Picture this: A gym-goer on the treadmill is breathing hard, maybe even grunting, as he pushes the pace, well beyond his threshold. His strained facial expression reads “this hurts,” but he’s so determined, it doesn’t matter. Another person, down the aisle on the elliptical trainer, is quietly working, too, and about to break a sweat, but nothing like the buckets coming off the treadmill guy. Her face is calm, neutral, and equally focused.
If this sounds like something you’ve witnessed or experienced—whether you’re the one on the treadmill or the elliptical—you might have wondered, is the person who’s audibly panting getting a better, more effective workout than the one who’s silently chugging along?
Noiseless exercisers can continue to breath easy: The answer is a clear-cut “no.” Recent studies in sports science reveal that labored, erratic, or rapid breathing may actually hinder your movements and even cause harm.
“A cardiovascular reflex is activated when the breathing muscles are forced to work hard during exercise that restricts blood flow to the limbs,” says Alison McConnell, Ph.D., the world’s leading expert on breath training and author of Breathe Strong. McConnell also points out that this type of breathing compromises the stabilizing muscles in the trunk, which translates to weaker limb movements. This puts you at risk for injuries, especially in high-im…