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Not all post-workout recovery practices need to revolve around deep stretches. We chat with a yoga instructor and fitness trainer to explore why deep breathing is the perfect recovery activity. 

A good workout isn’t just about the muscle groups you target or the number of reps you do – it’s also about how you recover. Exercising places the body under stress, so in order to avoid injury and reap as many benefits as you can from your workout, you need to ease your body into its rest state so that it can start to recuperate.

There are many tried-and-tested techniques people use to aid recovery, including stretching, foam rolling and nutrition. But one of the most simple often goes unrecognised: breathing.

Slow, deep breathing provides the muscles with energy, which is necessary during both your workout and your recovery. It can also help to boost stamina while decreasing stress and blood pressure, so all in all, it’s an impressively effective way of easing the body out of exercise mode. We asked the experts for their advice on deep breathing, so you can start to make the most of it as a recovery activity. 

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Breathing deeply quickly gets us out of ‘fight or flight’ mode

Donna Noble is a yoga teacher and the founder of Curvesomeyoga, who explains that, in yoga, breathing is key – and for good reason. The breath is “our life force and energy”, and while we can’t do without breathing, “we so often forget this and take it for granted”. This is certainly true when it comes to our post-workout recovery.

But, according to fitness trainer Folusha Oluwajana, “breathing exercises can help to provide the right environment for your body to recover effectively after exercise”. While we work out, we put our bodies into “fight or flight mode”, in which our sympathetic nervous system is activated and muscular breakdown may be encouraged.

Breathing exercises help to counteract the stressful state exercise puts our bodies in, in which we experience “increased heart rate, fast, shallow breathing, and high blood pressure”, says Noble. “Breathing in and out through the nose helps us take fuller, deeper breaths, which stimulates the lungs to distribute greater amounts of oxygen through the body”. 

Deep breathing can quickly move us out of fight or flight mode, which helps us to recover quicker.

Not only does this help to relax you, but, as Oluwajana explains, it also “promotes muscle repair and recovery”. This is key if you want your body to be as strong as possible for your next workout, so you can ensure you keep making progress and prevent injury. 

How to breathe deeper to speed up recovery

One of the most effective deep breathing techniques is also one of the simplest, and it’s easy to do anywhere. In fact, Noble teaches it to her students, so that if they don’t have time to fit it in after a workout, they can do it discreetly.

  1. Start lying down: “Let your breathing flow naturally for a while,” says Noble. 
  2. Then, place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, because “it’s useful to feel the movements of your abdomen and chest as you’re learning the technique”.
  3. Next, “take a deep breath in through your nose, feeling the air move into your abdomen and feeling your stomach move out”. 
  4. When you breathe out, “let your stomach fall”.

Timing your breath is crucial

Oluwajana explains that the inhalation should take around four seconds, that you should hold your breath for seven, and then “exhale slowly for eight seconds”.“This is known as the four seven eight breathing technique”. 

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Images: Getty, Unsplash

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