Many people think you need weights or a pull-up bar to train your back, but this simply isn’t true. Bodyweight exercises are also an effective way of strengthening your back muscles. The exercises using your own body weight as resistance are usually very complex and great for activating your stabilizing muscles.
Why Back Strengthening Exercises are Important
A strong back is important for more than just looking good. Working together with your abdominal muscles, a well-conditioned back can protect your spine, improve your alignment, and help you avoid sprains and strains.
A lot of us work a sedentary job, which means we’re typically sitting for hours in a forward-leaning position that puts a lot of stress on our spine. Regular back training can improve your posture and is the most effective method for preventing back pain.
6 Back Strengthening Exercises for a Stronger Back
Today we’d like to show you six great exercises for your next back training:
How to Create a Defined Back With These Exercises:
Pick three of the exercises
Do three sets per exercise with 90-120 seconds of rest between sets
Do 10-12 repetitions per exercise and set (for the plank: hold 30-60 seconds for one set)
2. Superman Pull
For extra resistance:
Hold a resistance band between your hands and stretch it out while pulling your shoulders back.
3. Quadruped Limb Raises
4. Low Plank
6. Wall Lateral Pulldowns
Do you want to improve your overall fitness and train your entire body?Get the adidas Training app, and find core exercises, HIIT workouts, and more!
… run 10 km every day even though you’ve never been running before?
… run twice as fast in just a few days?
You might think this article will just tell you how to reach these goals.
But you’d be wrong.
These goals are unrealistic – plus, it would be extremely unhealthy for your body to try to reach these goals.
Plus, you’d kill your own motivation by striving for such unreachable goals, feel disappointed, and probably toss your running shoes in the corner.
So what can you do instead? In this article, we are answering some of the most common questions about fitness goal-setting:
How Can You Make a Change?
If you want to make a change, the best approach is to set realistic goals:
If you’re a beginner, just run twice a week or gradually improve your 10K pace.
Once you’ve reached your goal, set the next one.
This way you will stay motivated and keep breaking out of your comfort zone. And with every goal you reach, your personal motivation and satisfaction increase!
How Can You Set Goals That Are Achievable?
Do you want to change, but your expectations are too high?
When you realize your (fitness) goal is unrealistic, it’s usually too late, because you’ve lost your drive.
These 3 Tips Will Keep You Motivated on Your Fitness Journey:
1. Have short-term and long-term goals: Decide on an individual goal. Consider, for example, how many kilometers you want to run or bike per day, week, month, or year, how many hours you want to walk daily, or how many times you want to go for a hike within a specific timeframe.
Turn your goals into achievements:
Work towards a 5K run, a 4-hour bike ride, three workouts in a week, or more: The “My Goals” feature in the adidas Running app helps you achieve your goals step by step. Check it out today!
2. Figure out whether you can pursue your goal long-term: Before you start a totally new lifestyle, a training plan that continues for several months, or a serious diet, ask yourself, “Can I do this long-term?” If the answer is “no,” then you should probably look for a different solution or another goal.
3. Track your progress: Seeing results takes time. Having a way to track your progress and see small, weekly changes will keep you motivated. The right tools will help you get to where you want to go: track your workouts with the adidas Running appand adidas Training app. You can find out more below.
How Can You Set Realistic, Achievable Goals in the adidas Running App?
The adidas Running apphas a great motivational feature in place: you can set your own individual goals with “My Goals”.
Where to find “My Goals” in adidas Running:
Open the adidas Running app. Choose the tab “Progress”. Scroll to “My Goals”, and choose “Add Goal”. Here you can choose a sport type (e.g., running), a time frame (e.g., per month), and a goal type (e.g., hours/minutes). When you’ve decided on a personal goal, save it, and you’re ready to start working towards it!
With this feature, you can define whether you want to:
… run 500 km this year.
… hike or walk two hours a week.
… ride your bike four times per month.
Whatever you want to achieve in your fitness journey – it’s up to you to decide! Just remember, when you set goals, keep them realistic to stay motivated long-term.
How Can You Set Short-Term Bodyweight Training Goals in the adidas Training App?
