Breathing when Cycling

by Davide Petucco translated by Gillian Shaw (source text)

A few years ago, right at the start of the CiclismoPassione adventure, I had the pleasure and honour of interviewing Omar Beltran  – the innovative and open-minded teacher and athletic coach.

When I read his book “Il doping ecologico.  I segreti per vincere con l’allenamento mentale” (tr. Eco-friendly doping. How to win by mental training), I was very impressed but also taken off guard by Omar’s approach to addressing issues related to cycling training.

It was completely new, unheard of.

The book is a mine of high quality information and provides alternative methods to increase your energy levels and as a result your performance on the bike. Just using the tools nature has given us – our body and mind.breathing

So, a few years later, I got back in touch with Omar and a dream was born – we started work on a project that I will tell you more about in the coming days.

In the meantime, to refresh your memory, I am republishing the first part of my interview with Omar Beltran in 2011, when I asked him to advise on a specific issue that I consider ESSENTIAL and much undervalued by cyclists: BREATHING.

Here’s the interview: 

“Hi Omar, firstly thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

As you know, we cycling enthusiasts of whatever level, are always looking for new information, new methods and new ideas to get the most out of our obsession.

There are lots of innovative ideas and alternative preparation methods in your book.

I have taken 5 topics from the many ideas put forward by your methodology. They have been chosen by the readers’ and myself as the most interesting to ‘men and women of the road’ – and I’d like to write a feature article from the viewpoint of the cyclist.

One aspect that I was really struck by was how you correlate the body with the mind through three major communication pathways: posture, breathing and centring.

Can you illustrate how these three ‘communication pathways’
influence the mental and physical performance of cyclists?

Posture

“Let’s start with posture. In your book you explain that by maintaining the correct posture, your body will send positive signals to the brain resulting in a general sense of well-being…
Does this work for athletic movement too? Biomechanics apart, a relatively good posture can influence your performance on the bike?

Unfortunately your posture on the bike imposes limits on this.
As it says in my book, the bent over position favours sensory perception.

If what you perceive in any given moment is a good sensation, your body position will tend to exaggerate it!

Alas the exact opposite is also true – a bad moment in terms of sensation will also be amplified.

My advice: when you experience the second type of sensation, change your position immediately. Move yourself upwards but still remain sitting, open your chest, pull your shoulders down and picture yourself feeling good. Pinotti says: “superpowers”

Breathing

“Now let’s talk about breathing. In the book, you talk about how breathing from the diaphragm restores a sense of relaxation, well-being and most importantly it recharges energy levels.

Can we benefit from diaphragmatic breathing and how can we raise our energy levels during intense physical effort on the bike?
For example, could using this type of breathing help during a climb?”

Certainly, and you ought to.

Without going into great detail about the respiratory system, I believe that every cyclist has been through the respiratory ‘drama’… I have lost count of how many times someone has told me:

“my legs were fine but I was struggling for breath”

And I always give the same reply:

“and, did you remember to breathe?”

Thankfully, breathing is an involuntary act managed by our central nervous system – it’s much wiser and more efficient than our thinking brain. But it is still easily influenced by our consciousness.

1 – Try this now: time 15 seconds and count how many complete breaths you take.
2 – Do it again, but try to take 2 fewer breaths.

If you manage it, it means that you can control your breathing consciously.

When you get breathless, your muscles’ demand for oxygen increases dramatically. What we notice is that our breathing much faster and consequently the breaths become much more shallow.

The regulating principle of our breathing is based on the law of physics that says: gases diffuse from where there is greater concentration to where there is less.

That is why working muscles demand higher levels of oxygen, because there is less pressure inside the muscle than on its surface – or rather in the air – and this is how it manages to diffuse.

At altitude there is less pressure to get oxygen into our muscles. This forces the circulatory system to work in hypoxia to increase its efficiency. In other words, it increases the quantity of red blood cells to be able to capture as much oxygen as possible.

Breathing from the diaphragm and taking in the maximum amount of air, will help its diffusion to your muscles – they need as much as they can get.
On the other hand, shallow breaths will reduce the amount of air taken in and consequently its diffusion.

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