Catching My Breath

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I thought I’d write about something a bit different, still about science, but of another kind. When I was sixty-three, I had the curious experience of getting my heart and lungs and all tested to the max by the doctors. They shot my veins full of drugs and made way cool movies of how the blood was pumping around my heart, and other fun pursuits.

They also gave me a full-stress treadmill test. It started out moving slowly, and on the flat. No problem, I kept up. Then they jacked both the angle and the speed up a bit. I kept up. And after a short time, they did the same again, increased both the angle and the speed. Still, I kept up. After a few more rounds of ever-increasing intensity, I was almost running up what seemed like the side of Mount Everest.

But I kept up.

stress testAfterwards, they pulled the tape off of the machine. The nurse and the doctor looked at it, and conferred a bit. Then the nurse came over and asked “What kind of exercise do you do?”

I mimed flexing my bicep, bending my elbow, and lifting a glass to my lips …

“No, seriously”, she said, “do you work out at the gym?”. I admitted that no, I didn’t go to the gym … and I also didn’t run or exercise at all. Why was she asking?

“Your metabolic score on the treadmill”, she said, “we only ever see that high a score on twenty-year-old guys who are firefighters or cops or bodybuilders.”

I could have told her why I was able to get that high a score, but it wasn’t the time, so I just laughed and went on. Anyhow, there’s a curious story behind my ability, and this seems like a good time to tell it.

When I was about twenty-seven, I spent about a year in Hawaii in training as a psychotherapist. Yeah, I know, who would have guessed? And I spent many, many hundreds of hours working with and assisting lots of clients during that time. Anyhow, about a year later I was swimming in the pool at Laney College, in Oakland, California. I was working on my Red Cross Lifesaving Certificate, but I was having trouble with the distance swimming. I could swim fine, but I always ended up panting and out of breath after only a few high-speed laps of the pool.

One day, it all changed. Who should I run into at the pool but an ex-client from Hawaii. Talk about a surprise, we weren’t even in the same state as when we’d known each other, and he wasn’t a student at Laney. I have no idea why he was there. He was never all that coherent, and that day was no exception. He tried to tell me what was going on, but it was hard to follow.

Somehow I got to talking about my difficulty with swimming distances. He watched me swimming for a while, and then he waved me over to the side of the pool. “I know what you’re doing wrong”, he said, and he told me how to fix it.

So I tried what he said, and to my astonishment I found that I could just swim and swim and swim! I was totally blown away, I’d never done anything like that. I thanked him profusely, he walked out the door … and I’ve never seen him again in my life.

I showered and dressed … and then on a whim, I decided to run the two miles back to my home.

To understand what that meant, you need to know that I hated, hated, hated track in high school. They wanted me to run a mile, and after the first of four laps my tongue was hanging out, I was panting to the max, and totally out of breath. I despised running, and I never, ever ran unless I had to. So for me to suddenly decide to run the two miles from Laney back to my place in Oakland, that was a shock to me.

I started out, not knowing what to expect … and I ran the two miles home, and when I got there, I wasn’t even breathing hard.

So … what was it that the half-crazy guy told me about my swimming that made such an instant difference in my stamina.

He said “You’re not breathing out enough.”

He explained that particularly when we’re swimming, but also with any exercise, people usually end up panting, taking very rapid, shallow breaths. We focus on breathing in, on forcing more air into our lungs. He said that the way to break that habit was simple—when you start running short of air, don’t mess with the in-breath, just breathe out for one count longer.

He pointed out that when we swim or run, we usually fall into a pattern. With me, when I swam I breathed out and then took an in-breath with every alternate stroke of my arms. He said when I ran short of air, there was no need to mess with the in-breath—what I had to do was just add one more beat to the out-breath. So for example, if I was running, I was in the habit of breathing in for two steps and out for two steps. When I started running out of breath, I needed to lengthen my out-breath to three steps … and then if that wasn’t enough, lengthen the out-breath to four steps, and so on.

And that was it. There’s no need to make any alteration to the in-breath, we’re all really good at that part. Filling up the lungs isn’t the problem, it’s emptying the lungs.

And from that day to this, I don’t run out of breath. I just breathe out one beat longer, and I keep going. That’s the reason why at the age of sixty-three, I finished my treadmill test breathing deeply, very deeply … but just like some young guy who does pushups and runs laps all day, I wasn’t out of breath at all. I could have kept it up for a while longer.

Will this have the same effect on you? Heck, I don’t know. It was a gift that was bestowed on me by a slightly mad man I’d once cared for and had tried to help, who reappeared in my life for a single afternoon, apparently for that one purpose … all I can do is pass it on in the same spirit of joyous abandon. I only wish someone had been around to tell me about this back when I was in high school … so if you’re interested in catching your own breath, think of it as science, do the experiment, and report back.

My best to everyone,


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September 23, 2013 9:53 pm

Yes it’s true, I was taught this in sub aqua training, you can panic and start holding your breath a bit, and your lungs fill up with CO2 and you panic more

September 23, 2013 9:54 pm

Thanks. I’m 74 and slowing down. Will see if this can keep me moving. Needs practice. 🙂

September 23, 2013 9:58 pm

You must have studied more things than Howie Munson in the “Fall Guy”

Janice Moore
September 23, 2013 9:59 pm

Dear Mr. Eschenbach,
When I saw that you were writing about a possible heart condition, my heart softened toward you and I decided to read your post. LOL, it was, once again, about how wonderful you are at something. I am grateful you shared, nevertheless, for I have wondered how I, a singer, can have better breath control, i.e., so I can sing longer between breaths, especially at a high volume.
I will try it tomorrow and report back.

September 23, 2013 9:59 pm

Thanks — I’m 66 and a runner. Will try this technique next time I run to see if it helps. Been running so long, that breathing is not usually a problem.

September 23, 2013 10:04 pm

Interesting – I went to Longfellow grade school in Alameda, CA when we moved to the mainland from Hawaii in the late 1950’s and we had a phys ed coach who taught the same thing. He also recommended sucking in air like we were pulling it in though a straw – the theory being that lowering the internal pressure in the lungs would help purge the poisonous /sarc CO2 from our blood. He’s probably responsible for global warming, in fact. 🙂 Anyway – I had a heart murmur at the time but didn’t know it so it didn’t help me. Never could run but can bike all day long. My sport was gymnastics which is probably why both shoulders are blown out now!
I’m ok doing your elbow exercise though.
I took my most recent stress test at age 65 a couple years ago and did well. Nice cherry red glow from all sides and the MRI cross sections show no damage from a 2005 heart attack.

September 23, 2013 10:07 pm

I too will try that out Willis, thank you. Your right, I tend to think of breathing in, taking deeper breaths but maybe thats my problem. I have a very big yard and a push-it-yourself mower and at my age I’m beginning to notice the difference, pant, this just might turn that trend around.

September 23, 2013 10:08 pm

Thanks for the tip. I’m 64 and creeping up on 65 and I’m getting desperately short of breath when I exert myself while SCUBA diving. I’ll try this out next outing. Here’s hoping. If it doesn’t work, my diving days may be over.

Janice Moore
September 23, 2013 10:13 pm

Hey, dp — so glad to hear that you are doing so well. Don’t look back. Many days full of joy and laughter and love lie ahead.
(you, too! Wayne, Little Peaks Runner, and Richard!)

Janice Moore
September 23, 2013 10:15 pm

Coals! Yes, indeed, give the breathing technique a whirl, BUT, do get yourself checked out, soon. Better to catch anything that might be causing that breathing difficulty — early. Take care.

Dan James
September 23, 2013 10:24 pm

As a youngster at 56 I can attest to the advantages of breath control. Like Willis I was accustomed to being short of breath during endurance trials. Later in life I began practicing with kettle bells, which can tax you in short order, particularly the long cycle, which I am not built for. After trying the recommended breathing patterns for this exercise I found that focusing on emptying the lungs was the most important part of breathing for me.
This may not apply to everyone, but if you do not empty the lungs properly, it will certainly help.
[Kettle bell? Mod]

September 23, 2013 10:25 pm

Brilliant, Willis, thank you so much!

September 23, 2013 10:38 pm

I did run track in High School(440). That was part of a natural technique. It works. But remember,
at age 60 or 70, being in shape does not “guarantee” full cardio health(particularly from blockage etc)

Paul Deacon
September 23, 2013 10:43 pm

Thanks, Willis. I know as a singer that the power of the lungs is immense. Most people use about 1/7 of their lung capacity, I understand.