Do you want to work on your strength, but not follow a long-term training plan? Then, the Workout Creator in the adidas Training app is for you!
Where to find the “Workout Creator” in adidas Training:
Open the adidas Training app. Choose the tab “Workouts”. Scroll to “Workout Creator”, and choose “Let’s Get Started”. Here you can select the duration, target body parts (e.g., arms), select a difficulty level (e.g., basic), and choose whether you want to use equipment for your workout or not. You can even ask for a “neighbor-friendly” customized workout without any jumping or loud movements!
Once you’ve selected everything, you can start exercising by pressing the button “Generate Workout”.
With this feature, you can:
… create a customized workout in seconds.
…complete a workout, even if you only have ten minutes to fit it in.
… target specific body parts.
The Workout Creator makes fitting in home workouts with the time you have easy, sweaty, and effective.
During the cold months of the year, your immune system is sometimes weakened, making you more susceptible to sniffles, sore throats, or common colds.
Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but what if it happens if you’re in the middle of your running or bodyweight training plan?
See our tips for dealing with common cold symptoms, recommendations about getting back to training after being sick, and don’t forget to check out our training plan at the end of the article:
Common Cold Symptoms
Before we start: What is the common cold, and what are the symptoms?
The common cold…
Also simply known as a cold, it affects your upper respiratory tract (nose, throat) and is caused by a viral infection. It’s usually harmless and might last for seven to 10 days. Even if you don’t need to worry about a cold, go see a doctor if symptoms don’t get better.(1)
Common cold symptoms can be:
To be safe and see if you’re really just suffering from a common cold and not COVID-19, take a test before you run outside or train in a gym or public space.
What to Consider When Exercising
Is it a good idea to keep training when being sick? Or is it better to take a break, so you don’t overstress your body or your heart?
“As so often in life, the truth is in the details. When your body is busy fighting the common cold and speeding your recovery, training wouldn’t do your body any good. While it is true that exercise and sports strengthen your body’s defenses and immune system, this only applies to healthy bodies,” points out running expert Sascha Wingenfeld.
If all you have are the sniffles and no other symptoms, then a bit of exercise can do your body good. But make sure to pay attention to the following points:
The effort and intensity of your training session, such as running, should be very low. Keep reminding yourself to follow this rule. Under the circumstances, a fast walk might even be enough.
In winter, wear a scarf or a bandana over your mouth to protect yourself from cold air. That way you don’t breathe in the ice-cold air directly.
If it is too cold, you should think about doing an indoor sport for a change, working out in a gym or at home.
Make sure you get enough rest days. After your training, it is very important to get plenty of recovery time when you are not feeling 100%.
Dress warmer and change out of your sweaty clothes and into a dry outfit right after your workout.
Are you fighting flu-like symptoms such as fever or chills, cough, or a sore throat?
Then your immune system is already working full speed on your recovery. “In this case, any additional training would overstress your body,” explains Sascha. You run the risk of being sick longer and maybe even doing permanent damage to your body. Until your fever goes down and you really feel way better,rest is the name of the game.
People taking medication often feel better and tend to return to their training schedule sooner. But you need to be careful about this. Often, you are still sick; it’s just that the medication is suppressing your symptoms, making you feel better.
“The more you train while you are sick, the worse your performance will be afterward. Due to the two-fold stress of healing your body and training, your body is overworked, and your performance will continue to decrease,” cautions expert Sascha.
Treat yourself to a couple of days off instead of continuing to train without thinking. The more you take care of yourself, the faster you will be able to start training again.
5 Tips on How to Get Back to Running and Training After a Cold
Get back on your feet after a common cold:
You should besymptom-free without medication for at least three days and feel 100% fit.
You should take your first training session very easy: Choose a low-intensity run or workout, and short workout periods. Monitor the intensity of your workout using your heart rate.
After the first training session, take another day off to recover. See how your body reacts to starting up again.
Avoid high-intensity training for the same number of days you had to take a break due to illness. If you start training at a high intensity too soon, you can get sick again.
See a sports medicine specialist for a check-up and get their OK before starting to train again.
