How many times have you heard someone say “take a deep breath and relax”?
I would hazard a guess that most people (not just athletes) truly understand that deep, controlled breathing is the best way to calm the mind and relax the body. This is true if you’re stressed at work, stressed while you’re sitting in traffic on the highway, or stressed because you’re pummeling yourself to keep up with the rest of the group out on your bike.
I can’t tell you how many times, whether it’s in a race or on a group ride, that I’ve heard people around me taking quick, shallow breaths while they’re working to get over the hill we’re climbing or someone’s acceleration at the front of the group. I can remember reading an interview with Lucien Van Impe some time ago, it might have been in an issue of Roleur. Van Impe was a fantastic Belgian climber who won the climber’s polka dot jersey six times at the Tour de France in the 70’s, as well as the overall win at the Tour in ’76. The only reason I remember the name Van Impe is because in that interview, he talked about how important it was for him to synchronize his breath and pedal stroke on a climb so he would become one with his machine. He called it “souplesse” in French, which translates to “suppleness”.
Try it next time you’re out riding. Slowly ramp up to a steady effort and you’ll hit a point where you automatically start breathing through your mouth (called the ventilatory threshold). Four pedal strokes while you breathe in, four more while you breathe out. It’s going to be difficult at first, and those might not be the numbers that work for you, but listen to your body and I’m quite sure that you’ll find your way. In simple terms, more air in your lungs means better oxygen exchange with your bloodstream. More oxygen in your blood means your muscles work better, which means your go faster and/or longer. How you go about improving your breathing technique is up to you – there are so many methods out there I don’t want to start suggesting particulars. Ashtanga yoga worked for me, but that’s just me. I think you can probably find it just as easily sitting at your desk during work and breathing mindfully. At the end of the day, it’s another system of muscle memory and coordination like a pedal stroke or swinging a golf club.
Sure, this advice might be a danger to our bottom line since we are, after all, in the business of providing our clients with equipment that can make them faster. As someone once said, “it’s not about the bike”; it’s about making the whole package work optimally. We at Signature Cycles work with you to optimize your position on the bike and to make sure that your equipment is working for you, not against you … but do not by any means discount the importance of the motor’s efficiency and power. Good breathing technique gives you more of both, no question.