September 23, 2013 10:48 pm

I’m 69 and for three years I’ve been doing the Canadian Air Force Excercises (you can find them on Google). During that time I’ve lost 10 kg and my blood pressure has dropped from 145/90 to 130/85. There are 5 exercises, one of which is running on the spot. Like Willis, I find that if I concentrate on breathing out fully I can just keep going.

September 23, 2013 10:59 pm

One thing I figured out on my own during a 2700 mile bicycle tour when I was 23 was a better way of breathing while climbing hills, especially at higher altitudes.
I’d inhale and hold my breath for a second or two, then exhale, almost explosively, emptying my lungs and then quickly inhale. It seemed to make sense I should keep all the CO2 out I could and keep as much air as I could around the alveoli.
A few years later I was hiking out of the Grand Canyon and was having a progressively harder time. Water didn’t help, candy didn’t help. It finally occurred to me I was above 5,000 feet and maybe oxygen was the problem, so I switched to my bicycling breathing and made it right out.

September 23, 2013 11:07 pm

wow – I’m going to try that!

September 23, 2013 11:15 pm

Willis, if this catches on, you do realize that it will add more CO2 to the atmosphere,..just sayin.. 🙂

September 23, 2013 11:22 pm

Hi Willis … great story there. I’m just like you were but just a bit younger, this side of 60. I train in the gym 2’ce a week and have good shape from aerobic and weight training. I despise running and swimming because I run out of breath and stop or sink. I’ll try out your advice and see how it goes 🙂

September 23, 2013 11:33 pm

I got to give this a go, I have never had any stamina.
Thanks Willis

September 23, 2013 11:35 pm

Sounds kind of gimmicky, but worth a try.

September 23, 2013 11:35 pm

This is a little different.
I used to ride bicycles 100 miles and occasionally 200 miles, e.g. the Davis DC. I rode from a young age, so my chest got relatively big. Didn’t know that until I got pneumonia. It started out as a chest cold. I was able to enjoy my cousin’s wedding on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, but really started feeling bad after that. The cough wouldn’t go away. And there was gurgling. Ick. I coughed and coughed, but it got heavy and really salty. Later I realized why.
I remembered what happened to Jim Henson. He thought he could beat a bug, but went to the Hospital too late. Nothing they could do. It’s the middle of the night, and I went alone. I was trying to find the emergency room in the old Tuolumne General Hospital. Wandered around on the bottom floor and realized I needed to go up a floor. Ordinarily I almost run up stairs two at a time. This time I had to walk up slowly, and rest. Weird. Not good.
I got up to Admitting where they got the pulse ox going and took blood pressure readings. The usual. When the pulse ox wouldn’t go over 85, they decided I needed to stay. They took some chest films and asked about whether I had asthma. I’d had it for five years, 20 years earlier and got rid of it by leaving CA for NY. After 5 years being gone, finally no more asthma coming back to the Pyrite state. They said they asked about asthma because my lungs were larger than most. Well that was the bike riding.
They hooked up the IV and got some good drugs going to nuke the little buggers having a picnic, trying to send me to the long dirt nap. My body was naturally trying to ruin their day by dumping sodium into my lungs. Every time I coughed up, it was like swimming at New Brighton Beach near Santa Cruz, getting the occasional mouthful of the Pacific. I’m sure it helped, but it just wasn’t enough.
Before they let me go to sleep they made me blow through a spirometer. It’s a little plastic ‘horn’ with a flap and an indicator needle attached, showing on the outside. It measures the strength of your exhalation. I tried a few times, but only could make it move about 1/3 of the way.
You try to sleep but they won’t let you sleep. At least not for long. And I was somewhat cold. Not really cold, but certainly not comfortable. Finally the light began to come up outside. Oh, boy, breakfast… The food was awful, of course. Afterwards, the doc came to see me. He wanted to keep me the rest of the week, maybe four days.
Hell if I was going to do that.
Since I was allowed to walk around now, I took my IV stand and started going around the floor like a racetrack, just not racing. I had noticed my pulse ox was over 85 now so it seemed a good idea to try to clear things out. They were NOT going to keep me. Each lap was going a bit better.
I went back for lunch and they took out the IV. Now I was more mobile. Pulse ox near 90 now. Figured I could do better than just doing laps. Not sure I was allowed to go there, I tried the stairs anyway. I went up and down about 4 floors. Ah! That really got the crud moving out. I suppose a bit like the ice breaking on the Tanana – I lived in Fairbanks for a winter in ’63-’64, but that’s another story.
The whole time I was doing those stairs all I could think about was getting out. I didn’t want to stay overnight again. But I had to convince the doc to let me go. I knew the hospital needed the revenue from someone who actually did have insurance. Sorry, I wasn’t going to go along with that plan. That meant more stairs. I had to get my lungs clear enough to make it very difficult to justify any decision to keep me.
The hour finally came. Pulse ox about 92, not bad. I told him what I was doing, and he seemed rather skeptical I’d really done it. Skeptical in that special physician way, indicating you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. I had to prove I was ready to go. They handed me the spirometer. I wanted to make sure it went full scale, so I took in a really deep breath, and blew out as hard as I could.
The little plastic flap and needle flew out of the horn and across the room. I wonder how they wrote down that in the chart. And they let me go home.

Juraj Vanovcan
September 23, 2013 11:41 pm

Ran seventeen kms yesterday as a training for half marathon. I have to try this breathing-out thing tomorrow. Thanks!

September 23, 2013 11:47 pm

Must breathe out all that CO2. Otherwise it will cause Pleural Warming and you end up hot and sweaty.

September 23, 2013 11:47 pm

Thanks Willis.
Yes, breathing out effectively and efficiently is the key to aerobic exercise, so when you swim, you slowly exhale into the water and deeply inhale on your upstroke.
The thing I loved about swimming was how you’d get into “the zone” after awhile, where all your other senses of: gravity, sound and sight are more or less tuned out and you’re left with to your thoughts in that womb-like environment….. Breath in….. Breath out…. Wax on…..Wax off…
When I was at university, I used to swim a mile once a week as a break from my daily routine of running 4 miles/day. Since I’ve completely blown out my knees, back and heels from all those decades of running, I now just cycle 30 KM/day, which is fantastic as my bike course runs along the beach giving me a gorgeous view of Mt. Fuji on my way out and a beautiful view of Enoshima on way home.
While cycling, I like listening to college lectures on various subjects or listening to music ranging from Alabinoni to ZZ-Top in an effort to exercise mind, body and soul.
I especially enjoy the summer months when scantily clad Japanese girls make their way to and from the beach. When I cycle at night, there are times when phytoplankton blooms are thick so when the waves crash against the shore, they light up in an eerie bluish green; amazing stuff.
Life is good. Breath in….Breath out….Wax on….Wax off….

September 24, 2013 12:09 am

Willis what you say is very true about breathing and excercise especially with swimming. Breathing out when under water ready then to breathe in when you head is out of water.
I’m not going all hippy on you but controlled breathing even for twenty seconds is one of the best ways to destress and relax. Do it for two minutes and you are in another place in your mind.

September 24, 2013 12:20 am

CO2 is bad. M’kay? 😉
A decade ago, I started doing some Karate training. It was really tough and I couldn’t keep up for even 15 minutes; having trained mainly in desk-chair surfing for the previous 2 decades.
I switched on my brain and thought out what was going on and why the sensei was breathing out sharply at each “strike” or block. It wasn’t just to tighten up the abdomen to increase the potential force of the blow but also to expel “stale” air vigorously. The experience of the biomechanics in the sport was fascinating. Actually re-training how one moves to minimise “internal resistance” by opposing muscles in order to conserve energy while increasing speed of movement; to the point where one is concentrating more on “relaxing” into a move than into forcing it.

slow to follow
September 24, 2013 12:33 am

Re: swimming technique – type “9 stroke freestyle” into google and watch Shinji Takesuchi’s video. Check the start and end times for the length against the video time line. Lovely stuff.
Totally agree about breathing out.

Dan James
September 24, 2013 1:18 am

A kettlebell looks like a cannonball with a handle attached, used for ballistic weight exercise. I guess spellcheck altered the word in my first post.