Exercise After Being Sick: Training Plan to Get Back to Running
If you’ve been out of action for a while and are wondering how to get back into your running training, we’ve put together a 10-day training plan for you on our blog:
Looking for more content on running and health issues? You might also be interested in our following articles:
Authors: Herwig Natmessnig, Günther Matzinger, Sascha Wingenfeld, and Emily Stewart
It’s no secret that running warm-up exercises and cool-down stretchesare important if it’s a race or just the usual weekly run.(1) But many runners don’t know how to create awarm-up workout and wonder, “What is a cool down?”
We’ve outlinedthe benefits of warming up and cooling down, tips, andprovidedexamples of warm-up exercises.
Dynamic warm-ups before workouts raise your body temperature by heating up your muscles. They also boost your metabolism and accelerate the supply of energy to your muscles.
2. Enhance Muscle Performance
As your muscle temperature rises, your muscle viscosity (or resistance) decreases. This results in faster muscle contraction and relaxation, which enhances your performance.(2)
3. BoostHeart Function
Your heart also benefits from warming up. The exercises increase your cardiac output and respiratory minute volume (RMV), thus expanding your VO2 max.
4. Improve the Load Distribution in Joints
Contrary to previous belief, new research has shown that even short-term exercise like warming up can help build joint cartilage. The thicker layer of cartilage increases the load-bearing surface and distributes loads more evenly.
5. Help Prevent Injuries
Warming up properly has been proven to minimize the risk of injury. It increases tissue and muscle flexibility and prepares your body to perform fast and explosive movements. Plus, you are less likely to pull or tear a muscle.
6. Increase Coordination and Control
As an added advantage, warming up improves your mental focus and speeds up your reaction time.
How To Warm-Up Before A Workout: Tips for Runners
Running warm-up tips:
Focus on those muscles that will do most of the work.
The warm-up effect is short-lived, so keep warming up until the beginning of your race/run. Research has shown that your body temperature remains elevated for only about 10 minutes after you warm up. After 45 minutes, all traces of your warm-up are gone.
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you are warming up for a race, the shorter the race is, the longer your warm-up should be.
Never start with sprints or explosive movements. You should gradually increase the intensity of your warm-up.
Your warm-up should never cross your anaerobic threshold (i.e., it should not be over 65% of your max effort).
In addition, there are several factors to consider when deciding how long and how hard to warm up before running: the distance of the race/run, the time of day, the weather, your age, and your physical fitness.
Warm-Up Workout Routines
Most race day warm-up exercise lasts somewhere between ten and 45 minutes. A proper warm-up is divided into parts:
The general part consists of jogging (ten to 15 minutes) and dynamic stretching exercises.
The specific part focuses on running technique drills like skips, butt kicks, and ankling.
Accelerations are also useful before short or middle–distance races to get you ready to shift gears. The idea is to start slowly and steadily and increase your pace until you reach a submaximal sprint (90% of your maximal sprint).
It is important that you plan your running warm-up so you finish shortly before the race begins.
Dynamic Stretching For Runners
Watch these videos and read the descriptions of dynamic stretches to do before running.
Stand up straight, with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your head up and engage your core. Take a long step forward with your left foot and lower your front thigh until it is parallel with the floor. Your front knee should be directly above your left foot and your back knee should (almost) touch the ground. Push through the front foot back to the starting position and switch sides.
Start in the same position as the forward lunge. Step to the side with your right foot. Push back with your hips and bend your right knee. Lower down until your right thigh is parallel with the floor. Your feet should be facing forward the whole time. Push through the right heel back to the starting position and switch sides.
The final part of your warm-up is devoted to activating your muscles. Accelerations are perfect for this, but try to keep them short. If done too long, these high-intensity bursts of speed can sap your strength and leave you feeling tired before the race even begins.
How to do accelerations: Start with a slow jog and gradually increase speed until you reach a submaximal sprint (90% of your maximal sprint). A distance of 60 meters should be sufficient. Do three or four accelerations with at least one minute of active recovery (jogging) between accelerations.
Running Technique Drills
Including a few running technique drills in your warm-up can help you activate key muscle groups. For ideas, watch this video by marathon runner and Olympian Philipp Pflieger. Use these drills to improve your technique, speed, and cadence.
