The Right Way To Breathe During Exercise

In my ten-plus years of training and coaching, I’ve often been asked about the right way to breathe when you’re exercising. Good news, team!  It’s a simple, easy answer:

Breathe naturally.

With most exercise, there is no additional benefit to inhaling or exhaling at a certain point with the movement, or breathing in or out through the nose or mouth. The very best way to breathe when you’re working out is to stop thinking about it and just let your body do its thing. Your body is finely tuned to match breath with its need for oxygen, and assuming good health and clear airways, it’ll do a great job with no conscious effort from you.

However, there are two major exceptions to the “just do what comes naturally” rule:

If you’re dealing with asthma, COPD, or other respiratory conditions, the rule basically still applies: Don’t over-think your breathing patterns. Instead, make sure you prepare for a workout by using any prescription inhalers (or anything else you’ve been prescribed) at the appropriate times. And take it slow to start, both on a workout-by-workout basis, and when beginning to add more exercise to your weekly routines. Much of the shortness of breath that comes with exercising with a respiratory condition can come from poor general fitness as well as any impact a condition might have on your respiratory condition. Keep workouts to a low intensity and short duration to begin with, and be mindful of how environmental conditions can impact your breathing (hot and humid or cold weather are two common triggers for disturbed breathing). I’m always advising my clients that the goal is “Challenging but Achievable” Take it easy as you get used to a new workout, and build your fitness levels from there.

If you have respiratory or cardiovascular conditions (including and especially high blood pressure) it’s important to avoid holding your breath during exercise. This can be a tough: When you challenge your bodies, holding your breath is a natural response, especially when doing resistance training or heavy/high intensity work. This breath holding action is technically called a Valsalva’s Maneuver, in which you close your throat and contract your diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This action essentially “squeezes” your lungs. Since you aren’t exhaling, this leads to a large, rapid increase in blood pressure, and you may feel light-headed or faint. Large, rapid increases in blood pressure aren’t much good for cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, and passing out is no good in general. So do your body a favor and make a conscious effort to breathe continuously throughout your workout. This is where you may see some recommendations to inhale during the “easy” part of a movement and exhale through the “hard” part, which is a totally ok way to approach it. In the long run, pay attention to what your body does naturally, and if needed, find a breathing pattern you are comfortable with. You and your body will make more progress, more safely. And isn’t that the point?


Three Protein-Packed Snacks

Quick and easy, once the prep is done these snacks are pretty much grab-and-go.

Protein is really important.

From helping to maintain muscle mass, to keeping you full and preventing not-so-great food choices, to ensuring your immune system is running on all cylinders, protein is a critical component of your day to day diet. Your body only keeps small stores of proteins circulating for use, and these stores need to be replenished frequently. The best way to do this is to include a variety of protein sources in your day to day diet.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the protein shake. They are definitely useful for quick post-workout refueling, but (usually) they aren’t delicious. Real food is delicious, and has the added benefits of additional fiber, vitamins and minerals, and other factors that can help your body maximize on the nutrients you’re giving it.

Some of my favorite snacks are protein heavy, don’t require super special kitchen skills, and are super satisfying to boot:

Hard-boiled eggs
It took me years to figure out how easy this snack is, but better late than never! These are my favorite protein-packed snack, for ease of preparation and versatility.

For making hard boiled eggs easy: Tip 1: Let the eggs sit in warm water for 10 minutes to bring them up to room temperature. This will help keep the eggs from cracking when you bring them to the boil. Tip 2: Boil them with baking soda: it helps the eggs peel more easily when you’re done. I was never told a specific amount, and I dont ever measure, I just dump a bunch in. For a small saucepan, I probably use 2-3 heaping tablespoons. If you have a batch that doesn’t peel easily, try more baking soda next time.

Once peeled, you can go with classic salt and pepper, but I also love a bit of smoked paprika or some cajun seasoning for a little bit of a kick.

Natural peanut butter on celery sticks
A throwback to my childhood, I still love this snack. The salty, crunchy celery is a nice complement to the protein-packed creamy peanut butter, plus the celery will do great things for your fiber intake. Smear a celery stick with as much peanut butter as desired: I try for a thin spread, since the peanut butter can carry a big calorie load. Want a little sweet on the top? Dot the peanut butter with some raisins or sultanas for a little extra pop. Peanut-allergy? Try with almond butter, or another nut butter of your choice.