September 24, 2013 1:42 am

I simarly score very high on those tests, i am young and fit though, i used to run 15km off road on steep terrain each night. I learnt through a jujitsu trainer when 15 years old to ckear my mind and focus on my breathing. I found through concentration and slow deep breathing i not only could run for long periods but also could lower my heart rate significantly i.e dropping it from 120 to below 60 whilst maintaining the same pace. I assume the deep breathing both in and out (all the way out as well) that my cardio system at a jogging pace worked so much better my heart didnt need to worksas hard to get air to my muscles. A useful technique. It also used to help me going 12 rounds when boxing, I always found nothing worked my lungs as hard as boxing, unfortunetly nothing helped with my arms turning to jelly and having only the strength of a baby towards the end!

Brian H
September 24, 2013 1:55 am

I recently (last 3-4 yrs) developed a form of this for myself, even simpler, and useful in every level of exertion. After a normal exhalation, add a little “puff”, from the diaphragm. It’s not intended to actually get that air all the way out, just to disturb the “dead air” in the deepest alveoli. My thinking is/was that the maximum amount of lung/air interface is in the most finely segmented and deepest sacs of the lungs, the very ones least in the “flow” of breath going in and out. So they need a little “bump”, just to force some mixing of that deepest most CO2-saturated air.
Works like a charm; if you’re not working hard and burning oxy, it gives a light-headed hyperventilation sensation, and if you are working hard it greatly extends endurance. No “deep breathing” or extra lung emptying required — just a little bump on the diaphragm, at the end of each exhale, making sure the “dead air” gets mixed with more oxygen-rich stuff.
I’m also 67.

Disko Troop
September 24, 2013 1:55 am

Thanks for that Willis. I am seriously asthmatic and on all the known drugs. Breathing out is the key to lung capacity. Breathe out by sinking the chest then when you feel your lungs are empty push out the stomach to draw the diaphragm down and add a couple of milliliters to the fill up. It is free air! Most of us only use about 2/3rds of our lung capacity, for some of us that would be a luxury. All the best.

Martin A
September 24, 2013 2:11 am

coalsoffire says:
September 23, 2013 at 10:08 pm
Thanks for the tip. I’m 64 and creeping up on 65 and I’m getting desperately short of breath when I exert myself while SCUBA diving. …

Just a suggestion. Get a blood test for haemoglobin level – especially if you take aspirin for anything.

Dermot O'Logical
September 24, 2013 2:14 am

On the topic of breathing, cycling legend Graeme Obree developed his own breathing pattern (summary here: ) , described in his book “The Obree Way”. When I’m struggling at my limits of exertion, I occasionally remember to do as he describes, and it does help. My heart rate drops by 3 to4 beats a minute without slowing down.
It’s as Obree describes – just because we’ve evolved to breathe, it doesn’t mean we breathe in the optimal way.

September 24, 2013 2:59 am

I use that technique for years now to fall asleep. Inhale, exhale till there’s nothing left anymore and then exhale some more in a steady rhythm. Soon you’ll start to feel relaxed and doze off.

September 24, 2013 3:21 am

Another breathing trick…don’t wait for deficit when you confront a hill. Accelerate breathing BEFORE you feel the need and you will glide to the top.

September 24, 2013 3:32 am

Willis: this post is a gift to us all. All your posts are gifts, stretching mind or body in useful, funny and even important ways. Thank you; and thanks to Anthony for running such a fine house.

Sport Comment
September 24, 2013 3:35 am

The Natives were running up an down the basketball court and effortlessly wore out the opposing team… Breathing in through their nose and big exhale through mouth…Out of breath? breath through your nose. I just learned the Natives were probably taking an extra exhale step too!

William Truesdell
September 24, 2013 3:40 am

Thanks for the reminder-I was taught that every day you should do a “lung purge” by breathing out all the air you can over several minutes of deep breathing. It is the same concept you noted- do not stop exhaling when you normally do but keep it up to purge the lungs, then a deep breath, hold it and purge again.Was taught that that long ago when I swam competitively.

Bill Marsh
September 24, 2013 4:19 am

Thanks for this post. I enjoyed reading it. I regularly swim longer distances (1.5 miles freestyle 3/wk) and I use a similar breathing pattern with the short inhale and extended exhale over 2 strokes. I never have trouble swimming distance at a relatively healthy pace (50yds/min) with 50yd all out sprints every 1/4 mile. I’m also 63
I also participate in a Senior Dragon Boat racing team (I’m 63) and, when I first started this activity I had a tendency to hyperventilate as a race requires ‘stroke rates’ of 1 sec or less over distances of up to 2000 meters. I find that I tend to breathe in-out with each stroke and the result is that I edge towards hyperventilation during the races (even over as short a distance as 200 meters). I’m going to try to adjust my breathing to the ‘short in – longer out’ pattern you wrote about and see if that doesn’t help me.

Hans H
September 24, 2013 4:33 am

Thanks for the tip. It might help me.

September 24, 2013 4:33 am

there is a link between breathing and climate studies. When one inhales cold dry air, the nose and lungs warm and humidify the air. Thus, the volume of exhaled air is larger then the volume of inhaled air. This is why we need more time to exhale than inhale.
there is also the issue of lung bronchioles collapsing on themselves when breathing out but this is a separate issue.

September 24, 2013 4:39 am

When I started mountain biking in earnest in my late 50’s, I was looking for training aids and I came upon an English (there’s a thread somewhere here) device that improves your exhaling by putting an adjustable rubber valve in the exhaust passage. You can freely breath in, but you have to force the air out. After 10 minutes using it the first day, the next day my chest muscles hurt, muscles you mostly don’t use a lot.
My riding improved as did my breathing.

September 24, 2013 4:44 am

@ Janice M” ….it was, once again, about how wonderful you are at something.”
My thoughts exactly. Was there ever any doubt? You’re a smart guy Willis, but your ego is like a ravenous animal, always in need of feeding.

September 24, 2013 4:57 am

Inspirational, Willis 🙂

Alan D McIntire
September 24, 2013 5:09 am

In mammals, unlike birds, air flows in and out the same route. As a result, only about 1/3 of the air in our lungs is fresh air. The other 2/3 is stale air with a shortage of O2 and an excess of CO2.

David, UK
September 24, 2013 5:15 am

Note to self: Don’t do this whilst sitting down and relaxed, as it gives you a dizzy head.

September 24, 2013 5:21 am

As a climber I have spent a fair amount of time above 18,000 feet. The trick to not dying is breath control. Take a quick deep breath and then purse your lips and slowly squeeze the air out. This increases the air pressure in the lungs and aids the bloods grabbing oxygen.
Inhaling lowers the pressure in the lungs aiding the release of CO2. Exhaling increases the pressure in the lungs aiding the absorption of O2. Restricting the breath going out lowers the effective altitude. Humans are one of the few animals that can breath independently of actions like running. and why with breath control can have great endurance.
Resting heart rate 55, blood oxygen level in the 90’s at 6,000′.

Gavin Hetherington
September 24, 2013 5:24 am

This is quite well understood – the ‘out of breath’ feeling is triggered by CO2 build up rather than lack of O2. Free divers hyperventilate to purge CO2 before diving. If done to excess it can lead to drowning because the diver uses all the O2 in his lungs without feeling any discomfort and loses conciousness.

September 24, 2013 5:27 am

With swimming you are more aware of your breathing, so it is no surprise it came about in this setting.
With me it started with yoga, but the swimming told me the immediate effect. The yoga breathing exercise was about deep breathing. To accomplish this you just have to concentrate on the exhale and slow it down, leave the inhale do its job without interfering, just slow the exhale down till say twice as long as normal. What happens is by reflex your inhalation gets deeper and deeper till after a while you feel like your pump yourself up like a balloon.
You can refine this technique with involving more of the different regions of your lungs, like down with the belly-breath, up with the shoulder-breath, and I think even down there in the region where your kidneys are you can use your lungs some extra. Ideally this all together in one natural breath.
The swimming told me the immediate effect. Within a week or so my lung capacity had doubled, if not tripled, or so it felt, as I could make a lot more strokes in the free style before inhaling again. It was amazing.
I did not interpret this exercise like exhaling more, just like exhaling slower, but the exhaling more thorough does happen kind of by itself as you concentrate on it and slow it down. Willis’ method is more straightforward and better suited during physical exercise I think. So I’ll give it a try for sure.
What a wonderful present this guy gave to you, Willis, and now you pass it on to us. Many thanks. A lot to learn from the other posts here as well 🙂

September 24, 2013 5:28 am

Hey Mr. Pokerguy, idle it back a little. And you to too, Janice. First, Willis didn’t make any claims about inventing this. It was the crazy guy at Laney College. Willis just put it to use. Second, who is Willis supposed to write about? You two? Why would he? You don’t even know the crazy guy.
PS: Before I (oops, slipping into ego land) lost 60 pounds I found myself panting at the top of just two flights of stairs. My technique for avoiding embarrassment at the check in window was the Willis Crazy Man method. Blow out vigorously all the way from the front doors to the top of the stairs. Works great.