No matter the distance, every pre-run warm-up should include jogging, dynamic stretching, and running technique drills. While mainly used for shorter races, accelerations are one type of warm-up exercise that can help half-marathon and marathon runners before a race. However, there are differing opinions on this, so every runner should decide on their own.
Example of Warm-Ups For Different Distances
Each warm-up needs to be specific to the upcoming race. However, they will all contain a section of general jogging and then specific racing drills. Here’s an overview:
GENERAL PART (jogging and dynamic stretches)
5K race: 15 – 20 minutes
10K race: 10 – 15 minutes
Half-marathon: 10 minutes
Marathon: 5 – 10 minutes
SPECIFIC PART (running technique drills and accelerations)
5K race: 10 minutes of 3-4 repetitions totaling 60 meters
10K race: 5-10 minutes of 2-3 repetitions totaling 60 meters
Half-marathon: 5 minutes of 1-2 repetitions totaling 60 meters
Marathon: 5 min of one repetition totaling 60 meters
What Is A Warm-Up For Endurance Runs?
Turn the first ten to 15 minutes of an endurance run into your warm-up. Start very relaxed, then slowly increase your pace, allowing your body to get used to and prepared for the exercise. After this short warm-up phase, you should activate the most important muscle groups again.
Repeat the usual stretching exercises five to six times to activate those muscles and hold for three to four seconds. By tensing and releasing them, you can increase blood flow to the muscles to boost their performance.
You Know You’re Warmed Up When…
If you break a sweat, you can be pretty sure that you are properly warmed up. However, always make sure to take the air temperature, humidity, and intensity of your warm-up into consideration.
Unfortunately, there is no one-plan-fits-all approach to warming up. So, if the above warm-up exercises leave you feeling cold, try these instead:
How To Cool Down After Running
Cool Down Benefits
You’ve fought your way through your training, your heart’s still beating like crazy, and you bend over to catch your breath. You should be proud of your effort! But your workout isn’t quite over yet. A proper cool-down can speed up your recovery and increase the effectiveness of your training.
To produce an effective training stimulus, you must break out of your comfort zone and stress your body. The more intense your workout is, the longer it will take your body to recover. During the recovery process, your muscles rebuild and get stronger for future workouts. To achieve the greatest possible effect, your recovery has to be just as important as the training itself. Cool-down exercises are the first step of your recovery. The harder your workout or race was, the more important your cool-down is.
Cool-Down = Warm-Down
The terms “cool-down” and “warm-down” refer to the post-workout process of helping the body return to homeostasis after stress.
Just as a warm-up prepares your body for the workout, the cool-down helps your body return to a state of rest. The cool-down relaxes your muscles and lowers your heart and breathing rate. It helps your body to eliminate lactic acid and other waste products faster and to repair micro-injuries. A warm-down also provides your muscles with oxygenated blood, which speeds up the recovery process and helps you avoid sore muscles. These positive effects of cooling down help you recover faster from your training.
Warm-Down Exercise: Go For A Jog Or Walk
Your cool-down shouldn’t stress your body, so keep the pace nice and easy. After hard intervals, your heart rate might shoot up again after a few meters of jogging. If this happens, you can walk for several minutes and then try to jog again until your heart rate has returned to its pre-workout rate. The main thing is that the pace of your cool-down should be slower than your base training pace.
Why cooling down is important:
The cool-down phase initiates recovery – your body understands that the training is over. It can then start processing the training stimuli.
How Long Should Your Cool Down Workout Be?
The length of your cool-down exercise mainly depends on your fitness level and the workout you just completed: the better shape you’re in, the longer your cool-down can be.
To cool down after training, run the last five to ten minutes at a reduced intensity, then stretch all big muscle groups. Unlike the warm-up, try to hold the stretches for at least 30 seconds. Your muscles will know it’s time to reduce tension and regenerate.
Why cool down after running?
Runners who regularly cool down recover faster, are ready for their next workout sooner, and have a lower risk of injury and overtraining.
