Improve your oxygen uptake capacity
I have written about tissue oxygen throughout various articles (1, 2) so be sure to check them out for a background of why this type of exercise would be beneficial. In short, apart from a ketogenic diet, regular acute exposure to oxygen deprivation will make your body adapt to be able to take in more oxygen. It is one of those hormesis things such as exercise, cold exposure and heat exposure.
If you have any trouble with breathing or are somehow at increased danger of abnormalities, always first discuss doing this with your doctor. As mentioned, this is a hormesis thing, a stressor so you need to be sure you are fit enough to handle it.
So what do we have to do as an exercise and why is it composed that way?
The beauty of it is that it takes less than 10 minutes and it creates the same adaptation as staying at high altitude.
- Lay down stretched and fully relaxed
- Breath in and out normally for a few times just to get you relaxed
- Exhale and don’t breath in anymore and hold for as long as possible.
- Breath in deeply in and out and repeat this 3 times
- Repeat step 3 and 4 about 5 times
- After the 5th time, breath in and out deeply for 1 minute
For point 3, breath out to the point where there is no more air naturally being pushed out. There’s no need to force the last bit out.
For point 3, you’ll reach a point where you start to get the reflex to breath in again. Get used to this feeling and try to overcome it. The feeling that we are looking for before we start breathing again is a tingling sensation in your lungs, arms and possibly your legs. This is the dropping of the pH. People who engage in intensive exercises can recognize this as when they go for a maximum effort feeling their legs burn. This is the point where you breath in again.
I’ll address these by point:
- We want an evenly distributed blood flow so that the increase in pH drop is distributed throughout the whole body. Every part has to experience the oxygen shortage so that adaptation takes place everywhere.
- This is just part of step 1, making sure there is no tension in your body that may create a less than optimal blood flow.
- This is the key point. Exhaling and not breathing anymore will create oxygen shortage and trigger both an immediate and longer term adaptation to oxygen deprivation.
- We can’t continue like this forever so 3 deep breaths are sufficient to restore oxygen levels
- Repeating it 5 times is enough to trigger a response. You’ll also notice that if you time the exhaled holding, you’ll increase the time towards the end.
- Doing those 5 repeats your body has already adapted to enhance oxygen uptake! The 1 minute kind of hyperventilation will saturate your body with the increased oxygen.
Why exhale and not inhale and hold your breath? The research I’ve come across showed that for some reason it doesn’t work as well.
What are the adaptations to look for as a sign that you are doing it right?
- You could experience a reduction in heart rate
- You will get an increase in red blood cells
- Your hemoglobin will increase
- Your hematocrit will increase
These changes will already take place after about 1 week and can be measured through a blood panel. Your body will adapt to carry more oxygen. At the same time, the heart rate will go down because your blood pH will not be pushed down so much. The blood flow now has a bigger capacity to buffer against a low pH.
There are likely other adaptations or things that you could notice but they are too much under influence of other lifestyle factors that I leave them up to you to discover and comment about at the bottom of this page 😉
Personally, I’ve seen my hematocrit go from +/-42% to >47% (a 12% increase) and hemoglobin from around 14 to 15.5 (a 10.7% increase) in about a week time. Anyone in aerobic fitness wouldn’t mind seeing this happening!
I’ve been able to compose this type of exercise based on the inspiration from Wim Hof (the iceman) and the published scientific literature on breathing and exercise.
The reason I like it is because the essence seems to be in the exhaled breath holding. This way I have a routine that takes a minimal amount of time with clear measurable improvements.
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