Practising Breathwork to Raise Carbon Dioxide (Co2) with Exercise, Movement & Training
What is Carbon Dioxide (Co2)?
Carbon Dioxide (Co2), it’s just a waste product that everyone breathes out with every breath right?
This is actually a common misconception of Co2, which the majority of us have been taught about. Contrary to this, Co2 plays an important role in the body and is actually an essential bio-chemical that contributes to the optimisation of our health and wellbeing.
In this article, we will explore the role and function of Co2 and learning about how our body’s respiratory chemistry directly impacts our everyday lives. How we breathe affects the level of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide in our body and the body will always find its way to balance out its levels of these two.
Our bodies produce Co2 all the time and when we breathe, we exhale the built up Co2 that has accumulated in our bodies. When Co2 builds up and reaches a certain level, the Brain is signalled to breathe in Oxygen to balance out the levels of building up Co2.
When we breathe in Oxygen, our body’s metabolism converts nutrients into energy. Inhaling causes the Oxygen molecules bind to the red blood cells, while exhaling enables the oxygenated blood to circulate around the body via the movement of Carbon Dioxide.
Without the right amounts of Co2, the cells won’t function properly which can lead to illness, disease and impacts on energy levels.
Carbon Dioxide and Exercise, Movement & Training
The more active we are, the more Co2 that our bodies produce. Where our speed and movements increase as our exercise intensifies, our bodies require more Oxygen in order to keep up with the demand of rising Co2 levels and so your Heart Rate also increases as the body is working harder to keep up. This helps to explain why we need to breathe more when exercising than sitting at rest.
While Co2 helps us to regulate our pH levels, it also increases the body’s ability in absorbing Oxygen. This is significant with respect to movement, training and exercise because having higher levels of Co2 contributes to increased efficiency in blood and oxygen flow to the muscles in motion.
We can learn to increase our tolerance to Co2 in our bodies, which can support us in developing more efficiency with our breathing as well as help to dilate blood vessels, allowing more significant movements of blood.
Another benefit of increasing the level of Co2 tolerance is increasing the amount of air hunger in the body. What this means is that you can learn to extend the periods in which Co2 builds up in the body; improving the efficiency of each breath, the time in between breaths and the quality and length of each inhale and exhale.
When participating in exercise, every breath counts! By increasing levels of Co2 tolerance we can learn to avoid over-breathing, which typically happens when we are under pressure or breathing irregularly during times of stress. Faster breathing engages the Sympathetic Nervous System which increases our Stress Response. If we can learn to breathe more efficiently, this can have a positive influence on our endurance and our ability to perform for longer and make greater gains with our training overall.
Co2 helps the body to function properly. Higher levels of Co2 tolerance contributes to more energy, improved moods, improved performance, decreased Heart Rate and Improvements in Physical and Mental Health. Having an understanding and awareness of Co2 has the potential to solve many health problems and empower people to function and train at their best. It can also help people return back to their natural flow and optimal health.
Ways to Improve Co2 Tolerance
If you were intent on improving your performance in your chosen activity or sport, you would want to train and target the muscle groups you’d be using right? When it comes to physical performance, it’s your Muscles and your Breathing that affect your overall endurance and capabilities. Most people understand and implement physical training into their training regime, but did you know that training your breathing can also enhance your performance?
Based on what has already been discussed, if we can increase our tolerance to Co2, we can increase the efficiency of our breathing. Your physical training and exercise can benefit from engaging in training that invites you to increase your tolerance to Co2. Co2 tolerance can be trained through learning Nasal Breathing, practising a variety of breathwork techniques that introduces breath holds and using a Sports Training Mask.
Nasal Breathing: The Training Hack Right Under Your Nose
On an everyday level, as a starting point, try practising Nasal Breathing as often as you can! There is an abundance of studies which explore the benefits of Nasal Breathing in everyday life, health and training. Learning to Nasal breathe in your training could be likened to fine tuning your engine!
The benefits of breathing through your Nose can support you in ways such as;
- Improving efficiency of breathing through as Nasal breathing humidifies, filters and conditions air for oxygenation,
- Increasing the amount of Nitric Oxide into the body to support immunity and blood circulation and
- Increasing Aerobic threshold by enabling athletes better control over their breathing before, during and after performance.
If you can learn to improve your breathing and make it more efficient outside of your exercise and physical activity, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to adapt to this kind of breathing when you are exercising and training. As you learn to breathe through your Nose on an everyday level, you’ll develop improved breathing habits and practices that enable you to stay in better control of your breathing as exercise intensifies. As you learn to do this, you’ll be better equipped to handle the demands of your exercise and better at managing your stress.
Have you ever noticed what happens when exercising and pushing yourself to your full capacity? At maximum output, you may feel the urge to open your Mouth to breathe and as you begin to inhale and exhale, you huff and puff. You breathing speeds up and it can be challenging to bring it back after this point.
