The Importance of Oxygen

The Importance of Oxygen

It’s Monday and you are ready to kill your week of workouts. Feeling refreshed and centered after the weekend, you see that coach has programmed “Fran” (21-15-9 of Thrusters and Pull-ups). You have done this workout before and just seeing the name sends you into fight or flight: you are now aware of the air passing through your ventilation system as your senses become energized. I mean, NO ONE is about to get the drop on you as you would feel their presence.

Last time you did this WOD you were so pumped, and your adrenaline was peaking before you even started. The countdown chimed, and you attacked the barbell with the swiftness of a lion taking down an antelope. With all the excitement, your breathing has been inconsistent and unconscious. You dropped the bar to do pull-ups and realize that this is the first breath that you actually remember taking. No time to dilly dally, you jump up to the bar and begin your pull-ups. As you drop from the bar you feel drained already. Your muscles are over-excited and starving for oxygen and your breathing is heavy and uncontrollable.  You still have 15 reps and 9 reps of each movement, but your set of 15 is now taking just as long as the 21 did. You are slowing down, and your body is so starved of oxygen that you are becoming acidic and PUMPED (Don’t get me wrong; I love a good pump. But it is hard to be coordinated and move through complex, full ranges of motion when you are swole). You finish “Fran” in 6:00 and it is a few second PR for you. You feel as though you worked hard and that you should be seeing better results. The lights darken and while it is a win on the PR board, your ego still took a hit.

Sometimes an improvement in performance is simply a change of focus. It is okay to feel nervous and be in fight or flight before the workout. But there is one element you need to harness before, during, and after every workout if you want to make the most of it. That element is Oxygen. Oxygen is involved in many processes in your body. What your body can do when it is properly oxygenated is astounding in comparison to when it isn’t.


Before the WOD

Deep breathing before a workout can center your focus and calm your nerves, allowing you to make better decisions under pressure. It seems like there aren’t many decisions to make in a short workout, but when you are trying to reach peak performance, it absolutely is. You have to decide when to take a short rest, focus on how your positioning is throughout the movement, and of course, when, where, and how much to breath throughout the movement and the WOD. So, lay down, and take some deep diaphragmatic breaths to give your body plenty of oxygen to deliver to the cells preparing for battle. Something else you can do is breath through your diaphragm while doing the motions of the workout scaled down (like an empty barbell). If you do that, you are creating a neuromuscular pattern that tells your brain that you can be calm and move at the same time. Your body will respond with hormones that will balance out the adrenaline and keep you in the moment.

During the WOD

Oxygen in exercise is primarily used to create more ATP in the body. It also is used to flush out waste in your blood. That being said, whether the workout is targeting the phosphagen, glycolytic, or oxidative systems, [button link=”” newwindow=”yes”] Learn more about alactic, lactic, and aerobic systems HERE![/button] more oxygen in your blood is paramount to better performance. This means that in a workout like “Fran,” your oxygen is being used to push out waste during the first :60-:90 of the workout. But it is also cuing up to start creating a TON of ATP through the oxidative system. That much demand for oxygen means you better be focused on constantly breathing and trying to breath as deep and as smooth as the movement and your training allows!

After the WOD

Now that you have tried “Fran” again with your recent enamoring of oxygen, you PR by nearly 2:00! That feels a lot more like a win, and your ego thanks you. You are writhing in pain on the floor and you decide to just lay there and breathe. Great, you are focused on regaining oxygen and flushing out some waste. It can only be made better by doing some low threshold movement like bicycling. This will keep your muscles asking for the oxygen and you will likely be less sore because of it. That is called a cool down. It doesn’t mean you stop focusing on breathing! You have to force the deep breathing pattern (using your diaphragm) in order to finally stabilize your energy and hormones again.



I used “Fran” as a familiar example, but this is all relevant to any workout! Do yourself a favor and set an alarm every hour and just remind yourself to focus on breathing for a few breaths. EVERYTHING will be that much better!

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