I recently wrote an article about breathing for TriathaNewbie.com, a great resource for triathletes that are just beginning their journey.
Deciding to take on your first triathlon is a wonderful decision. Many of you may be wondering where to start, what you will need to learn, and what the key ingredients are to a successful first race. In order to address these questions, my upcoming articles will focus on breathing, rhythm, and transitions.
There has been so much said, discussed, and suggested about breathing, including when to inhale and when to exhale. With so many theories, it can become confusing. While you are in the process of trying to place your breath where it should be, you could be tensing up your chest, holding your breath, or clenching your jaw.
The goal here is to make it simple, because breathing is quite simple. First and foremost, we all need to remember that breathing is one of the few things “built in” or “wired into” our brain and nervous system. Breath is automatic. Often we experience different inhibitions that affect our breath. How do these inhibitions show up?
Here are a few ways we can notice and discover our inhibitions: Are you pushing too hard? Trying too hard to go faster? Lifting too much weight in the gym? Straining in a yoga class? Overreacting to a situation? Tensing up due to an uncomfortable situation? These are just a few examples that many of us end up experiencing in our daily lives. If you notice, in most of those situations there is a push or a strain to do more. When this occurs, holding one’s breath is the first thing to happen and this is the moment when things start to fall apart.
Holding one’s breath is the beginning of the end.
It is necessary to learn to regulate our breath and in order to do this, we should focus on the exhale. Notice the moment when something begins to feel difficult; the breath will shift and become faster and quicker, which is normal and to be expected. However, during that change it is just as important to notice our exhale. If we loose our exhale, or if it is extremely short, that is the moment when we need to back off to prevent from going into a pattern of holding our breath. By backing off just a small amount, we give ourselves the opportunity to self-regulate our breathing again. This means the breath returns to being continuous, the exhale is present, and there is a flow to the breath. As soon as this is established, you can begin to introduce intensity, to increase your speed, to climb harder on the bike, or to break into a faster pace.
As I was teaching a class recently one of the thoughts I brought to the room was: “How much do we use pushing hard, being tough, straining, and being out of breath as a way to measure how we are doing? If we are not ‘pushing hard’ are we are doing enough?”
My intention is that this series of articles will help guide people into a new approach of measuring progress with breath regulation, less effort while gaining ease and fluidity. Why does it need to be hard?
Look at this as your first opportunity to learn to self-regulate your breath. The key is to back off when things get hard. When I say back off, it’s just by a fraction, just enough so that you can get your breath back to its rhythm, and continuous flow. There are four parts to your breath you want to become aware of; the inhalation, a pause, the exhalation, and a pause. The pauses are needed to transition the phases of inhaling or exhaling. All four parts of the breath are needed.
As you learn to bring awareness and attention to your breath, look for the four parts, their flow and their rhythm. If you find yourself HOLDING your breath, back off and self -regulate, this means reestablishing the four parts of the breath. This will become a great tool in your first triathlon and when learning to conquer more challenging events in the future.
Remember, your breath is a key ingredient to a successful and fun first triathlon experience. Begin now introducing yourself to the four parts of your breathing. Start by noticing them in a non-active state. Next, bring your awareness to the pool, running, and to the bike. You will immediately find out that your breath is completely different in each activity and situation. Once you become familiar with your breath, always keep an awareness of your breath in the background of yourself. Then, when needed, you are able to bring your breath to the foreground of your attention at anytime. Look for the moment when you get shortness of breathing, or holding your breath, or too rapid of a breath, back off and find the ease again. This will truly allow you to learn to self-regulate.
Self-regulation will be one of your greatest tools and gifts forever!
In the following articles I will build your ability to self-regulate, adding in rhythms and transitions. It is critical entering a triathlon to understand these aspects preventing overuse, exhaustion, hitting the wall, and a miserable experience.