If you watch professional or Olympic runners, you see at the end of the race the exhausted athletes trying to cool down and catch their breath. Two of the classic positions for helping to catch breath after such exertion is to walk around with hands stretched up or behind the neck; or, bending over with hands on knees.
A recent study by exercise physiologist Lorrie Brilla PhD, of Western Washington University, gives the answer as to which of these two ways is better. She says the bent over position wins as being better, and offers several explanations.
Dr. Brilla found that when athletes recover breath by bending over, that their heart rates go back towards a normal resting rate much faster. Part of the reason is that when you are standing, your “sympathetic nervous system” (the system that puts your body on alert mode in danger situations) is more active. When you bend over, you take your body off of alert mode, and your heart can relax a bit, and beat slower.
You might think that having a fast heart rate during exercise is beneficial. But if you are performing a type of High Intensity Interval Training—where you combine short bursts of high intensity exercise interspersed with short rest intervals—you want your body to recover as best as possible during the rest intervals. In this way, if you recover quicker, you will be able to perform the next high-intensity period with more force.
Dr. Brilla also notes that when you bend forward, you re-position your main breathing muscle, the diaphragm, to work more efficiently, and with that, you will be able to bring more air into your lungs with each breath. Further, during exercise you build up carbon dioxide (CO2), and recovery depends on ridding yourself of this byproduct. Again, bending over allows you to expel the CO2 more quickly. Lowering your CO2 level also helps your heart rate come back towards normal.
If you are in good physical condition and perform High Intensity Interval Training or run or row or do some other form of exhausting exercise, give the bent over breathing recovery position a try. If you make any interesting observations, let us know by leaving a comment.
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