September 24, 2013 5:41 am

Good advice. I’ll concentrate on that the next 5k I do. I generally limit my running to short distances like that due to a gimpy left knee.

September 24, 2013 5:45 am

I used to get quite bad asthma especially during the pollen season. Some 15 years ago I had to go into hospital and I went into surgery clutching my inhaler.
From that day to this I have never had asthma. I believe it was the anaesthetic purging my lungs but no Doctor has ever been interested in following up on why this should be.

September 24, 2013 5:49 am

I think Willis has posted here about some of his difficulties as well.

September 24, 2013 6:00 am

I’ve done some serious climbing (8000 meters) and at altitude, breathing right is important. One of the things we were talk is how to breath out; sounds simple, but we were taught, when you get to what you think is the natural end of the out breath, to purse your lips and breath out some more. (Try it, it works). That increased the volume of new air that would come in with the next in breath. That technique may not work with swimming, but it works when climbing.

September 24, 2013 6:07 am

(Posted before I saw the post from Genghis, looks like we received the same advice)

David L.
September 24, 2013 6:32 am

Thanks for this tip! I’ve been mountain biking a lot lately and I’ve hit a wall. I haven’t improved for the past few hundred miles of cycling. This discussion of breathing makes perfect sense and I’m trying it this evening after work on my toughest route!

Ian E
September 24, 2013 6:42 am

Leonardo Eschenbach shows the way!

September 24, 2013 6:54 am

Wow. Love running, love swimming, HATE panting. Sharing this with the wifey immediately. Thanks!

Gene Selkov
September 24, 2013 6:57 am

Petrossa says:
> I use that technique for years now to fall asleep. Inhale, exhale till there’s nothing left anymore and then exhale some more in a steady rhythm. Soon you’ll start to feel relaxed and doze off.
I suspect it is not quite the technique Willis and others describe, or maybe it is, if you discount the fact that you’re not doing any work when you put yourself to sleep that way. You relax and doze off because hyperventilation induces a short-term hypoxia. You could as well hold your breath to achieve the same effect, except holding your breath is not comfortable, while hyperventilating does not feel wrong in any way. Note that in this case the manner in which you inhale and exhale does not matter; all that matters is that you breathe more than you need at the moment.
Next time you want to do it, try panting — the result will be the same, and you may even arrive at it it sooner.

September 24, 2013 7:08 am

“we only ever see that high a score on twenty-year-old guys who are firefighters or cops or bodybuilders.”
I’ll put up some 40 year old cross country skiers, runners. and cyclists against cops and bodybuilders on a treadmill test any day. “the gym” is a lousy place to gain aerobic fitness.

Mike H
September 24, 2013 7:13 am

Sure . . . We all know it was roids!! ;>)

September 24, 2013 7:20 am

I’ve read where emphysema starts at the bottom of the lungs and works its way up–the explanation being the lower lungs aren’t emptied as well as they should be.
It appears Willis has hit upon a solution that could prevent development of emphysema and provide better lung function, hence better health.
I’ll have to get my choir members to breath out more so they can handle those long phrases that don’t have obvious breathing breaks–this could be the solution I’ve been looking for.
This should also be beneficial to those of us working in a sedentary position all day long and have difficulty emptying our “wind bags”.
Thanks, Willis.

September 24, 2013 7:45 am

I’m sorry if I’m a bit doubtful of your “health score” comparing it to that of firefighters and such.
I know how the stress test is performed where I come from and it starts with a walk on a treadmill and it’s like this:
Wearing full firefighters garment including helmet and breathing apparatus on your back (or a weighted vest), a total weight of extra weight approx. to 24 kg’s you then consecutively:
1 min. of walkin at a 2.5 degrees incline at 4.5km/h
1 min. walking at a 4.5 degrees incline at 4.5km/h
6 min. walking at a 8.5 degree incline at 6.0 km/h
During this walk your pulse is never to go above a maximum pulse of (210-(age x 0.5))
W.E. being 63 years old that would give him a max bpm rate of 178.5

September 24, 2013 7:49 am

I’ve read that breathing deeply into and out of the full lung, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This calms the body and allows it to function efficiently. It is the way an athlete gets in the “zone”. It is also the way a yogi enters a deep meditative state. I shouldn’t say “the way”, but neither can happen without proper breathing.
Breathing shallow, or panting, stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. This is essentially our flight or fight mechanism. It causes the body to be flooded with adrenalin, which causes shortness of breath and short-lived bursts of energy. Then the body has to break down the adrenalin and you get all kinds of free radicals floating around in your body.
Summarized from Douillard’s Body, Mind and Sport.

September 24, 2013 8:04 am

Maybe off topic(and relating to something written by author in another article) ,but,exhaling a little more is kinda like an “overshoot”.My favorite Phase Diagram also has some “overshoot”.
There’s a little “overshoot”below 0°C and at high pressure both in vapor and liquid.
Sorry for cross-threading.But exhaling more just made me think of “overshooting” some set limits.
Thanks for the interesting articles and comments.

Yancey Ward
September 24, 2013 8:06 am

As a later in life distance runner (10K and above), I learned this trick by trial and error. Much more efficient were longer but deeper breaths both in and out. Whenever during a run I would start to feel even a little short of breath, I could exaggerate this breathing pattern and feel an almost instant energy boost.

Alan Robertson
September 24, 2013 8:07 am

Thanks Willis- this comes under the heading of “need to know” and thanks to everyone else for adding your own knowledge about this. Why doesn’t anyone ever tell us this stuff?
(I know, you just did, but out there in the world, who even mentions this?)

September 24, 2013 8:21 am

Back in 1948/9 my father was posted to the Royal Artillery barracks at Tampin, Malaya. I had to attend the primary school there and we used to have a regular PT session with one of the army instructors. He used to insist, after each round of exercises, that we stand at ease, arms behind our backs and head up, then breath in through your nose and out through your mouth — hooaoorrr… we would repeat this three or four times before going on to the next exercise. Us kids just thought it was funny. Only now I realise what was going on. I owe that instructor.

John Blake
September 24, 2013 8:31 am

Age 73– triple bypass, injurious lower back, yet over 21 years from 1993 I’ve walked close to a Magellan Moment of 25,115 miles– Planet Earth’s circumference as determined by Eratosthenes of Cyrene c. BC 245 (actual diameter is 24,901 miles, so the Master was off .859%).
Never heard this “breathing out” advice… thank you, good Sir Willis, on behalf of Eratosthenes. On reaching Magellan’s navigational terminus next April, we shall heft a vintage flagon of Falernian to your own extreme good health.

Steve Keohane
September 24, 2013 8:46 am

Good topic Willis. Many interesting comments of the discovery process wrt breath. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Pranyama yoga, a branch of practice devoted to breath. It has enriched my life for nearly 50 years.

September 24, 2013 8:48 am

This is why the military forces students at basic training, etc. to sing jodies. The length of the repeated lines prevents them from panting and extends their out breath.

September 24, 2013 8:51 am

“pokerguy says: September 24, 2013 at 4:44 am

@ Janice M” ….it was, once again, about how wonderful you are at something.”

My thoughts exactly. Was there ever any doubt? You’re a smart guy Willis, but your ego is like a ravenous animal, always in need of feeding.”

