With a new job and a kid (!) I haven’t had much time for blogging, but I am still finding time to occasionally do WHM meditation. And, I have been doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with the punching bag in my basement and recently started experimenting with alternative breathing patterns. And it’s been wildly successful! Almost like magic, my workouts have become dramatically easier!
HIIT is Hard!
I have long been a proponent of HIIT not only for the health benefits, but also because it is more entertaining (for me) and takes less time than longer medium-intensity workouts. The health benefits are fairly well-documented — Fifteen minutes of HIIT is better than 60 minutes of jogging for burning fat and improving overall athletic performance. Metabolism stays elevated for 24 hours after a HIIT session. But you should be utterly exhausted half way through and yet push yourself even more to finish to finish the session. It’s not for everyone.
There’s lots of ways to do HIIT depending on your activity. For Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) I do 8-12 rounds of:
- 30 seconds at maximum intensity hitting the bag
- 60 seconds break
Each round is a different activity: punching, kicking, or a combination of both. I have a python text-to-speech script that does the timings with audio bells and recites the schedule for me. It also works really well with a partner, alternating for 30 sec each with 15 sec break between.
WHM Breathing For Improved Recovery Between Rounds
Have you ever spent time thinking about your breathing when you exhausted and trying to catch your breath? Your breathing becomes very fast and desperate. Almost like hyperventilation. Our bodies do this naturally to accelerate oxygen absorption to help our muscles replenish energy.
The key realization I made was that this natural breathing pattern is not optimal. The breathing I do during WHM meditation has been optimized through extensive practice and trial & error to maximize oxygen throughput. So I decided to try forcing myself to do WHM breathing during my workout.
It’s a bit uncomfortable at first, because interrupting your natural heavy breathing pattern feels like you’re doing something wrong. But you realize pretty quickly that it’s helping not hurting. I recovered between rounds so much faster, I reduced each break from 60 to 45 seconds and I still get through more rounds than before! The first time I did this I thought that maybe I was just having a good day. But I have now done it half a dozen times and every day has felt great, even with the reduced break between rounds.
Maximizing Oxygen Throughput
Wim Hof says it should take you 30-40 breaths before your fingers start tingling during the WHM meditation. When I started out, it took me 50-60. Over time I tried many different ways of breathing to bring that number down, and I eventually succeeded through practice, trying new things, and observing his videos.
The key is in the phrase he repeats constantly in all his videos “fully in, let go… fully in, let go.” This phrasing is very deliberate: on each inhale you need to really fill lungs as much as they will go without making yourself too uncomfortable. You need to actually (and deliberately) move your chest a bit in order to make extra room for air in your lungs on the inhale and I even feel a mild stretch in the lungs which is my queue to exhale. However, the exhale is a “let go” because it is unforced and you don’t even have to fully empty your lungs. For me, it’s probably 98% capacity on each inhale (fully in), and I have 15%-20% left after each exhale (let go). During meditation, I have about 2-3 seconds between the start of each inhales.
IMPORTANT: you may not be fully exhaling on each of the 30-40 breaths, but the last exhale that you retain should be a full exhale leaving as little air in your lungs as is comfortable (maybe 3-5%). (I have recently learned that the 3-5% concept is wrong: your last exhale should also be a let-go, leaving your lungs with enough air to completely relax without stress. Pushing out as much air as possible would require compressing your lungs, and constant energy to keep them compressed while you are trying to relax).
During HIIT, I have shifted my breathing to the above pattern but about 1 second between breaths. It feels like my body is telling me it’s unwise to force my breathing like this, especially because it’s a slower overall (less breaths per second). But after a couple breaths, I immediately start to feel better. Drastically better.
Your “Default” Breathing May Not be Optimal
My takeaway from all this is that (for me, at least) my naturally rapid, shallow breathing when I’m exhausted is not actually the optimal breathing for getting oxygen to my muscles. Despite breathing slower, the WHM breaths are much more effective at shoveling oxygen into my blood and recovering quicker between intense rounds. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a post-workout recovery improvement, but how much can I ask for? 🙂