Breathing is a basic life function that enables the chemical energy of food to be changed into the energy needed for the functioning of body systems, awareness, and movement. This is only possible if there is enough CO2 in the body, a gas that we produce ourselves, just like other aerobically active animals, because it has long been insufficient in the atmosphere for a high-quality aerobic process.
That’s why it’s important to understand the role of breathing in this process and the facts behind the breathing process. If we don’t pay attention to it, we breathe more or less correctly, thus greatly influencing how we feel and what results we achieve. The general belief is that you can never have too much air, so we also breathe way too much. When we feel the need to inhale, we can immediately satisfy it because air is plentiful and free of charge, so we automate breathing without thinking about how our automated breathing can collapse and ceases providing an optimal relationship between oxygen and carbon dioxide in our lungs and blood.
The biggest mistake cyclists make when breathing is taking in too much air relative to actual oxygen consumption in the muscles, as they don’t pay attention to how much air they are taking in, which leads to hyperventilation, caused by a drop in CO2 levels below the limit that allows for adequate transfer oxygen from the blood to the muscles. Thus, energy in the muscles is created with less oxygen, greatly reducing the efficiency of the metabolism and significantly impacting the decrease in strength and the increase in muscle pain. The basic condition for an excessive amount of breathed air is to breathe through the mouth even when we are not in a state of maximum body load.
Every athlete knows that eating and drinking before and during cycling can significantly influence sports results and well-being. The same goes for air intake. The very composition of the respiratory system requires that we breathe through the nose at lower and medium loads, as this is the only way to adequately activate the abdominal diaphragm, to increase the volume of the chest through its contraction and thus create the negative pressure in the lungs, necessary for inhalation, which fills the lungs from the bottom up and enables the expansion of the lower part of the chest, necessary to replace the air in this part of the lungs. If inhalation is not performed primarily with the diaphragm, the air is exchanged mainly in the upper half of the lungs, where there are much fewer alveoli and blood since the air path to the lower parts of the lungs is much longer and with a high breathing frequency, there is no air exchange due to lack of time.
Nasal breathing also slows the airflow, allowing air to remain in the lungs for longer. That way, we create the circumstances for exchanging oxygen and CO2 in our blood, enabling high enough CO2 levels required for proper muscle operation. This leads us to a state in which nasal breathing enables better functioning of the respiratory system and a higher oxygen concentration in the muscles. But for this, paying proper attention to breathing on the bike and resisting the need or apparent ease of mouth breathing is necessary.
Nasal breathing has several beneficial effects on increasing endurance, but it requires an investment of time to create a higher level of CO2 in the blood, as it is necessary to consciously stop the need to breathe faster, even though it seems logical and natural to us. Most people have low levels of CO2 in exhaled air, meaning they’re breathing too fast and without using their diaphragm. The main reasons are their constant stress and the burden of modern life, which most of us live in. This raises the tension in the torso muscles and the pressure in the abdominal cavity needed to bear this load. This makes it difficult to move the abdominal diaphragm towards the pelvis during inhalation, as the abdominal diaphragm moves into an overly dense space, for which it needs more energy, which is invested in an unnecessarily demanding movement of the diaphragm. This energy is then replaced by facilitating breathing in the upper part of the respiratory system, and for breathing, we use the secondary route (mouth) instead of the primary (nose).
That way, we breathe more and more through the mouth, gradually lowering the average level of CO2 in our blood, and we breathe less efficiently both externally and at the cellular level. Because this process happens gradually and no one warns or encourages us to breathe primarily through the nose, in a state of intense movement, we react even more nervously to the normal rise in CO2 and breathe even faster through the mouth, keeping the CO2 level too low for efficient cellular respiration, which encourages more anaerobic muscle action, which produces more CO2, with which the body tries to raise CO2 to the correct level for efficient overall functioning. This, however, does not solve the problem of chronic contraction and limitation of movement of the abdominal diaphragm, which does not enable the basic condition of proper breathing.