You’re fixating on the story, not the message. Willis is sharing a tip.
Years and years ago I learned that if I forced a stifled yawn, my eyes would water a bit and then I could focus the tears to see the blackboard clearly. After testing the concept for a week I mentioned it to my mother; I also mentioned that I wasn’t going to tell anyone else as such an easy thing couldn’t be truly secret and no one had shared it with me…
Two days later I was pulled out of school to visit with the ophthalmologist.
To add a bit of aggravation to the humor, before my glasses came in the school had their yearly eye screenings; only with a new optometrist who rearranged the test room.
Attending a parochial school one quickly learns that failing or doing poorly on tests is bad, very bad. Nuns seem to take it personally when a child fails a test. Every year when we filed into the test room, five at a time, we sat in chairs near the door and conveniently near the test chart. I’d promptly memorize the chart and then pass the test.
Only with the rearranged room we sat at the other end of the room, no chance to memorize anything. I failed that test miserably, with the new eye tech checking last years results and then testing me again. I’m dead I thought.
Several hours later right on cue the room speaker rumbled to life and I was called to Mother Superior’s office.
As it turned out,, they had already called my mother and found out about my visit to the eye Doc. Their reason for calling me to the office was to grill me about how I had managed to pass the vision screen for so many years with 20/200 vision (I could see at 20 feet (6.6m) what other people could see at 200 feet (66.6m).
I kept waiting for the physical incentives to tell all, usually rulers, pointers, belts or flat hands; but for some reason this visit to Mother Superior’s office didn’t come with a skin stinging rebuke (one of only three such visits to Mother Superior during grade school; this was seventh grade).
They did change the vision screen test with the chart covered and only one student at a time in the test room for eighth grade (last year in grade school).
Thank you for the tip Willis! I plan to try it when I’m next above 10,000 feet (3333.3m) altitude.

September 24, 2013 9:16 am

Pursing your lips & purging your lungs through long exhaling is an element of wind instrument playing. You have to increase your lung capacity in this way, plus breathe from the diaphragm. The difference is that you also have to inhale deeply to fill the volume thus created, turning your lungs into the biological equivalent of bagpipe bags.

UK Marcus
September 24, 2013 9:24 am

Many thanks, Willis.
As many others here have already noted, why is this technique not taught in school? Surely ignorance is no longer an adequate explanation, now that you have explained it so eloquently.

Gene Selkov
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
September 24, 2013 10:40 am

Willis says:
> I live in a funny kind of manner. For example, when I make money, I like to arrange it so that other people make money too.
This strikes me as a very rational way of doing things, but it is so rare that I’m always in awe when I see it happen. This is a good occasion to share one of such awesome examples that I was lucky to observe.
I used to visit a friend who kept some chickens on his farm. He fed them with grain stored in a 3-litre glass jar. He would often forget to replace the lid, and the grain would be assaulted from the air by sparrows. That did not seem to be a problem because the neck of the jar was only wide enough to allow one sparrow to feed at any time, so they could only feed in turns. Because they spent more time fighting for access than feeding, they didn’t exactly ravage the grain store and their constant fighting was king of amusing, so the jar was often left open.
It went on like that for years, but one day, in a sort of “emergent phenomenon” (wink, wink), things have changed forever. I was right there to witness the change. One of the sparrows, as soon as he won his turn in the jar, began throwing the grain out by batting his wings against it. Within seconds, the ground within several feet from the jar was strewn with grain and the fighting among sparrows ceased. The one-sparrow-at a time bottleneck disappeared and the inventor of the new method of feeding gained uncontested access to an infinite supply of grain, at a negligible cost of batting his wings once in a while.

September 24, 2013 11:13 am

Love your posts, Willis. Your insights, wealth of experience and good writing are greatly appreciated. My take is you have a normal, healthy amount of ego. If lesser beings feel inadequate that’s their problem! I’ve been doing Tabata Protocol for several years after learning it is the most effective form of exercise. Most will not do it because it is agony…four minutes in the red zone. Now I wonder if it’s effectiveness is at least partly due to forced deep breathing.

Peter Chapman
September 24, 2013 11:25 am

When I was a teenager I would go to the local swimming baths with friends. They would swim a mile for fun but I could only do two lengths before running seriously out of breath. Roll on to my early forties and I started swimming lessons at the local baths. I started in beginners but very soon I was pushed up to intermediate. The very fierce lady who coached the intermediates always started by making us do twenty lengths. I pleaded with her that I couldn’t do twenty but she wouldn’t listen. So mainly out of fear I swam twenty lengths. After about four lengths I felt awful and really didn’t think I could carry on. But at about six lengths I felt great and could have carried on all night. I have no idea why this was.
About the same time a girl aged about ten or eleven knocked on my front door and asked me to sponsor her for a swimathon. I asked her what was the maximum number of lengths she could swim and she said about ten. I noticed that others had sponsored her for fixed amounts – independent of how many lengths. I decided to sponsor her for £1 per length. A few days later she came back and told me she had completed seventy two lengths.

September 24, 2013 11:25 am

I ran cross country and track all four years of high school, ’64 to ’68. I always had good wind and endurance. Now I am thinking of running again. I quit tobacco 3.5 years ago at age 60. I shall have to pay attention to the technique you describe, thanks.

Steve in SC
September 24, 2013 11:38 am

That is Tai Chi breathing technique.
Not the prevalent Hollywood Tai Chi, but the real Chinese Tai Chi.
It works doesn’t it.

Janice Moore
September 24, 2013 11:46 am

Dear Mr. Eschenbach,
I tried your technique while I sang this morning. I’ll have to work on it. It MIGHT have helped. I’m grateful for the idea. Laugh out loud, though, it is only useful for taking a breath at the beginning of a song or during a long enough rest. It just takes too long to push out the bad air and take a big breath. Have to use “catch” breaths, else, the conductor will frown. Conductor: Ahem! Ms. Moore, hm. Haydn was, indeed, a thoughtful fellow, but, all those thoughtful pauses to reflect that you are putting into this piece ARE RUINING THE MUSIC!
I’m going to try it when jogging to see if I can increase my pace.
Your mischaracterizing my comment about your talking about yourself shows, assuming your mischaracterization was not intentional, that I need to clarify what I meant. AS IF I wanted you to write about me, lol. That you happened to be praising your own abilities had nothing to do with it; it is simply this: you talk about yourself all the time. Your fans love it. That’s great. If getting your ego stroked is what your posts on WUWT are mainly about, go for it. Apparently, you need it. I don’t have to read your posts. It was my fault for giving you another try. You will, I think, never change — and many above would say, “And that’s fine with us.”
Thanks for sharing some useful information. Much appreciated.
Going my way having learned a lesson about human nature,
P.S. THANK YOU Poker Guy for the affirmation.

September 24, 2013 11:55 am

Willis Eschenbach says:
September 24, 2013 at 9:46 am
pokerguy says:
September 24, 2013 at 4:44 am
@ Janice M
and that is the key to the tale.

Steve T
September 24, 2013 12:08 pm

I understand that without a CO2 level of around 5% in you’re lungs the oxygen which combines with the haemoglobin travels round the body and isn’t released where it is needed. This means you try to breathe more (oxygen) exacerbating the problem. During exercise, maybe this works by re-balancing these levels (you’re creating more CO2), I’m not sure it would work so well when not exercising. It is the cornerstone of the Buteyko method for helping asthmatics and others with breathing problems in ordinary situations. I use it Buteyko) to eliminate wheezing before going to sleep when necessary.
Maybe when the lungs first evolved this was the level of CO2 in the air – who knows, as long as it works.

September 24, 2013 12:12 pm

I’m a 55 year old chorister and tenor soloist and sometimes note shortness of breath and will certainly give this a good try. Thanks

Navy Bob
September 24, 2013 12:14 pm

Willis – Were you ever in Aklakou, Togo, by any chance? About 5 mi. north of the beach and 5 mi from the Benin border? Very strange voodoo happenings there.

September 24, 2013 12:24 pm

Call me skeptical (what am I doing on this website!). I’ve run 48 marathons, hundreds of shorter races and some longer ones, coached track and field, cross country, and cross country skiing for 30 years- and at age 73 still compete in my age group nationally at a high level. Most serious aerobic athletes and almost all coaches have tried every sort of breathing technique, diet, cross training, etc. that has ever been imagined. I think Willis’ life included a lot of hard physical work, and nature endowed him not only with a superior mind, but a superior body. That’s my tentative explanation. However, I plan to test his emphasis on exhalation when I work out next. Respiration is controlled partly by the amount of CO2 in the lungs, and some people may have been coached or self-taught to breath inefficiently or run inefficiently. I have found that with just a small percentage of those I have coached. I have also learned that the more running you do, the more your own running and breathing style becomes optimal for your own anatomy and physiology. Sorry, nothing more now. I need to run.

Tom J
September 24, 2013 1:01 pm

I wish I had read this and commented on it earlier. The post by Mr. Eschenbach presents a wonderful breathing technique. In 2003 when I was tested for lung function in one key measurement I exhibited 32%. Currently I test out at about 15%. I use oxygen 24/7 yet I can go up a flight of stairs without it (which I do when I’m doing laundry in the basement). The reason is partly because of the technique Willis Eschenbach describes. It’s a technique that can be used with Yoga, is good for relaxation, and can quell hyperventilation that occurs in panic situations. May I recommend doing it with an inhale through the nose (a very useful organ for lung preservation) and the extended exhale through the mouth.

