Reader Questions Lungpower

Q: Dear Dr. Sears,

I’ve been trying to do P.A.C.E., but I get so winded! I can’t catch my breath fast enough and end up making myself dizzy from lack of oxygen. How can I get my lungs working better, faster?

Jayne K.

A: Dear Jayne,

First off, slow down! P.A.C.E. is a progressive challenge … not an Olympic triathlon. So don’t worry if you can only exert yourself for a few moments at a time to start with.

Ideally, you should feel somewhat winded after exertion periods, and your heart should be beating faster than normal. But you shouldn’t be exerting yourself to the point of dizziness or nausea.

The trick is to start off slowly and work your way up. Give yourself a reasonable challenge, then stop and recover. That builds back your lung power because it forces your lungs to get stronger so they can handle the next challenge.

To accomplish this – if you’re, say, pressing for a full minute at maximum exertion right now and it makes you dizzy – slow it down to a moderate exertion level. Or, you could shorten the exertion period from 60 seconds to 30 seconds. Then, make sure you are fully recovered before your next exertion.

Second, pay attention to your breathing during exercise. For optimal health, your breathing should be full and rhythmic … using your diaphragm and ribs to fill and empty the lungs.

When doing sprints, it works nicely to take a deep breath in through your nose and fully fill your diaphragm for a count of 3-4 steps. Then, exhale through your mouth during the next 3-4 steps, completely releasing all air from your lungs.

For callisthenic exertion, a good rule of thumb is to coordinate your exhaled breaths with effort. For instance, when you perform squats, the bulk of the effort is upon pushing yourself back up into standing position. So, inhale deeply and slowly on the way down, then exhale fully on the way back up. Same for push-ups. Inhale on the descent (the easy part), and exhale as you push yourself back up (the hard part).

Deep-Breathing Exercise for Stronger Lungs

If you’re not sure where your diaphragm is or how to get air into it, try this:

  1. Lie flat on your back.
  2. Place your hands flat on your stomach, just below your rib cage.
  3. Take a deep breath, pulling the air as deeply into your stomach area as you can. (If your hands rise as you breathe in, you are getting air down into your diaphragm. If your chest rises, you aren’t bringing the air in deep enough.)
  4. Exhale fully, pulling your diaphragm inward on the exhale.

This is a good exercise to help you learn how to breathe properly and also expand your lung capacity. And once you understand the concept of bringing air fully into your diaphragm, you can begin applying it to your own P.A.C.E. workouts.

And, if you want an easy to follow program that has dozens of P.A.C.E. workouts you can use, click here to try my PACE Express program. Just push play and it does the hard part for you!