Photo: Jason Kenworthy

Photo: Jason Kenworthy

Paddle Healthy: Breathing for SUP Part II

In last week's Paddle Healthy we examined why breathing correctly is so important, why most of us have taught ourselves to do it incorrectly and how to re-train ourselves to "stomach breathe/diaphragm breathe." Now that we've covered the everyday basics of breathing, let's move onto application for SUP and exercise.

One of the biggest things that negatively impacts proper breathing is posture. Next time you're out and about, look at how many people stare at the ground or the water while they're running or paddling. Or indeed, how most of us sit or stand: shoulders rounded forward, spine unnaturally curved, and again, head down. Not only is this bad for your body's biomechanics, but poor posture is also significantly limiting the air supply to your lungs—and therefore your aerobic capacity (i.e. how well you can deliver oxygenated blood to your muscles).

So when you're paddling, avoid the "look down and slouch" mistake and instead make sure that your spine is straight, your shoulder blades are back and down, your chest is puffed out, your abdominal muscles are contracted at about twenty percent of what you'd be going for during a plank or other core exercise, and your gaze fixed in front of you. This will allow you to stomach breathe naturally, and to achieve maximum performance on your board.

Increasing lung and uptake capacity is very important, especially when we're racing or training intensely. Some elite athletes in other sports achieve this through dubious chemical channels, but let's explore how to do it through legal means. If you're exercising regularly and raising your heart rate, you're already working on your lung capacity. Check out the video below to see an exercise I learned from Dave Kalama that will help you build on this improvement.

Now let's explore how to breathe correctly when we're paddling hard and are tempted to break natural breathing patterns as our bodies try to deal with the increased demands on the cardiovascular system. If we look at elite marathon runners, they have a breathing rhythm that coincides with their stride, and which helps them achieve peak oxygen uptake even as they pick up their pace. So, they might take four strides as they inhale and four strides as they exhale. This is a solid strategy for SUP as well.

You might start off with inhaling for every two strokes and exhaling every two strokes. Make sure you’re exhaling as you're putting your blade in the water. This isn't a hard and fast rule—you'll have to experiment to see what is best for you. The bottom line: if it feels like you're not getting enough air, change it up. Whatever you do, make sure that you're not compromising good breathing mechanics or posture as you attempt to maintain oxygen levels during peak performance. It's all too easy to let our bodies default to bad habits when under stress.

Just like anything, breathing correctly takes practice to perfect. If you spend some time each day working on the exercises that we discussed, it will aid you in increased SUP and exercise performance, as well as during day-to-day living. —Phil White

View Part I here.

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