Tom J
September 24, 2013 1:25 pm

Doug Allen
September 24, 2013 at 12:24 pm
‘Call me skeptical (what am I doing on this website!).’
I must respectfully disagree. What Willis Eschenbach describes is scientifically valid and a slightly more involved version is routinely taught by respiratory therapists in pulmonary rehabilitation. It’s referred to as, pursed lip diaphragmatic breathing.
You are right, however, in that there is no exercise to improve lung function. Lungs are not muscles. Exercise capacity is improved, not through increases in lung function, but in muscle tone in the overall body. A well toned muscle can do more work with less oxygen.
Lungs are not balloons, so this analogy is not 100% accurate, but consider lungs as being able to deflate like a balloon. We use our diaphragm and inspiratory muscles to expand our chests and create a void that exterior air pressure rushes in to fill. The elasticity of the lungs makes them deflate on their own. The technique Willis Eschenbach describes encourages complete deflation which purges the spent air in preparation for the next breath.
It’s a wonderful technique really. It can actually be life changing.

Poems of Our Climate
September 24, 2013 1:27 pm

This is really interesting, Willis. I’ve been having trouble with my lungs as of recent, the doc says asthma. I don’t think I get enough oxygen, got white hair starting at twenty, attributed to lungs in traditional medicine. I played the trumpet and sang opera, so I used to have to out-breathe to the max, far beyond what a person would ever imagine possible, and that got me by in the past. . What you say is most timely because I’m not exercising and my lungs are not functioning right, no more trumpet and opera singing.
I’m trying your suggested experiment (without exertion though) and feel better already, more oxygenated I believe. I’m a yogi too and use breathing techniques, but it’s odd that I have never come across this simple instruction! I’m off to to move a cord of wood and see if it helps me to not be dizzy from the exertion.
Thank you for kindly sharing this technique. STT/Poems

September 24, 2013 1:56 pm

Thanks for the advice. I did my usual treadmill workout this morning using your breathing technique. It worked like a jewel. I was able to do twice the sprints that I normally do and without the chest and out of breath issues that I usually encounter. I also felt more refreshed than normal upon completion. It has made my day and hopefully given me a boost with my athletic endeavors. I’m 54 and in good health, but have always struggled with anything requiring long endurance. Now if only you can help me pick up another 40 yards with my driver!!

September 24, 2013 2:04 pm

I am left speechless, and breathless as well.

September 24, 2013 2:21 pm

wsbriggs says:
“… I was looking for training aids and I came upon an English (there’s a thread somewhere here) device that improves your exhaling by putting an adjustable rubber valve in the exhaust passage. You can freely breath in, but you have to force the air out. After 10 minutes using it the first day, the next day my chest muscles hurt, muscles you mostly don’t use a lot.”
Did a search for such a device. Many to choose from. Ultrabreathe is the least expensive I found. You can make one from an inline garden hose valve and a snorkel mouth piece for much less, however. Already ordered a mouth piece.

September 24, 2013 2:28 pm

I had managed to work out a breathing pattern over the years doing aerobics. Started with 4 counts in and 4 out and shortened as I got tired and toward the end of the workout. Never thought about asymmetric out breathing. Great technique and suggestion to play with. Many thanks from one Odeshe to another.

gary turner
September 24, 2013 2:29 pm

Doug says:
September 24, 2013 at 7:08 am
You might want to dial that back a bit. Tests done at UCLA (sorry, I don’t have the ref., it’s been 30yrs or so), showed that competitive power lifters, weight lifters and body builders all had greater absolute O₂ uptake and greater blood flow volume per stroke (or whatever each heartbeat is called) than all of the elite class distance runners in the tests. Fredeick Hatfield, PhD. defines fitness as the ability to do work, and that the relative measure of fitness as O₂ uptake / kG body weight does not properly tell the story.
Another commenter, SanityP, illustrated Dr Hatfield’s definition of fitness; doing work. Hatfield compared a marathoner and a bodybuilder working in a bar. Before opening, all the empty kegs had to be carried downstairs to the cellar, and full kegs (~150# each) carried back up. Who is the fitter?

September 24, 2013 2:29 pm

Willis, perhaps you cannot please all of the people all of the time, but you certainly please a large proportion, self included. Thank you for that. I must try it also.
Many years ago when I was a student, I had arranged to visit my favorite uncle, whom I’d not seen for many years. He had moved to Norway when I was a very young child, and being of meager means, seldom made the trip home. So, doing the obligatory student Inter-rail trip, I turned up on his doorstep with not one, but two friends. I knew this would be no problem and it wasn’t. He whipped up a vegetable curry in short order and sat down to hear our travel stories. We had a floor to sleep on for a few nights, and a ready-made guide to one of Europe’s most expensive capitals.
He had arrived in Norway when not much older than we were, to indulge his passion for mountaineering. As he fell in love with the country and decided to stay on, he slept on floors and accepted hospitality from friends and strangers, until he found his feet. Most expected no payment and had no need of it anyway, and from some he had gained far more than he could repay anyway. From that time, his philosophy has been that you can’t always repay hospitality, or a good deed, but you can pass it on. And you have.

Phil C
September 24, 2013 2:37 pm

It’s fun to do this stuff. Willis always has great posts, almost never anything expected and told in a very conversational way.
I started having asthma in high school. A bit of a drag since the school I went to required everybody to do some kind of sport. The only guy who got out was my friend Tom, a budding concert pianist. He spent 3 or more hours a day practicing and still had nearly a perfect g.p.a. So I chose soccer in the spring. None of the other guys were really athletic either, so half the time I ended up running the ball down myself, hoping someone would be there to pass it off to, then running back trying to defend. After the second time I’d drop to a knee and spend a minute mostly breathing out. An asthmatic learns that breathing out is the best way to give some room to breath in. Took until after college before the asthma started to clear up, but I still do a lot of lung clearing before any excercise and finish every breath with a final bit of exhale.
and Sanity P, I think heart rate may be more personal that the equation. In my 40’s I’d do interval training doing half a mile at 180bpm with relaxations down to 150-160 for half a mile, for 45 min. Now, 20 years later, it simply won’t go above 140 or so. But then I’m not as fast anyway. Too many foot problems, Cycling is easier.
Peter Chapman- the effect you mentioned I call the warm up effect. It takes the body about 20 min. or so of exercise to burn up most of the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles and start to burn fat. When that happens you get and endless supply(sort of) since we almost all are overweight. (read about this in Scientific American, when it was still a science magazine).
Phil C

Gene Selkov
Reply to  Phil C
September 24, 2013 3:12 pm

Phil C says:
> It takes the body about 20 min. or so of exercise to burn up most of the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles and start to burn fat.
It is incorrect to name a particular fixed length of time that is required to spend a resource of a cyclic nature. You are not entirely wrong when you say so, but an analogy with a broken clock that shows the correct time twice a day comes to mind.
The amount of glycogen in the liver and muscles varies with the time of the day, or more precisely, with the phase of your sleep-wake cycle (which is not necessarily in sync with daylight). So burning it up may take anywhere form zero minutes to many hours.

Yancey Ward
September 24, 2013 3:16 pm

Agimarc reminded me of another variation I have used in running. For most of my runs, it is long slow intakes/outbreaths, but as I do tire near the end, I often find staccato breathing helps, and I usually find myself breathing on the strides- in, in, in, then out, out, out with short pauses. I don’t know why it works for me, but it does. And if I am in a race where I am pushing the pace harder than I normally would, I will usually use the staccato method the entire run.

September 24, 2013 3:27 pm

Interesting stuff.
But there is a lot more to fitness than breathing. I’d put forward the case that as a builder Willis is used to hard physical work and at pacing himself to get a job done.
All the breathing in the world won’t help once you hit that wall … I know … I was a skinny farm kid, spent a lot of my early years outworking, not outlifting, bg muscley guys on building sites. I heard later on one job someone had said, “That new guy shovelling there is going like the clappers, he’ll be quitting by lunchtime”. That day I didn’t slow down and finished at 10PM and was still on that job site until it finished.
Now, after years of desks, computers and planes, can’t run up the stairs.
I very much like Willis’ “I’ve won!” comment above.