Yoga for Your Warm-Up and Cool-Down Exercises
Yoga is one of the best ways to explore stretching warm-ups and cool-downs. The yoga series on our adidas Training app can help you explore the best warm-up exercises. You’ll find other cool-down exercises with pictures on the app, too. Get it here:
“I’m so tired. I’m too stressed out. It’s cold and wet outside, and the sofa is so cozy…”
We get it! It is a challenge just to throw on your workout clothes, let alone to start tackling your fitness goals.
Yes, there’s always a great reason not to work out. Some reasons are 100% valid, and you should skip that run. But constantly excusing yourself from exercise is a dishonor to your body and mind.
Our inner couch potato is often our worst enemy. It talks us into believing that a workout will feel much worse than it actually is. After all, you don’t need to run a marathon three times a week or prepare for a bodyweight training competition to be fit. All you need isa 20- to 50-minute run or workout – and it doesn’t even have to be every day!
It’s time to break those mental barriers and get your sweat on!
Sports Motivation: 7 Tips on How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out
1. Put Your Workout Clothes On
Don’t think about it, just get dressed – it’s the best way to get motivated to work out. You’re less likely to plop yourself on the couch after having put your workout clothes on. Choose athletic gear that fits you and makes you feel good when you wear it. Whether it’s bright colors, completely black, or anything else, so long as it makes you feel powerful, it’s perfect!
Write Down Your Feelings After Your Workout
Keep a little journal and write down how you feel after training. If you track your workouts with the adidas Running app, you can also add a note to each activity. That way you can go back and take a look at which workouts make you feel best for sports motivation and workout ideas.
Don’t use adidas Running yet? Download the app to keep track of your workouts.
We’re often tempted to skip sports activities because we’re tired, busy, drained, or have a massive to-do list. But exercising actually makes all of that easier – because of endorphins! Exercise releases hormones into our bloodstream that make us more alert and positive. Plus, there’s the mental benefit of knowing that you’ve done something good for yourself, despite the odds.
3. Variety Is Key
Don’t do the same workout all the time. Keep your mind and body curious about what’s next by mixing it up!
You can swim, go for a run, a bike ride, or do some bodyweight training using theadidas Training app. This is a great way to make your workout routine more fun, so you will stick to it long-term.
Whether it’s yoga, HIIT, or a core workout: the adidas Training app gets you moving!
4. Put Workouts in Your Calendar
If you put your workouts in your calendar every week, you won’t run out of time. Think of these as appointments with yourself. You’ll see that planning helps you get motivated to work out by helping you prioritize it within your schedule.
5. Surround Yourself With Motivation
You also need to hang around with people that make you feel capable of reaching your goals. It can be helpful to write down your fitness goals and motivational quotes where you can see them every day.
It’s so great to combine exercise with social time – your friends can motivate you and help you push through a tough workout. Find something that you all enjoy doing, and meet once a week to do it!
7. Food Matters
When you eat food with low nutritional value or not enough food, your body doesn’t get the energy it needs. You’ll feel tired, lazy, unmotivated, and grumpy. So, make sure you eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables as well as the three macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Eating well will help you to achieve your fitness goals.
Post Workout Snacks
Try a delicious vegan post-workout shake with peanut butter after exercising:
VEGAN POST-WORKOUT SHAKE (WITHOUT PROTEIN POWDER!)
2 small ripe bananas
200 ml almond milk (unsweetened)
2 Tbsp peanut butter (100 % peanuts)
2 tsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
Some grated vanilla
Peel the bananas and blend them with the other ingredients until they turn into a creamy shake. Enjoy it after your next sweaty workout!
Amount Per Serving:
% Daily Value*
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
adidas Runtastic Blog
In a Nutshell: You Need to Train Your Motivation Like a Muscle
Remember: every day is different.
Sometimes you may feel totally motivated to work out. Heck, you could run an ultramarathon if you tried!
On other days you might just feel like a couch potato.
That’s totally normal and okay. Just don’t forget that it’s about finding the right balance between sports and self-care.
Remember that you’re the gatekeeper of your health. You set your own fitness goals based on your own needs, and you should listen to your body in the process.Set SMART goals, remember the great reasons for exercise, plan ahead, eat well, and respect the process.
