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August 26, 2014

Optimal Breathing for Metcons

By Coach Chris Kerr

I am writing this blog post because it was brought to my attention by a member last week that many people do not know how to breathe when doing metcon’s. For example if you are going so hard that when you drop the bar you are gasping for air like a fish… you are doin’ it wrong. If you get done with 20 wall ball and you are panting like you just saw a ghost… you are doin’ it wrong. And if you run a 400m warm up lap and you are begging for life to never do it again after you have been doing CrossFit for over three months… you are doin’ it wrong. The point is people, you need to establish breathing patterns and be purposeful about them.

Let’s talk science. Your entire body is connected. By moving, your muscles need oxygen, which tells your lungs to pick it up, which tells your heart to pump harder. Your body fights and fights to meet the oxygen demand. So when you walk, no big deal. When you walk up three flights of stairs and you use more muscles, the oxygen demand goes up, a big deal.

More science… everyone has heard of fight or flight. Fight or flight is what gives a father superhuman strength to lift cars off their kids. And there is a part of your nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system to be nerdy, that does this. So when you see a bear, boom sympathetic nervous system is activated and you run away faster than ever before.

Well when we are exercising (because that’s what CrossFit is people, it’s just exercise) and we get shallow or half muddled breathes our sympathetic nervous system reacts, because in its mind we are not able to meet the oxygen demand. So, even one bad breath can mess you up because again, nervous system senses a fight and jacks up your heart rate. Heart rate goes up, metcon time goes up. Yup, it’s science. And to answer your question, no I am not the smartest person in the world.

So what does this all mean for you as a CrossFit Athlete? It means if you master breathing you might be able to grow a beard like me. For real though, start being intentional about your breathing. Perhaps it is something that never crossed your mind before, so let’s discuss it. Some of you may have been fortunate enough to have me teach you wall ball. I try to coach everyone to breathe in hard after you throw it and to exhale when you catch it. This way at no point will you take a muddled breath and trigger your sympathetic nervous system. For thrusters the mother of all awfulness, breathe in hard when the bar is overhead and out on the way down. This may seem counter intuitive because you should always stay solid in the core, but at 95 pounds it will not matter, so breathe right and PR your Fran brothas.

With push-ups, do not breathe when you are on the ground. Your body weight is crushing your ribs and your lungs cannot expand. If you breathe on the ground, you get a half breath, half a breath means what? Yes, sympathetic nervous system triggered and heart rate instantly spikes. With burpees.. gross… do not breathe on the ground, breathe out. When your chest hits the ground it knocks the wind out of you, so why not make that when you breathe out?

Moral of the story kids, be purposeful and intentional in your breathing. On your next Metcon think about the movements. Think about how you will breathe as you move throughout each one. And remember not to take short, muddled, half breaths or you will jack yourself up. Work hard, breathe hard.

Chris Kerr is a Coach at CrossFit Lynchburg and is also Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for Club Team Sports at Liberty University.

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