September 24, 2013 4:43 pm

Thanks again willis and all bloggers here, you are all amazing.
My breathing problem (had operation could not work for 2weeks), read Christopher Bookers book on agw
Which led me here which of course you all made me a denier Thanks

Tim OBrien
September 24, 2013 4:45 pm

Willis, I think you’ve got part of it. When my doctors and cardiologist were surprised at my stress-test results even though I also don’t do a regimented exercise, I told them my solution: I play saxophone. What does that entail? Lots of long, sustained breathing under pressure while pumping a lot of oxygen through my system. I told my cardiologist he should recommend to his patients that they take up playing a horn.

Tom in Florida
September 24, 2013 5:15 pm

As a former runner of mid distance,( knees finally went out), I discovered that I was a left footed runner. That is, my rhythm was to do all my breathing in and out as the left foot hit the ground. For some reason when I did that using my right foot if seemed harder. It was always let the air come in naturally in two short quick and shallow intakes starting on the left foot and one long forceful exhale again starting on the left foot. Once you get the rhythm you just zone out and before you know it you are where you want to be.

Milan Salek
September 24, 2013 10:32 pm

Hi Willis, thank you for this contribution and of course for the others, too. I am an occasianal recreational runner and I have tested to outbreath more deeply (and a little more “forcingly”, which may caused an impression for the other runners that I was a steam engine :-)) just at my last run according to your suggestion. I was totally amazed how it worked! It improved my performance considerably, I was not short of breath where (and when) I used to. Thanks!

September 25, 2013 2:14 am

Well, I think TANSTAAFL applies here as everywhere, but your advice is very good. I used to be a runner in my youth and started running again 3 years ago after almost 2 decades “on the couch”, and I can confirm that it helps a lot to be aware that you exhale properly (and that you use your stomach to exhale!). If I get a side sting while running, it almost always go away quickly if I start concentrating on a long exhale – quick inhale rhythm.

4 eyes
September 25, 2013 4:15 am

I breathe out as much as I can to control pain – it works a treat.

September 25, 2013 5:37 am

A great bonus to the normal high-quality WUWT articles.
My wife and I recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary by running our 100th marathon together. Actually, we started together. She has thumped me in every one, mainly because I quickly become winded and end up using a Galloway run/walk approach. She came back for me in our 100th, so we could cross the finish line together.
In two weeks, we will be running the Twin Cities Marathon. I will begin using your technique immediately, and maybe, just maybe, we can legitimately cross the finish line together – I know better than to pass her up.

September 25, 2013 7:26 am

This kept me alive during a 90% asthma attack/blocked lung situation.
Getting oxygen isn’t a problem, dumping the carbon dioxide so you can GET the oxygen is the problem.
Add to that extra long out-breath a momentary chest compression on closure of the airway after inhale and you gain a touch extra as well. Not as much as another second of dump…
And I’ll add to this knowledge: Lean forward when exercising. A 20° forward angle, the angle you eat a real Philly or instinctually vomit at – is the angle of the dangle of your lungs, it keeps your heart from whapping against your spine.

September 25, 2013 8:31 am

Willis Eschenbach says:
September 24, 2013 at 9:46 am
“About thirty years ago, I was working in Africa. I was walking down a dusty street in a village in the hinterlands of Togo, and looking around, I suddenly realized, “I’ve won.”
It was somewhat of a shock to me, but there it was. I had everything that the people passing me by ever dreamed of having. I had achieved everything that they ever wanted to achieve.
I had money in the bank. I had a job. I had friends. I had my health. I owned my own house, more of a shack to be sure but my own. I had my education. I had electric power and clean running water and a septic system, and that alone most of them would never have. I had a wife and family who I was very close with. I had a car, and a truck, and a boat. I lived in a free country. In short, I had achieved every single goal that every person within eyesight would have ever dreamed of in their wildest dreams. ”
Willis…at the risk of being totally non-PC might I suggest that you have two other lucky attributes…you’re male and white! Unfortunately in most cultures being either of those things can still be a huge disadvantage in life. The world is not perfect but I do think that things are (all too) slowly improving in this respect.
Alastair in NZ

September 25, 2013 9:37 am

Great post, Willis.
As a physical chemist i can understand exactly how and why this works. Respiration is a diffusion-controlled process. The O2 in the air you inhale and the CO2 in your blood diffuse through the lung membrane from high concentration to low. Since they are gases, pressure can affect this process. The CO2 leaves your blood faster when the pressure in your lungs is lower, and the O2 enters your blood faster when the pressure in your lungs is higher.
This part may seem counter-intuitive, but the pressure inside your lungs is higher when you exhale than when you inhale. The pressure difference between the inside of your lungs and the outside drives the air in or out. The pressure difference speeds up the CO2 leaving your blood when you inhale, and speeds up the O2 entering your blood when you exhale.
By prolonging the exhalation from 50% of your time (2 steps breathing in & 2 steps breathing out) to 67% of your time (2 steps breathing in & 4 steps breathing out), you ‘push’ about 33% more O2 into your blood. You may build up CO2 a little bit more, but at the concentrations found in the blood normally, CO2 is not toxic. Besides, the difference in CO2 partial pressure (which actually drives the diffusion) between your blood and the air is great enough that the CO2 diffuses rather quickly. It is also helpful to this process that although hemoglobin has an affinity for O2 (helping the O2 enter the blood), there is nothing in the blood with an affinity for CO2 to keep it from leaving.
Just thought you might want to know…

September 25, 2013 11:58 am

Awesome. Just returned back from 15km run. My breathing frequency went down by 25-30% only by forcibly squeezing the lungs against the diaphragm. I was now able to do 3 steps-exhale, 2,5 steps-inhale instead of 1,5/2 at comfortable pace 5:00/km. Just concentrate on breathing and it runs by itself. Thanks a lot Willis! Simple, but great advice.

September 25, 2013 1:48 pm

Willis, I tried your idea this morning at Crossfit and was the first one to finish the Workout of the Day, WOD! Normally I’m struggling to keep up. Thanks!

September 25, 2013 2:49 pm

Alastair Brickell says:
September 25, 2013 at 8:31 am
Sorry, bit of a late night typo there…meant to say:
Willis…at the risk of being totally non-PC might I suggest that you have two other lucky attributes…you’re male and white! Unfortunately in most cultures being either of those things can still be a huge advantage (not “DISadvantage” as per my original post) in life. The world is not perfect but I do think that things are (all too) slowly improving in this respect.
Alastair in NZ

September 26, 2013 12:10 am

Hi Willis – I started this straight away. Not running, just normal breathing, and was surprised to find that extending that out breath became automatic by the very next day. I made a dash-run to the gate that morning and got there without panting (okay, admittedly not far, but it is a country block and normally I can’t run anywhere!). Greg, my husband, began doing it too and finds a great improvement.
You may well have lengthened a few lives here, Willis, because I can’t but help think that properly clearing the lungs helps clear the body and is beneficial on a whole range of levels.
This is from someone who not only practiced martial arts, but taught it. I also – for some years – performed three hours of aerobics every morning (from 4:00 am to 7:00) 6 days a week – alas not now. I knew about warm ups and cool downs, and breathing – but never that little bit extra that you explained so well. The most important bit of all, it turns out!
What you have passed on to us is seriously, seriously appreciated in this household. May God – or the Universe – bless you. Thank you so very much.

September 26, 2013 1:43 am

Seems to work.

Tony Mach
September 26, 2013 3:12 am

Actually we were told (more or less) this by a sport teacher when I was at school – didn’t help me much, I didn’t notice any positive effect. I always had to force myself to do physical exercise (and even things I liked, e.g. driving a bike). So go ahead, call me names if you want.

September 26, 2013 7:10 pm

I tried this technique during my runs yesterday and today, but didn’t notice much difference. My runs were slightly over 7 miles. Jury’s still out for me.
I noticed one web site, which talks about the breathing problems people have when climbing above tree line on Pike’s Peaks, recommendsw breathing out longer, to help catch one’s breath.

September 27, 2013 4:33 pm

Willis said..
“So for example, if I was running, I was in the habit of breathing in for two steps and out for two steps. When I started running out of breath, I needed to lengthen my out-breath to three steps … and then if that wasn’t enough, lengthen the out-breath to four steps, and so on.”
Probably too late to catch you Willis, but do you also increase the count for the in breath as you increase the count for the out breath, or does the in breath remain at two steps?

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
September 27, 2013 8:30 pm

Got it, thanks Willis.