Keep your eyes on the prize and train your sports motivation like a muscle. You’ve got this!
In times of stress, we’re often told to “just take a deep breath.” Does it actually help? Sure, maybe for a minute, but the calm is unlikely to last much longer. Why not?
Anxious humans typically breathe with their shoulders, clavicle, and upper ribs. Such shallow, quick breathing activates the fight-or-flight nervous system and prepares muscles for action. And while it’s good for our bodies to employ this kind of breath as a response to a physical stimulus (like exercise), it creates unnatural stress when we’re trying to deal with modern situations (like getting stuck in traffic).
Tell someone in an agitated state to “take a deep breath” and you’ll likely see their chest puff up like a seagull in mating season. How do we train our reflexes to find deep and relaxing breaths?
Through education, yoga, and body awareness, that’s how! Here, we explain.
Table of Contents
Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes flow.
And that’s what the new Discover Yoga Series on the adidas Training app is all about: bringing you to your flow state. Perfection doesn’t matter: whether you’re new to the practice or a seasoned yogi, our 8-week series puts you on the path to grace, mobility, and bliss. From pranayama to vinyasa, OM to namaste, our professional yoga instructor leads you through every pose. All you need is a mat, a sense of curiosity, and a desire to get stronger, from the inside out. Get your flow on!
Diaphragmatic Breathing Defined
The opposite of throaty, anxious breathing is diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing, deep breathing, or abdominal breathing). It involves relaxing the belly on the inhale, filling the lungs completely, and allowing the natural and gentle core contraction on the exhale. Watch a baby breathing and you’ll get the idea; it’s actually the way our diaphragm, core muscles, ribs, and lungs are built.
Belly breathing increases the oxygen saturation in our bodies. By deepening the inhales and exhales, we decrease the respiration frequency and saturate our body with oxygen. Oxygen tells our brain and muscles that they are safe.(1)
Does Diaphragmatic Breathing Have Health Benefits?
Absolutely! Abdominal breathing is used as mind-body training for dealing with stress and psychosomatic conditions (i.e., physical and emotional maladies triggered by external events).(2) Here are a few specific ways that belly breathing can make you feel better, inside and out.
Decreased Stress And Anxiety
Diaphragmatic breathing causes a physical relaxation response. This creates a logical thinking pattern and lessens the amount of cortisol (the “stress hormone”).(3)
Entering into labor before a baby is an extremely scary situation. And yet, mothers who practiced abdominal breathing during pre-term labor experienced less anxiety. Diaphragmatic breathing is actually used as a nursing intervention, akin to the administration of low-level sedatives!(4)
Chronic Pain Reduction
Chronic pain is a fascinating beast, as it’s often difficult to peg on a single physical issue. Many scientists and physical therapists believe that pain is experienced from a psychosomatic perspective: it’s more emotional than physical. Chronic pain may be a reflection of the person’s psychological fear of a recurrence of a painful moment. The body sends a pain sensation because it’s afraid of the original painful incident happening again. For instance, the site of a broken rib may hurt years later as a physical expression of fear that another accident.
Yoga and breathwork help. One study analyzed participants with chronic low-back pain on a seven-day yoga retreat. The retreat focused largely on yoga breathing techniques. After the retreat ended, every participant reported less anxiety and depression related to their back pain. Many reported a reduction in actually back pain symptoms, as well.(5)
The breathwork might not have completely eliminated chronic pain, but it made them better at coping with it and elevated their overall perception of health.
Breathing Fun Fact:
Diaphragmatic breathing helped participants suffering from motion sickness in a virtual reality simulation.(6) So breathe with your belly next time you get carsick!
Stabilization Of Blood Pressure
Heart rate variability causes unhealthy fluctuations in blood pressure. Participants with blood pressure problems who were given slow abdominal breathing techniques showed a reduction in heart rate variability.(7)
Moreover, slowing down breaths per minute with belly breathing practices reduced chronic shortness of breath (dyspnea) for the participants in one study.
