By Brian MacKenzie + Rachael Colacino
It’s all in the nose.
For all general purposes, we are intended to inhale and exhale through our noses. By design, our mighty noses, with hair, sinuses and mucus, are designed to filter the air we breathe.
As we breathe, the nose is constantly exposed to inhaled debris and microbes (viruses, bacteria, and fungus). When we breathe through the nose the cilia filter, moisten and warm or cool the air before it enters the lungs. Once the inhaled air leaves our nose, it passes through the mucus-lined windpipe. This is another avenue to trap unwanted particles before they enter the lungs. Next, air enters the lungs, where the oxygen is pumped into the bloodstream and circulated through the body. In exchange, the air leaving the body carries with it carbon dioxide from the cells, a waste material that is expelled through exhalation.
When we bypass the nose and breathe straight through our mouth we bypass much of this process.
Most of us are chronic over-breathers (hyperventilation) when stressed, breathing shallowly in and out of our mouths. That hyperventilation can cause and be caused by acute stress or anxiety. Just by simply switching to nasal breathing, you can mitigate those anxiety-provoking responses and help your body adapt to the stress. Just like anything, with practice, this can become a subconscious and productive reaction to stress.
For athletes, nasal breathing will help develop aerobic capacity and can also keep us in check with our technical or mechanical limitations. We can always get away with going faster or harder with breathing predominantly through our mouths. But, breathing through your nose forces you to focus on efficiency and inevitably forces you into a biomechanically optimal position to access your diaphragm and a full breath. Nasal breathing can also keep you in tune with your metabolic shifts. Nose in/nose out breathing is highly aerobic. Nose in/mouth out bumps you up to your lactate threshold. Mouth in/mouth out breathing is totally anaerobic.
To start experimenting with nasal breathing training, use the nose in/ nose out only in your warm up and stop when you have to breathe through your mouth. When you get the hang of that, progress to using nasal only breathing in a workout. Commit to two weeks, any training you do, and see what you learn.