Breathing: Is it taught ?

By Thomas Mulvey M.S., P.T., M.B.A.

Why is the art of proper breathing a skilled activity ? What is the significance of proper breathing?

The body is made-up of two types of muscle fibers (and possibly an intermediate). The first type (Type II) is a fast contracting fiber (Fast Twitch) that possesses an ability to produce Energy (Adenosine Triphosphate / ATP) without a lot of Oxygen (Anaerobic). These muscles are utilized for Fast, Powerful movements, such as jumping, cutting, sprinting, and kicking. The second type (Type I) is a slow speed , endurance fiber that utilizes more Oxygen (Aerobic). These muscles are utilized for more prolonged activities such as longer running or longer skating. How do they get their energy?

Food provides the fuel for energy production within the body. The Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats we ingest are the raw materials necessary for our production of energy. Oxygen is necessary to breakdown the different food sources and create the energy necessary to compete.

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the cells of the body. Carbohydrates provide the energy to generate ATP’s (Adenosine Triphosphate ) Anaerobically (without Oxygen). This is extremely important in vigorous, prolonged exercise that requires more energy than is provided Aerobically (with Oxygen).

Short duration, high intensity exercise obtains its energy from the Adenosine Triphosphate and Creatine Phosphate, both stored within the muscle and activated during exercise. The amount stored is clearly not enough. Therefore, during prolonged exercise, Stores of Glycogen (sugar) become depleted. As Oxygen levels become depleted, Anaerobic Energy Metabolism occurs and the result is the production of Lactic Acid. The Lactic Acid is transported away from the site of production by the blood. Thus, Glycolysis can continue to provide Anaerobic Energy through the resynthesis of ATP. As the levels of Lactic Acid increases, in the blood and muscles, fatigue sets in. Muscle soreness is a long term result.

Fatty Acids can be used as a source for the production of energy ( ATP ) when Carbohydrates are depleted, but it depends upon the existence of Oxygen. Proteins also can provide some source of energy production.

How do we obtain Oxygen ?

It is the amount of air brought into the Lungs that allows the transfer of Oxygen into the blood and distributed throughout the body. This is how the cells obtain the Oxygen that is needed. This is how the production of energy can be performed at the cellular level.

The Flow of Air into the Lungs is the result of a change in partial pressure with the atmosphere. In order for air to come in, the pressure in the Lungs must be less than the pressure in the atmosphere. Muscular contraction of the Respiratory Muscles decreases the pressure in the Lungs and increases the size of the Thorax. These muscles include, the Diaphragm, the Intercostals ( of the ribs ), the Sternocleidomastoid, the Scalenes, the Serratus Anterior, the Pectoralis Major, the Pectoralis Minor, the Trapezius, and the Erector Spinae. This change allows air to flow in. An inability to maximize this change, limits the athlete’s Aerobic Capacity. As air enters the Lungs, the pressure within increases. As the pressure surpasses the atmospheric pressure, Inhalation ceases and Exhalation occurs. The Respiratory muscles return to their resting positions. The Diaphragm muscle rises, compressing and increasing pressure within the Lungs. As the Intercostal muscles relax, the ribs drop to their resting position and further cause compression of the Lungs. During forced Exhalation, the Abdominals function to assist the Diaphragm in returning to it’s original position and force air from the Lungs. The resulting increase in Lung pressure causes air to flow from the Lungs and return to the atmosphere. During Exhalation, the waste product , Carbon Dioxide, is taken out of the Lungs and returned to the air.

The ability to maximize the production of energy within the athlete, depends not only on the food that they eat. It also depends upon teaching these athletes to utilize maximal Lung Capacity/ Aerobic Capacity by developing the muscles of Respiration and Breathing Efficiently ! This activity requires practice and improving efficiency just like any other skilled activity ! IT MUST BE TAUGHT !


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