You’re Not Unfit, Just Breathing Heavy

November 23, 2011


A comment that we hear frequently at the gym is “boy I must be out of shape”.  This is heard fairly often after doing sled runs, rope intervals, hill sprints or combo of 20/10 intervals


.  As I have tried to explain, it isn’t about being “out of breath” when you are finished your set of sled runs, ropes or whatever.  You should be out of breath.  If you are working at the intensity that we would like (provided it is within your training ability/capacity) then you should be breathing hard.  I want to see you standing half bent over with hands on knees catching your breath.  This is not a bad thing!

What is the determining factor of your fitness level, is how fast you recover from that output of work, not the fact that you may be out of breath immediately following an interval.

During exercise, the lungs and cardiovascular system work to delivery oxygen to the body.  The more people exercise, the more efficient this delivery system becomes and the more oxygen the body is able to use.       As you become “more fit”, your ability to delivery and utilize oxygen is improved therefore you are able to work out harder and also your endurance will improve, so your ability to work out longer will improve as well.  This is why program development (selection of exercises and combinations used) in the early stages of starting a fitness program is important.  You will have only so much tolerance for load and oxygen demands in the beginning stages.  As you become stronger and your tolerance for exercise increases, so will the program demands.


Once you develop a good base of fitness/tolerance, it is then that interval training or high intensity work will be introduced.  This interval work will require very high and intense effort for short bursts paired with an adequate recovery time.  This allows for maximum effort.  There are many different intensity intervals that can be utilized, depending on requirements (general fitness, sport specific).  The stresses put on the body during interval work requires once again an adaptation by the body to allow for the intensity of the work.  This will result in a stronger heart muscles, increased blood flow caused by increase of the capillary network and an increased ability of the body to utilize oxygen and deal with the lactates produced during maximum effort work.

When an intense circuit or sprint is performed, the body can’t supply oxygen at a fast enough rate to fuel all the muscles involved.  That is when our “anaerobic system” kicks in the provide energy to the muscle.  After the maximum effort is completed your body must repay this “oxygen debt”.  This is where the high heart rate and hard breathing comes in.  This is your body’s way of repaying the oxygen debt.  This is a simplified explanation, but it should help you understand why heavy breathing and higher than normal heart rates are experienced when doing high intense work (sleds, ropes, kettlebell swings, sprints).

This type of workout not only gives the lungs and heart a good workout, but it revs your metabolism with the benefit of more calories burned for a longer period of time after you are done exercising!


So, what can you take away from this?  Work hard – it is ok!   Preparation and progression to maximum effort workouts are mandatory – do not jump into high intense interval work with no background.  Heavy breathing and fast heart rates are ok in the right situation – embrace it – you are getting stronger and more fit!

Go for it!

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