Beef Jerky
Not the store-bought stuff! Make-your-own jerky is actually pretty easy, despite being the most-labor intensive on this list. Really, the hardest thing is slicing the meat, and if your butcher will probably do that for you. Alternatively, in the US you can sometimes find beef sliced for carne asada – this is perfect for making jerky. Check out international or hispanic markets for this. Once the meat is cut, marinate it for a few hours, in the over for a few more, and you’re done! There is a great at-home recipe here, complete with great pictures and instructions, but a quick google will give plenty of at-home jerky options.

Am I missing something excellent? I’m always looking for new ideas. Leave me a comment and let me know what I should try!


Staying Informed About Your Health Care – A How-To List

Going to the doctor or other health care practitioner can be stressful, and it’s easy to feel rushed when you’re at an appointment. It’s quite often “hurry up and wait”, and that pressure can lead us to rush through our part of the visit as well. We worry we’ll seem slow on the uptake if we don’t understand what’s being told to us, or that having questions will make us seem pushy or uncooperative.

It’s totally normal to feel this way – we’ve been brought up with the concept that doctors are busy and important, so who are we to get in the way? It’s important to remember though, that you are uniquely positioned to discuss your health with your doctor, and you have a duty to yourself to take the best care of your body that you can. After all, you’re the only one with the knowledge and experience of living your life, in your body, and how that feels. No one will care more about your life than you!

That’s not to say your doctor doesn’t care about you – they do want the best for you. But when appointment are set 10-15 minutes apart, if you don’t speak up, it can be easy for the doctor to hit the highlights of what’s happening and what they want to do about it. Unfortunately, hitting the highlights can be easy for a doctor with the background knowledge of how a healthy body works, what might be happening with yours, and what can be done to move back towards good health. Take advantage of this knowledge – you’ll find that your doctor is happy to explain things in more detail. You’ll be better informed, and will likely be able to make better choices about your healthcare for years to come. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your doctor’s appointment, though these points apply to any visit with anyone taking part in your health care, including exercise physiologists and personal trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists – you name it!

Come prepared. Whether you have a list of questions or a list of symptoms – no matter how simple, or how complicated – writing these down in the lead up to your appointment will help you make sure you don’t miss anything. This goes even if it’s just a general check-up.

Take notes at your doctor’s appointment. Your doctor went to school for YEARS to simply begin to understand what they are trying to tell you in five minutes. You probably won’t remember everything they are saying, so be a smarty-pants and write it down. Your doctor will be impressed.

Find out in detail what you can expect from a prescription or treatment. If you don’t know what to expect, how will you know if it’s working? Additionally, some treatments and prescriptions can have heavy-duty side effects, and you should be aware of what to look for.

If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. Doctors LOVE patients who are actively engaged in their own medical care, and they’ll take more time to explain things and make sure that you understand to your own satisfaction. Don’t hesitate to ask.

Keep track of your treatments, prescriptions, supplements, and surgeries. Don’t count on your medical office to have an up-to-date list, especially if you are seeing multiple health care practitioners. Helping them stay current will help you get better care.

Pay attention to what happens when you do (or don’t) take your prescriptions, supplements, or otherwise follow doctor’s orders.
Taking (or missing) a tablet, an appointment, or a workout may or may not have an immediate effect (and I’m certainly not suggesting you experiment with skipping things you should be doing!) Sometimes we forget things though, and it’s handy to reflect on whether that makes a difference to how you’re feeling in the days after the fact.

Ask your doctor if they have additional materials that can help you understand your condition or treatment. This is especially useful if you’ve recently been diagnosed with a health condition, or have been prescribed a new treatment of some sort. People learn and retain information in a variety of ways. If your doctor can show you a video, give you a booklet with pictures and information, or otherwise find ways to help you understand what’s going on with your body, you’re likely to gain a much better understanding. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Talk to the nurses! The nursing staff is a collective goldmine of experience, and can answer many of your health questions just as well as the doctor. You might have a little more time with a nurse, as well, so you might as well make the most of it.

Bring a second set of ears. If you have someone close enough to share your health information with, it can be handy to have a second set of ears to help absorb information, and they may ask some good questions that you don’t think of.

Find out how to get further information. It can be tough to get all your info in one visit, and Dr. Google is a BAD doctor. Find out who you can get in touch with, and how to do it, if you have additional questions or want more information.

Don’t be afraid to change doctors. There are pros and cons to this – in many ways, it’s great to be working with someone who is deeply familiar with your health history. But if you find that your doc is unwilling to share information, or you’re otherwise unhappy with your care, it’s worth finding someone you click with.

Don’t forget, your doctor actually works for you. Stay healthy, my friends!