Regular belly breathing practice can shorten your recovery time and improve your workout performance. This was shown in a study of patients with chronic shortness and breath and in studies of older adults.(8)
One of the most interesting aspects of abdominal breathing is its ability to “massage the stomach.” Deep breathing helps people deal with gastrointestinal stress by reducing abdominal pain, urgency, bloating, and constipation.(9)
But belly breathing massages more than the intestines: it’s basically a nervous system massage, too! Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. In a parasympathetic state, our body is filled with “chill” hormones that help us to “rest-and-digest” (versus flee or fight). When we breathe deeply, our body knows that it’s time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I.e., it’s time to digest whatever we’ve hunted and gathered!
Finally, people who struggle with reflux diseases benefit greatly from belly breathing. Humans actually have 2 diaphragms: one at the base of the lungs and one at the base of the throat. The diaphragm at the base of the throat can become incompetent, causing digestion reflux. One study used a diaphragm breathing exercise to treat people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). And it worked!(10)
Smarter And More Attentive
Deep breathing increases cognition and focus. Participants in one study who were given a “breathing intervention” demonstrated increased sustained attention.(11)
Burnout has many symptoms, two of which are the inability to make decisions and decreased attention. But deep breathing exercises can help: a study of burned-out mental health professionals revealed that just one day of breathwork resulted in a better outlook on their lives and jobs.(12)
Becoming more mindful is one of the greatest benefits of breathing exercises. When we’re mindful, we’re in tune with our emotions and physical responses. And, we’re more sure of our role in the world. We’re more attentive, alert, and oriented. Meditative breathwork has been shown to increase mindfulness in participants.(13, 14)
Whether you struggle to fall asleep or to stay asleep, diaphragmatic breathing can help. Clinically it’s been proven to help people with disordered sleep fall asleep.(15) More commonly, many people choose to do their yoga or calming breath practices in the evening, before bed, as a way of cleansing the day’s toxic stressors and preparing the body for rest.
Pranayama: The Yoga Of Breath
The physical practice of asana, the movements in a yoga practice, is just one aspect of yoga. In fact, the breathwork conducted before, during, and after yoga sessions is the biggest reason why yoga “works.”
Pranayama is any number of yogic breathing techniques that stimulate the nervous system and create mind-body synchronicity. Most yoga practices start with some sort of focused pranayama at the beginning. Then, the yogi uses nasal breathing (ujjayi) during the practice, sometimes linking one movement with one breath (vinyasa). During the final resting pose (savasana), yogis are usually encouraged to breathe diaphragmatically, often through their nose and out their mouth.
Evidence gathered from yoga practitioners confirms a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity (“fight-or-flight”) and an increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity (“rest-and-digest”).(16, 17)
The Kriya Yoga Study
One of the most oft-cited yoga and breath studies involved a specific type of yoga: Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, better known as just Kriya yoga. In fact, the Sanskrit term kriya actually refers to a variety of sanctioned “cleansing practices,” from washing one’s body to intensive physical exercises. One of the most frequently-employed kriya is the pranayama of kapalabhati breath, or bellows breath. This challenging breathwork involves forcibly exhaling the breath at a higher frequency than the inhale, for a total of 60 repetitions, while sitting in a cross-legged position with the hands pressed to the knees. The study found that people who practiced this style of breath experienced less stress, anxiety, and depression. It also helped people deal with substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.(18)
Bellows breath is unique in that it actually creates a high-intensity situation in the nervous system. The practitioner learns how to stay mentally calm when breath rapidity increases. And, they learn what stress REALLY feels like. This can make other “normal” stressors seem less intense.
Kapalabhati is physically and emotionally triggering. Only practice with a trained professional.
Just Do Yoga
The thing is, many people struggle to sit and down and meditate, especially in very tense moments. And it’s difficult to carve time out “rest time” in a day full of tasks. Have you ever tried “just sit and breathe” in front of a pile of dirty dishes? Us, either.
That’s where yoga comes in. For many, the physical movements in the yoga practice help re-focus from incessant thinking. The act of being physical and connected to movement can help release psychosomatic tension. And it makes it feel like we’re “doing something,” which is what our fight-or-flight hormones desire. Since every yoga movement and flow is guided by breath, practitioners often begin breathing more calmly without realizing it.