September 28, 2013 6:14 am

Thanks for sharing, Willis, a very valuable insight. It’s explained to me why I am able in my fifties to outfperform my reasonably fit twenty year old daughter on cycle rides.
I had adapted my breathing to that learnt from kettlebell classes ie breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
After reading your article I’ve further adjusted my breathing to that extra beat out, with improved results – so a big THANKYOU – I can now pass this on to my daughter….

September 28, 2013 10:27 am

I tried this right after it was posted. If I had a nickel for every new miracle fitness tip that turns out to be nonsense…. so I was very skeptical.
I tried it on the treadmill doing my regular 40 minute run and later during my 10 minute warm-down on the exercise bike.
Absolutely NO discernible difference whatsoever!
I always suspect nature has designed us to be pretty much optimally efficient by instinct. Evolution would be doing a pretty lame job if we could massively increase our stamina by doing something other than what feels natural.
So. I suspected this would be yet another bogus miracle tip and indeed it was.

Gene Selkov
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
September 28, 2013 3:09 pm

I suspect many of us, like myself, are still testing and gathering data. I can tell you off-hand I did get a sense that there might be something to it, but I have so far been unable to make even a rough approximation to a controlled experiment to confirm it. I do intend to go somewhere quiet where I can repeat the same ride multiple times and measure things.
My first impressions are:
* It does seem like I can climb the same hill with less effort if I exhale more
* It does seem like I can regain my ability to cruise sooner after having climbed that hill
* The process feels so unnatural that I have to exert considerable effort to keep breathing that way, and my perception of an easier climb can be an artefact of distraction. It could also be due to a slow-down. I did not time those climbs (but am going to).
* It makes me yawn during the climb and several more minutes following it. Yawning affects speed.
* Today I had a 20-mile ride with steep hills and it felt easier than I would expect a ride like that to feel, but it was complicated by two factors. I had a headache that did not let me press hard and I had to dismount and walk a couple times. Besides, I was on a new bike that I had just finished building for myself, and it is the most comfortable bike I ever had. Things vary beyond control here, and I need a dedicated experiment to sort them out.

Poems of Our Climate
September 29, 2013 5:23 pm

Hey WIllis,
So far this technique did work well, at least at first. I was more oxygenized and felt better overall, stronger. Then my breathing got caught in the “out” end of the breath, between forty and 100 per cent exhale. That’s probably from lung scarring and asthma. I’m going to try some more and see if things might balance out over time and the in breath returns stronger. Again, thanks for the thoughtful suggestion. ST Triane
PS, I’ve also said here that I’m not a denier. I’m an agnostic. A science agnostic, actually

Brian H
September 30, 2013 3:36 am

My motivation and experience with my “last puff” diaphragm technique was casual cycling, which unfortunately a mild stroke a year ago has interrupted, maybe permanently (balance). It made getting uphill and resuming steady speed on the flat much easier, and more fun. And it greatly accelerates recovery after heavy lifting, etc.

September 30, 2013 4:48 am

prjindigo says:
September 25, 2013 at 7:26 am
This kept me alive during a 90% asthma attack/blocked lung situation.
Getting oxygen isn’t a problem, dumping the carbon dioxide so you can GET the oxygen is the problem.

We produce our own carbon dioxide to enable efficient oxygen transport and pH balance – around 6% carbon dioxide in each lungful of air, 4% in each exhaled breath. This apparent overproduction is no such thing, it is essential reserves to aid restoring balance, such as from physical exertion.
Hyperventilation, like in asthma or stress, is not the body unable to get enough oxygen, but insufficient carbon dioxide to move oxygen into the blood – it is the body trying to conserve carbon dioxide by stopping it being breathed out, and the remedy is the classic – breathe into a paper bag to get big hits by re-inhaling your own carbon dioxide.
This is used to help asthma patients, breathing out slowly is also slowing down the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled and so helping keep optimum carbon dioxide levels going.
“ı People who experience periodic breathing as well as apnea (cessation of breathing) during sleep benefit from higher levels of CO2. These conditions affect a lot of older people.
ı Increased levels of CO2 can improve the sleep of young people as well. One study found that healthy young men on a submarine slept well when CO2 levels rose but not as well when the levels dropped.
ı Furthermore it’s administered in the form of medical gas (1% to 10%) for many medical conditions to stimulate respiration. For example, people with asthma require from 3% to 5% for therapeutic effect.
Studies suggest that a lower level than this but somewhat higher than present atmospheric levels would prevent the attacks in the first place and prevent subclinical symptoms associated with asthma such as anxiety, insomnia, immune dysfunction and excessive sensitivity to pain. CO2 levels higher than 5 per cent are used for extreme cases such as for treating victims of asphyxiation and to stimulate breathing of newborn infants as well as speeding recovery of patients who have been anesthetized.”

Your post is timely for me Willis – I’ve just taken up gym sessions again after long period of absence…, thank you.

Gene Selkov
October 1, 2013 8:02 pm

So. There is a fine line between fishing and sitting by the river like an idiot. Same can be said about cycling around the block. I felt it pointedly, from puzzled glances and muted giggles by passers-by who happened to see me more than once as they walked up the same street.
The closest I could get to a controlled experiment, without going far out of my way, was to ride a few identical loops up and down the hill, alternating the breathing technique. This was based on the idea that if the system has memory, alternation should compensate for memory effects, at least to some extent. To minimise the effects of uncontrolled drift, I chose to ride a fairly short path (~0.9 km). Also, intuitively, it is easier to transmit a periodic signal through noise when its phase is known, so I endeavoured to run each lap in about the same time (although that didn’t quite work, the effort was worth it). Here are the results:
This graph shows the cumulative time series for elevation and heart rate under normal and deep breathing conditions. The data came from gps tracks like this:
The GPS quality was atrocious, so elevation and heart rate were the only variables I could measure somewhat reliably. My tracker combines the data from GPS and from a pressure altimeter, allowing me to average recorded profiles to something that resembles the real topography.
I’ve made six laps in the following sequence:
normal – deep – normal – deep – normal – deep
The same breathing pattern was maintained throughout each lap (even while coasting back to the starting point). I gave myself a few seconds of rest between the laps to reset and relaunch the tracker. What I tried to keep constant throughout the experiment was my perception of effort, and that was maintained by a bilaterally constrained optimisation of sorts. I am not a sports person, so I never seek to do things better than before. Instead, I maximise my sense of comfort. On the other hand, I am impatient, and that sets the lower limit on effort. I typically exert as much effort as I can without feeling uncomfortable. The result is usually on the verge; if I push a little harder, I run out of breath and / or feel muscle fatigue that makes me uncomfortable enough to I slow down or stop. I had a few short moments like that during this experiment, but their effect and duration were, I think, negligible. I was mostly in the comfort zone.
The graphs were plotted by indexing each track by relative time since the start of the lap, then merging and sorting the points from three “normal” and three “deep” laps. The scatterplots were smoothed using LOWESS with f = 1/6.
What do we see here? My earlier intuitive assessment that there was something to it still stands. I don’t see any drastic changes of the kind some people report (as an aside, how much is “drastic”?). I wouldn’t call anything I see in my results “drastic”, but maybe it’s just me. My present assessment based on the data is that there is some signal showing through noise.
In particular, I can make that statement about the heart rate. Even though the ranges of the merged sets overlap, there is a consistent difference between each pair of consecutive laps. It could be robustly detected by a ranking test.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the deep breathing technique encourages faster pumping (intuitively, I expected more oomph for each heartbeat). But that may be the consequence of my comfort-bound optimisation. I do assert that it felt a little more comfortable to be climbing in the deep-breathing mode, and the graphs seem to indicate a slightly higher rate of climb. What I did not expect at all is the higher rate of descent. I didn’t do anything riding downhill besides braking to keep the speed near what I perceived was the safe limit. I didn’t look at any instruments, so speed control, too, was solely based on my perception of comfort. I was not aware of the time either, so the shorter average round-trip time in the deep-breathing mode came as a surprise. Upon reflection, the difference in the round-trip time seems to be proportional to the difference in heart rate (indicating that energy per heartbeat may be constant or near-constant), but does that also affect the perception of speed while coasting?
Don’t quite know what to make of it yet. Maybe those of us who report drastic improvements operate near some sort of a limit? I felt I was riding near a limit, but maybe my limit is less stiff than other people’s?

October 1, 2013 8:51 pm

But – as you point out above! – certain, almost certain, very certain, or “certain of being certain” or merely “very confident of being certain”of your “drastic” (or was that “dramatic”) results? 8<)
Sorry, need to /IPCC Summary for PulseHolders mode 8<)

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