The small gain, in what might be experienced as a short burst in reserve energy, allowing you to go that extra distance, do several extra reps or push yourself that little bit further has to be traded off with the signs of exhaustion, dehydration and fatigue afterwards.
When we open our mouths to breathe during these heightened times of extra output, we release more Carbon Dioxide and place the body under more stress. The moment that our Mouth opens to breathe, we release more Carbon Dioxide and our metabolism switches from aerobic to anaerobic. This means that our bodies switch from gathering energy from Oxygen to gathering energy from glucose and other essential minerals in our blood and body. This contributes to the build up of Lactic Acid, which then contributes to increased muscle fatigue. Mouth breathing during exercise also contributes to increased fatigue, dehydration, exercise-induced Asthma and activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System.
It might be common knowledge that we adapt and grow as a result of challenges and controlled stress. No pain, no gain right? When we push ourselves to our maximum capacity, while we might be able to train ourselves improve in the ways that we push our limits and deal with stress, it can also be very stressful on our bodies, as our Heart-Rate increases and we deal with the fatigue and exhaustion of the body, organs and muscles.
What if there was a way that we could train to push our and condition the body without having to go into the anaerobic state? What if you could train with all the benefits of pushing your limits with less stress and more efficiency, training smarter and not harder? Training could take place in a way that benefits your health and wellbeing without the exhaustion and fatigue that takes place afterwards.
At first you might feel like Nasal Breathing is holding yourself back and it might not be what you are usually used to. My advice would be to keep at it though, as your commitment to the process will produce long-term gains that will benefit your fitness, wellness and health.
Practising Breathwork to Raise Co2
Breathwork, refers to conscious and deliberate efforts to isolate and train your breathing. You could think of Breathwork as training outside of training, where you are specifically isolating breathing to train it on its own. Practising a range of breathing techniques at different speeds and for different lengths can help you connect with your breath, body and physiology, which are crucial elements of your physique to be aware of when in the moment and in the zone.
Before training, Breathwork practice could involve some box breathing to provide some stability and support you in focussing, breath awareness and introducing some breath holds to build up your Carbon Dioxide. Box breathing has been shown to improve a person’s connection to their activities because of the way that it encourages participants to deliberately breathe nasally with an inhale, hold, exhale and hold for equal intervals of time. A progression of this exercise could involve increasing the amount of seconds for each inhale, breath hold, exhale and breath hold.
After training, your Breathwork practice might involve placing emphasis on longer exhales and breathing low, slow and less to allow space for your Heart Rate to stabilise. Once your breathing has returned to a more normalised rate, you could practise some breath holds after each exhale to build up your Co2 to assist with muscle recovery.
By training yourself to breathe through your nose, set aside time to focus on your breathing and breath holds and being mindful of how you breathe outside of structured breathing practice, you’ll be able to develop some good application of Co2 tolerance. As you buildup your tolerance to Co2, you are improving the way that you handle being in between breaths, which is a really significant driving factor of how well you’ll perform in your chosen activities.
What is the Training Mask?
One of the other ways that you can make improvements in your breathing is through the use of a Breath Training Mask.
Erthe Life have just released their own Breath Training Mask, which is lightweight comfortable and offers 25 different levels of resistance which control the airflow of the mask. This unique feature makes it suitable for training at all ability levels.
Just like how you can add resistance to your physical training to build up your physique, you can utilise a Sports Training Mask to add resistance to your breathing to help strengthen your breathing muscles and improve your overall breathing capacity. With a Sports Training Mask, you can train yourself to breathe Nasally and actively develop a stronger connection to your own breath efficiency.
Some of the benefits of using a Breath Training Mask include;
- Helping you to challenge yourself and set new limits,
- Optimise your breathing and performance,
- Improve speed and stamina,
- Elevate your training capacity,
- Reduce recovery time,
- Build Carbon Dioxide tolerance and
- Strengthen Diaphragm and other breathing muscles.
Reflections of the Breath Mask Training
From my experiences of training with an Erthe Life Breath Training Mask, I feel empowered knowing that I’m getting more out of my workouts with the mask than without it. For instance, a breathwork session following a training session with a mask often reflects more comfort and ease when it comes to practising breath holds and taking a measurement of my Co2 tolerance. A day training at the gym with my mask on equates into more control over my breathing and more efficiency in my performance and recovery. As someone who always disliked running, one of my biggest achievements as a result of training using this mask, is developing a regular running practise where I do not need to run to the point of exhaustion in order to benefit from cardiovascular and aerobic training.
Through learning to appreciate Carbon Dioxide as more than a waste product, but as a vital bio-chemical substance, I’ve learnt to look at the ways that I breathe, live and train through another lens. Not only has this exploration helped me to make significant gains in my health and wellbeing, but it has also led me to discover ways to be more efficient in everyday movement, lifestyle and beyond.
This Blog is Written by Nathan Ho, Sydney-based Breathwork Instructor, Clairvoyant Healer, Educator, Writer and Artist. For more info about his work please visit his website here