A long time ago in Bicycling magazine, I saw an unflattering side shot of Jan Ullrich at the Tour de France showing his belly jutting out. It was, however, an article on breathing from the diaphragm and how it gives you added ability to get more air into your system. The Jan Ullrich picture was not illustrate that he had developed a beer gut, but rather that he was showing a more effective breathing method. Here are some pics of Lance Armstrong on this post from CyclingNews Forums notice how low his belly hangs. He’s also a master of belly breathing.
This came up again just recently for me. I am attempting to build for the Honolulu Marathon at the end of the year right now and just completed my base phase, after about 2 false starts due to having a baby this year and also a nasty allergy attack which set me back about 2 weeks. Previously this year, I had gone out twice to see if I could complete my usual track benchmark of 10x400s RI 1:00. But for some reason, I would seriously wipeout at about 4 400s. I tried both running a little aggressively, and also then tried the second time at a more conservative pace. But no dice. I would get to 4 laps and wipe out.
This was very wrong! In years past, I could always complete my benchmark workout. But this year, I think there was a big difference. This was the fact that I was doing a lot of neuromuscular training on the treadmill. My nervous system is now primed to moving my legs faster than in previous years which is great, but it is unknown how long I can maintain a faster pace since these workouts tend to be a minute maximum with lots of rest, and are more for getting my nervous system used to moving my legs fast and not using extra energy to do that.
So when I hit the track, I was just moving my legs faster given that my nervous system was now OK with that, but I think I hit an upper limit to my lung capacity given the way I was breathing.
All right: I admit it. When I’m out there, I tend to suck in my gut to make myself look better and not like I have a fat belly. But I think this has created an artificial upper bound to my lung capacity because it doesn’t allow me to fully engage my diaphragm when I breathe.
Thus, on previous attempts this year, I would run faster 400s which is good, but wipe out a lot sooner as the oxygen in my system got quickly used up due to running at a faster pace.
The clue I received was from my sports medicine person who told me about belly breathing. I thought about my issues with my benchmark track workout and thought this was worth a try.
Yesterday I headed out to the track and decided to emphasize belly breathing. As soon as I took off the starting line, I would begin to breathe deeply through my belly, and not expanding my chest. I would also practice doing full breaths like this more rapidly. This allowed me to get to the end of my 10x400s and not be totally wiped out. Success!
So I sacrificed a little better profile view of my body for faster speed and sustaining a higher effort. Too bad. I’m still glad I’m improving and getting faster.
More on belly/diaphragm breathing at Wikipedia.

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