Welcome to the first post in the ‘Did you know?’ series
To start with I wanted to give you a bit of context into why I decided to write a series about the facts, myths and lesser-known secrets of MTB. Firstly, I’m still relatively new to the MTB scene but boy has it changed my life! Not to sound like an AA meeting but, my addiction to MTB started two years ago on a trip to the Mendips for my birthday. We went to Leigh Woods as well as Ashton Court in Bristol and my relationship with MTB has blossomed from there. Nevertheless, you would think two years in I would be pretty clued up on all that is MTB, instead, I find I keep learning new little nuggets of wisdom all the time from the friends I make out on the trails. In short, I thought I’d collate and share some of this knowledge to aid everyone with an interest in MTB.
So where to start… Probably an obvious one yet not something we consciously think of…
MTB and Breathing
Breathing is involuntary, we do it naturally and most of the time we don’t even think about it. However, under stress, our respiratory rate often increases or we hold our breath altogether. For example, you’re heading down the trail, you see something that is out of your comfort zone ahead, what do you do? Subconsciously, I can guarantee your breathing is affected. So what am I trying to say? I’m sure all of you have seen, read or listened to something on mindfulness and this often incorporates mindful breathing. I know all of us are already full of ‘heels down, head up, hips backs, arms strong’ etc etc, but indulge me for a moment. Forget all of that, I bet you’ve already got that bit dialled. Instead, focus on steadying your breathing. Slow regulated breathing will help you focus, distract your mind from the obstacle and allow you to fulfil your potential.
The nurse in me wants to dive into the science of this now but I know that’s probably extremely dull to most people so I’ll put it somewhere at the end for those that are interested! * What I really wanted to emphasize here is that yes, breathing is fundamental to life but, more specifically in relation to sport, oxygen feeds our muscles. In other words, breathing is essential to feed our bodies and allow them to perform at their very best. If you’re holding your breath for prolonged periods of time you’re depriving your body of what it needs.
Right, so I can imagine there are some of you reading this and thinking ‘I never hold my breath.’
Cool, good on ya, but do you shallow breathe in those stressful situations? Probably. I hate to disappoint you but the nurse in me would say this is still not great. We increase our respiratory rate and breathe shallowly in an attempt to increase our oxygen intake. Consequently, this reaction triggers stress responses. Agreed, this is a natural response, however, stress will inhibit your ability to perform well. Warning phase two geek initiated. Again, I’ll pop this at the end for those of you that are interested. ** So we can stop this happening through mindful breathing. In fact, it is suggested that it is the most effective way we can stop and prevent the fight or flight response.
Ok so let’s wrap this up!
When you’re out on the trails just remember to breathe. An easy method to breathe well is to inhale to 1000, 2000, 3000 and exhale to 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000. A bit much whilst you’re riding so try practising this once or twice a day and you’ll get there. Out on the trails, you will really feel the benefits. By breathing you feed your body, increase concentration and focus, steady your nerves and distract yourself from stressors. You can’t go wrong! I’m not sure if you’ve seen it but Tracey Hannah suggested singing whilst you ride. Singing will force you to breathe properly so you know what? You do you and find what works for you, 1, 2, 3, sing, sing, sing.
My final piece of wisdom
It might help if you race to use a breathing technique as a way of focusing before setting off on the start line. Often in the rush to start, you can set off unsettled and it takes a while to find your flow. By practising mindful breathing you could potentially avoid this, so why not give it a try?
If you’ve got any thoughts on this comments are gratefully received. If you have any tips you’d like to share please do. You can send me a message and I’ll include it in a future post.
Thanks for reading
* Time to indulge the inner geek in me.
Why do we breathe? Right, so we all know that we need oxygen to live, that bit is pretty simple. We breathe in air which contains oxygen and our lungs allow oxygen particles to transfer into our bloodstream. The blood is then pumped around the circulatory system by the heart to deliver oxygen to cells and maintain healthy cell life in the bodies tissues. Carbon dioxide/deoxygenated blood is returned to the lungs and exhaled as a waste product, (and some other stuff but we don’t need to talk about). So that is a massively simplified explanation and what is more amazing is that all happens in seconds and allows normal bodily function.
**Stress, fight or flight.
We’ve all experienced it nevertheless, do you know what is actually going on? So, you experience something that is stressful. Physically the body reacts by sweating, increased heart rate, fast shallow breathing, dry mouth, tensed muscles, dilated pupils, a diversion of blood to where it is needed most and the most unfortunate, a relaxed bladder and rectum. Some of the symptoms of this include sweating, blurred vision, dizziness, aching muscles, nausea and the urge to visit the bathroom. Why did I want to geek out on this? What I’m trying to highlight is the side effects of allowing stressors to take hold are counter-intuitive. The symptoms are the opposite of what we are trying to achieve whilst we ride. However, don’t panic if you do experience any of this whilst you ride. The symptoms are a little unpleasant but not harmful and can be counteracted through deep breathing.