Outside magazine, September 1995
If you're a middle-of-the-pack runner or cyclist who wants to pull ahead, don't hold your breath. That's the advice that excercise physiologist Tim Moore has to offer, and it isn't as wry as it sounds. "When athletes face a challenge," explains Moore, who trains runners and cyclists in Greenbelt, Maryland, "they often get so focused that they just forget the act of breathing." Or, if they do remember to breathe, they often do it incorrectly. "You'll see them puff their cheeks out, like they're playing a tuba," Moore says. "As far as taking in enough oxygen to support their efforts, they're breathing inefficiently."
Learn to inhale and exhale using your diaphragm, advises Moore. The technique is known as belly breathing, and done properly, it makes the most effective use of the respiratory muscles, providing more oxygen. In fact, Moore says, taking just a few deep belly breaths can dramatically lower your heart rate. "I've seen my athletes' heart rates drop from 190 to 182 within 15 seconds," he says.
To practice, lie on your back with a heavy book on your stomach and take a deep breath, concentrating on moving your diaphragm out and down rather than expanding your chest. "Imagine that you have a life vest inside you," says Moore, "and you're filling it up by letting air in." When you inhale, watch the book rise as your diaphragm sinks; when you exhale, the book comes down. You don't have to breathe this way through every workout, but taking a few belly breaths when you begin to fatigue or before a taxing climb can help ensure that your oxygen doesn't give out before your limbs do.