4-WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR HIKING LUNG CAPACITY
Before I started hiking regularly, I remember being embarrassed when I would be more out of breath than my friends on the trail. Now 10 years later, I still find myself breathing heavy all of the time, but I realize how silly it was to let that bother me. It’s just a simple fact of hiking. In fact, if you are breathing hard, it means you are challenging yourself, and that is something you should be proud of.
Whether you are bagging peaks in the Rockies or taking a short day hike in your local hills, you’re bound to do a certain amount of huffing and puffing. Why? Because your body needs air and the oxygen for it to work just right. Your hiking lung capacity is a critical factor in your ability to conquer long trails or climb to high elevations. If you are a beginner, there’s no need to feel self-conscious about being out of breath, it’s a totally normal experience for both first-time and expert hikers.
So, if you ever found yourself gasping for air while on a hike and wondered if there was a better way to breathe, then the answer is yes. Improving your lung capacity for hiking is not only helpful for hiking; it’s good for your everyday activities as well.
This new blog post will help you understand and work to improve your hiking lung capacity on the trails so you can breathe more efficiently.
What is Lung Capacity?
According to the Lung Institute, lung capacity is defined as how much air (or oxygen) your body can use. Though it may seem similar it is different from lung function, which is a term used to describe how much air your body can take in and how efficiently it works. While both of these actions are important, only lung capacity can be improved, lung function cannot.
How Does Lung Capacity Work?
Simply put, your muscles need oxygen to function properly. As you breathe, your lungs work to intake oxygen and the heart pumps it out through the body to give your muscles the energy they need. This is the main reason why your heart beats faster to increase circulation and why you breathe more heavily during exercise.
Why Should You Improve Lung Capacity?
According to the National Institute of Health, “in a resting state, you breathe on average, 15 times per minute”. While exercising, like say, scrambling up a rocky trail or high alpine hiking, your breath increases to 40-60 times per minute to keep the muscles working!
With healthy lungs and good lung capacity, even when you feel “out of breath” you still have a large breathing reserve. So, that means you have more strength, energy and better functioning muscles that need less oxygen to work efficiently. How cool is that?
Four Ways to Improve Lung Capacity
Strengthen Muscles and Increase Stamina
Improving your exercise tolerance will lead to greater hiking lung capacity, stronger muscles, and better stamina so you can crush that long hike! Try to fit in workouts that combine cardio and strength-training about three times per week. This is the recommended amount of time that experts believe will bring a 5 to 15% increase in lung capacity. Plus, with stronger muscles and a higher tolerance, your body can intake oxygen more efficiently. Just remember to breathe while you’re exercising. Which leads us to the next point…
Along with your weekly workouts, set aside time to incorporate some simple and impactful breathing exercises as well. Not only can breathwork help to increase your hiking lung capacity, but it stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which brings you feelings of peace and calm. And guess what? When the body is relaxed, you breathe easier! Try these breathing exercises to stay calm, focused and energized out on the trails and in your everyday life.
- Simple Breathwork: Find a comfortable seat, either sitting upright or reclined and close your eyes. Inhale in for a count of six or seven. Hold for three seconds (as you repeat this exercise, work up to a five-second hold). Exhale all the air out slowly and with control until empty. Draw your belly in towards your spine to help exhale completely. Repeat this about eight times.
- Breath of Threes: In that same comfortable position, close your eyes and inhale fully (count to seven or eight) and hold your breath at the top. Slowly exhale for three seconds and hold. Exhale for another three seconds and hold. Finally, release all the air out until empty. Repeat about eight times.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: Find your comfortable seat and close your eyes. Cover your left nostril with one finger (ring finger works well) and inhale in for a count of six. Pinch both nostrils and hold for three seconds or longer. Cover your right nostril and exhale out for six seconds. Repeat this fives times and practice extending the length of your inhales, exhales and holds (inhale for eight, hold for five, exhale for eight, etc.). When you have finished, sit with your eyes closed and take at least three full rounds of breath, breathing as you normally and notice the difference in your mind, body, and breath. Note: This exercise is especially helpful for stress and anxiety.
Make room for your breath by doing simple stretches that release tightness in your shoulders, chest and side body. It’s always a good idea to start a yoga practice and incorporate movement with breathwork but if yoga is not for you, doing a few simple stretches will help to expand the muscles of your rib cage and diaphragm can help cultivate a greater lung capacity for hiking.
See the best yoga poses for hiking and backpacking
Consistency is key to building up more endurance and greater lung capacity on a hike. It might sound cliché but the more you get out there and hike, the better your hiking lung capacity will become. Take the practices you’ve been doing at home and apply them to real-life situations when you’re out on the trail.
Make sure to pack day hiking essentials for hitting the trail
How to Breathe at High Altitudes
On high alpine hikes, you will encounter thinner air pressure which makes it more difficult for your lungs to take in oxygen since the air pressure inside your body is higher than it is outside. I couldn’t believe the effects when I was on my Everest Basecamp Trek last year way up at 18,000 feet. Even sometimes up at Alta – just above 10,000 feet – I notice myself getting out of breath more quickly than normal.
To combat the challenges of high altitude, breathe slowly and deeply, to decrease your heart rate and help your body to take in the oxygen it needs. Try to pace your stride with the slow rhythm of your breath and if you really feel like you’re struggling for air, slow down the pace.