Having your stomach expand is just about the exact opposite result you want to get from exercising. But what if we told you your workout was puffing up your belly and making you bloated? It’s not impossible, says Daniel Vigil, M.D. and health sciences associate clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles.
Basically, this is all tied to how we breathe. When a person takes a breath, the air has two paths it can travel, Vigil explains. The first is through the trachea, which goes straight to the lungs. This is the path we want our inhaled air to take.
The second route comes into play when a person is really fatigued during a workout or they are gasping for air. In this case, some of that air can go down the esophagus, which leads straight to the stomach. This essentially puts unwanted air straight into your stomach and puffs out your belly, commonly referred to as bloating, Vigil says.
Certain exercises take more of a toll on the body than others, too, according to Vigil. Bloating can be an especially common ailment in endurance sports, such as running, cycling and swimming due to the fatigue factor.
But just because you’re training for a triathlon doesn’t mean you’re definitely going to puff up. In fact, it tends to be more common among people who are less experienced with exercise and deep breathing. A person who isn’t as used to the demand of fatigue “might have difficulty coordinating the muscles of their throat and their mouth,” Vigil says.
Luckily, you can train yourself in the art of deep breathing to minimise the likelihood of bloat. The rule of thumb is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, but there are also exercises that can help. Lodro Rinzler, chief spiritual officer for MNDFL Meditation Studio in New York and the author of many books about meditation, says a good exercise to start with is to focus on taking three deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. "If you'd like, you can even count to seven on both cycles, to insure you are getting the breath you need," he says.
Equinox Precision Running coach Susan Simon says that oddly enough, we may favor one nostril over the other while exercising. "One thing to practice is closing your mouth and blocking one nostril at a time, and breathing this way for 30-90 seconds," she says. "Start small and progress to longer times as you get better at it. Then switch." This will help neutralize how much you're breathing in and out of each nostril on average and help regulate your breath.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health Mag