As cyclists and as humans for that matter we take lots of things for granted. One of the things that cyclists take for granted comes to mind is breathing. Yes we all breathe but we do it in an automatic fashion with out thought as to how breath could help us perform better.
If you have played other sports you may have been given rudimentary instruction on breathing techniques. The usual ones are breath in through the nose and breath out though the mouth and not to gasp for air. The latter usually happens for most cyclists when they have pushed them selves way to hard. The method of breathing in through the nose and breathing out through the mouth are only applicable to cyclists who are cross training, stretching or in the weight room.
So what is a cyclist suppose to do. By in large most cyclists will tell you that you should just breathe and exhale through your mouth. This too will not help you in scenarios that require higher levels of performance. What should be done is to breathe in through the nose and the mouth at the same time while exhaling through the mouth.
The other thing to consider is the breath itself. When breathing through an exercise, interval or climb use rounded breaths. A rounded breath is when you breathe into your abdomen rounding out your belly. This will feel awkward at first and you may have a tendency to over do it.
When climbing rather than focusing on breathing in more try to relax and focus on exhaling. When you are on the ragged edge of a climb it is easier to let out a fast sharp exhale than to breathe in deeply. When breathing in a rounded non-exaggerated method you are getting all the oxygen that can be used. However a fast sharp exhale can release more carbon dioxide from your lungs than during rounded breathing.
There is a strong cautionary note to be considered when using sharp exhales. To many of them close together can lead to hyperventilating. The last thing you want on a climb or just before a sprint is to be light headed. So what I try to practice on climbs in the middle of a ride is to use 3-4 sharp exhales. I time these by breaking my climbs up into thirds or fourths.
Now lets cover ragged breathing. Ragged breathing is what happens when you are at the sharp end of a pace line, bridging a gap or are about to crest a steep hill. Ragged breathing is usually a dead give away that you are toast. Can we ride at our limits and not gasp for air? Yes and no.
For the average cyclist once you begin ragged breathing you are entering into the top end of your anaerobic capacity. Translation? You’re going to pop! What is a cyclist to do when they are about to pop? You will need to back off your current pace and recover. Depending on your age and experience it could take 30 seconds to several minutes. Popping could mean the difference between a win or loosing out on bragging rights.
The best cure for ragged breathing and reaching your anaerobic threshold is experience and a little knowledge. Realizing your approaching the pop is half the battle.
When ragged breathing starts ask your self the following:
- Where did it happen? Hill, Pace line, sprint, tempo riding
- How hot is it?
- Was there a head wind?
- Did I fuel right?
- Have I been recovering well?
Finally what was your HR when you popped and how long were you in that Heart Rate Zone? Has the scenario happened before at the same HR or higher?
After answering the above and recognizing that at a particular HR you come unglued you now have solved a major mystery in your performance. So if you find you can only hold on for so long with a particular HR what are you to do?
You have 3 choices:
- Ignore the problem
- Recognize when you are going anaerobic
- Train to improve your threshold
I’ll give you a hint only 2 of the above suggestions will help you improve!
While using tactics will help more often than not most cyclists could really benefit from anaerobic training. Most anaerobic training is based on high intensity short intervals. These HIT intervals are meant to train your body to adapt to greater stress loads through short intense periods followed by full recovery.
I will rarely give workouts out without knowing who is to receive them and when they are going to do them. Timing and current level of fitness are critical to avoiding injury and illness when training at the highest intensities.
In the next article I will give some examples of what else you can do to improve your breathing.
If you feel your anaerobic capacity is holding you back from reaching your goals I can help you! If you’re ready to learn how email me and we will get started creating a new strength.
Have a great ride.