Yoga doesn’t inherently call for abdominal breathing, but it does use interesting breathing techniques to make the yogi more aware of the breath and its power. Using yoga and other breath techniques is the first step to creating a naturally deep breath cycle.
Breathing Exercises, From Yoga And Beyond
The following breathing exercises are a great way to become more observant of your breathing patterns. Some come from yoga, others from mindfulness practices.
After you’ve completed an exercise, sit quietly for a little while longer, breathing into your relaxed belly. You might find that your breath stays more full and relaxed long after your practice is complete!
We recommend doing all of these exercises in a comfortable seated position, potentially propped up with pillows and against a steady surface. Make sure that the space is quiet and that you will not be disturbed. If you feel comfortable doing it, close your eyes.
Background: Box breathing is a classic calming and therapeutic exercise.
How To: Inhale as you count to 4 slowly in your mind. Hold your breath for 4. Exhale to a count of 4. And repeat.
Once you’ve got that down, play with these more advanced box breathing techniques:
Count to 5, instead of 4
Add an additional breath-hold at the bottom of the exhale. So: inhale for 4, hold your breath for 4, exhale for 4. And continue.
Shodi nandana or Alternate Nostril Breathing
Background: Alternate nostril breathing is typically used as pranayama before asana.
How To: Place your right thumb on your right nostril. Rest your first and second fingers on the crown of your nose. Hover your ring finger over your left nostril. Inhale through your left nostril. Plug both nostrils and hold your breath. Release your right nostril and exhale through it. Inhale through your right nostril. Plug both nostrils and hold your breath. Exhale through your left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril and continue with the breath cycle. Work on lengthening your breath with each round. Continue as long as you’d like!
Background: Therapists often ask their clients to use their hands to feel how their body moves with breath or to “direct” breath to certain parts of the body.
How to: Tactile breath can be done any way you need. Simply rest your hands on a part of your body that feels stuck, pained, or otherwise calls for your attention. Breath deeply into that space. Here are some common examples:
Place one hand on your lower belly and one hand on your lower back. Try to move both hands with your breath.
Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Inhale to the belly, exhale to the heart. (By the way, this is a common breath practice for savasana).
Place your hands on the front of your ribcage. Feel your fingers and ribs expand and contract with the breath. After some time here, move your hands to the back of your ribs and do the same.
Place both hands on your belly, relax your belly into your hands, and notice how the belly expands and contracts with breath.
Background: This style of breath is often misunderstood as a “calming” breath. In fact, it is a controlled technique that helps us to become alert and focused.
How To: Close and relax your lips. Relax the back of your throat so that your back teeth are apart. Rest the tip of your tongue on the top of your mouth. Breath only through your nose, drawing breath to the base of the spine and back up.
Background: As one of the most auspicious and classic forms of breathwork, this is a great way to start a yoga session or meditation.
How To: Sitting tall with your spine long, relax the muscles in your abdomen, shoulders, and face. As you inhale, see a white light moving from your nose down your spine. Allow the white light to pool at the base of the spine as your inhale slows. Exhale the white light back up your spine and out the crown of your head, leaving a little bit of the white light inside. Each inhale breath creates more white light at the base of the spine; each exhale gives more back into the world.
Breathwork Volume and Frequency
Now that you’ve got some breathing techniques to practice, the question is: how often should you do them, and for how long?
Only you know the answer to that question! The repetition volume, length, and style of diaphragmatic breathing techniques vary immensely. Many people suggest a short daily practice (five to 20 minutes long). Some studies show results with just one day of focused effort. Some involve months-long interventions, weeks-long online practices, or just one week. Here are a couple of timing examples for reference:
Study 1: 8 weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction yielded a larger effect on attention than just one month
Study 2: 30 minutes of breathwork daily with a skilled instructor yields benefits
The good news is that breathwork works, even in small doses.
So start small: look at your schedule and identify the days and times when you might be able to sit and breathe in peace. Start with as many as make sense to you. After you get used to the practice, re-evaluate. Have you noticed changes? Do your mind and body crave more? Should you mix it up, like adding yoga to your practice? This mindful reflection on your breathing is key to bliss! (Or, as they say in yoga, ananda).