blogs.
Better breathing results in the production of more vital energy. With more vital energy, we also have more responsibility, so higher emotional maturity is a prerequisite.
We started the programme with lying down exercises and protocols. As time went on, the exercises became more and more complex, and as the protocols became more complex and the breathing intervals became longer (for example inhale for 8s, pause for 2s, exhale for 12s and pause for 19s) , the breathing hunger became greater. After about three weeks, I started to notice more softness, especially in the trunk, and the contraction of the primary and secondary respiratory muscles (diaphragm, intercostal muscles, abdominal muscles, neck...) decreased. As a result, inspiratory and expiratory volumes increased, breathing became softer, easier, more efficient, and I started to notice a pause in breathing after expiration.
The second part of the programme focused more on standing exercises. Standing exercises are more of a responsibility, so I had more difficulties doing them. Especially when I was tired at the end of the day, I often felt sick, started sweating excessively and had to stop the exercise. During this time, I have noticed big changes on the bike. I was training exclusively with nose breathing, my breathing slowed down and my tidal volume increased. Carbon dioxide tolerance increased, breathing became more efficient.
Sleep also improved, I fell asleep more easily, I no longer woke up at night.
After the programme, I decided to do a bike test out of curiosity. The protocol was similar to last year, starting at 3W/kg and increasing the intensity by 0.5W/kg every 7 minutes (last year - 6min).
I was mainly interested in parameters such as respiratory rate, Vo2, FeO2 (oxygen in exhaled air), VE (minute volume of exhaled air) and EVC (vital capacity of exhaled air), heart rate.
Results: Before the test, I was expecting significant changes, I knew that my breathing had changed radically.
At 360W, I had an increase in Exhaled Volume of Air (EVC) of 800ml (2.73L vs. 3.55L) (Figure 1)
VE (Exhaled Air Volume) decreased from 143L to 117L
Fe02 dropped from 17.3% to 16.4%, which means that more oxygen in the lungs was taken up into the blood and subsequently into the tissues (Figure 2).
The respiratory rate slowed from 53 to 33 breaths per minute (Figure 2).
Heart rate decreased by 10 beats per minute (164bpm vs 154bpm)
Breathing was always through the nose.
On the bike itself, posture has also changed. In cyclists, we see what is called an activated red light reflex, where the front of the torso is chronically tense, the abdominal muscles, the pectoral muscles, the pelvis is rotated towards the head. This posture makes it impossible to breathe well (efficiently), resulting in shallower and faster breathing.
Hyperventilation causes a decrease in Co2 in the blood, which in turn makes it more difficult for oxygen to pass from haemoglobin into the tissues.
Respiratory efficiency is reduced. As breathing with the diaphragm becomes more difficult, we start to use the accessory respiratory muscles (neck, shoulders, abdominal muscles), which leads to vertical breathing, with the shoulders rising and lowering, breathing with the upper chest. You can see this breathing in this video. AEQ® breathing relaxed my diaphragm, abdominal and chest muscles, allowing me to breathe deeper, wider, slower and almost exclusively on the nose on the bike. In races, of course, exclusive nasal breathing is impossible at high efforts, but at efforts where the body is still in homeostasis, it makes us more efficient, more economical. Breathing in this way also helps with recovery, as it is easier to calm down after exertion, to go into a parasympathetic state quicker and to sleep better.
Figure 1 Expiratory volume (EVC L)
Figure 2 Respiratory rate (RR), oxygen in exhaled air (%)