AEQ breathing teaches a deeper understanding of the described processes and problems that arise if we do not breathe correctly, even if we have been used to it for many years. Understanding sensory amnesia and its role in chronic skeletal muscle contraction gives the student much more effective breathing improvement. The ability to connect control over emotions and understanding the state of resistance to relaxation, which is the main obstacle in the long-term preservation of correct breathing, are the special features of the AEQ breathing method.
To improve sports performance, it is recommended to breathe through the nose at least 25 percent of the time in the beginning and adjust the pace accordingly, although you may be very disappointed at first with the power you develop when breathing correctly. But the time invested in changing the response to the increase in CO2 will be richly repaid later, as energy will be generated in an increasingly aerobic mode, which will significantly impact endurance and well-being during and after cycling. Later, we gradually increase the time dedicated to nasal breathing and breathing through the nose even when performing more difficult feats. Breathing through the mouth should remain only for the most difficult tasks, and even there, mixed breathing is more effective, in which we breathe in through the mouth and exhale through the nose.
I must emphasize that improving breathing efficiency demands a lot of attention on how you breathe during sports activity and that it isn’t compatible with listening to music during exercise or performing movement automatically. Learning AEQ breathing makes the same physical effort cause less stress for the entire system and makes movement more pleasurable. This is often contrary to the true motive of the athlete because, in a deeper analysis of the motive for sports activity, I usually find that the athlete wants to punish or completely exhaust the body through excessive and ineffective performance of the movement, thus making stronger emotional responses to relationships in the environment impossible.
This hidden but dominant motive for an addictive attitude towards sports is usually the main reason for the unrealistic frequency of injuries and the visible exaggeration, stiff and ineffective movement. When we have many injustices and humiliations locked in our bodies, we turn the body into a scapegoat for everything bad that has happened to us in life, and we do not want to have an authentic and clear relationship with it. Because of this, we do not consider it when deciding how much higher, faster, and stronger we can go. We see this torture and self-destructive behavior as a satisfying way of facing the past, even though we’re only destroying ourselves to prevent returning the received negative back to those who actually caused the damage.
In such a state, it is difficult and strange to improve breathing because then we achieve something that, in fact, deep down, we do not want. So that the movement would make you feel better and be able to return home relaxed and feel good about the relationships at home and what is not as it could be. If it’s too much, it’s better to come home tired and not deal with the tension and dissatisfaction surrounding us. Or, as a marathon runner said years ago in the Midnight Club show, the best thing about marathon running is that for a week afterward, he doesn’t care what is happening around him.
AEQ breathing goes deeper when guided by a level 2 or 3 AEQ breathing teacher, both live and in combination with 30-day online programs, allowing for an understanding of the feelings and emotions, and resistances that more correct breathing causes. Improved breathing increases the strength and duration of the parasympathetic state, which, in the first place, does not give a positive feeling to a person with a stronger torso contraction (which collapses correct breathing with the abdominal diaphragm), but often worsens the state of pain and restlessness. This can be especially strong during sleep. But understanding the reasons for such a change allows us to appropriately change our attitude towards ourselves and our surroundings and thus create circumstances for improved breathing and more strong and clear life energy, with which we can then appropriately influence the imbalances in us and our surroundings. This level of learning AEQ breathing enables a permanent regulation of breathing patterns, as improving efficiency is tied to raising emotional maturity and efficiency above the level we inherited from our parents and associated with breathing.
It is very common for athletes with breathing problems to suffer from this condition. It makes achieving desired results more difficult, if not outright impossible, both in the recreational as well as competitive stages. It is the source of self-destructive behavior due to the conflict between our conscious will and desire and subconscious patterns, which aren’t appropriate for the higher effort which is required to achieve increasingly better results.
Aleš Ernst, author of the AEQ method and AEQ breathing.