The Oxygen Advantage® program is all about athletes and all about oxygen. The more oxygen that reaches the muscles, the more energy is produced and the more speed and endurance the athlete experiences.
To improve muscle oxygenation, the Oxygen Advantage® program is divided in three steps that build on each other. The three steps are:
Step 1: Optimize Breathing Mechanics – work on the fundamentals of how we breathe
Step 2: Maximize Muscle Oxygenation – improve the ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles
Step 3: Increase Oxygen Capacity – increase the amount of oxygen flowing to the muscles
Step 2 - Maximize Muscle Oxygenation
Step 2 directly addresses the primary goals of most athletes, improved speed, endurance and enjoyment. The science of breathing tells us that peak athletic performance is a function of fully oxygenating muscle cells, which generates energy. The more oxygen that reaches the muscle cells, the more energy is produced to sustain physical exercise.
Blood transports oxygen from the lungs to muscles. Oxygen literally piggy-backs a ride on the hemoglobin molecule in the blood and jumps off when it finds a working muscle in need of oxygen.
The trick to maximizing muscle oxygenation is getting all the oxygen out of the blood and into the muscles. Releasing oxygen from the blood requires an important chemical reaction to occur that separates the oxygen from the blood. Without this chemical reaction, oxygen is not released from the blood. This chemical reaction is known as the Bohr Effect, which was documented in 1904 by a Danish scientist.
The Bohr Effect
The Bohr Effect states that adequate levels of carbon dioxide must be present in the blood to release the oxygen from the blood. Carbon dioxide dissolves into the blood and slightly changes the blood's pH. This pH change releases oxygen from the blood. The Bohr Effect also states that oxygen release is slowed or stopped if not enough carbon dioxide is present. Adequate quantities of carbon dioxide in the blood are essential for maximum muscle oxygenation.
How We Breathe Impacts The Bohr Effect
How we breathe determines how much carbon dioxide is in the body and in the blood. Large inhales of air blows off large amounts of body carbon dioxide when we exhale. Breathing big deep breathes during physical exercise, especially with the mouth wide-open, reduces blood carbon dioxide levels, which negatively impacts the release of oxygen from the blood.
Balancing The Need For Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide
The key work is getting the medulla oblongata, the breathing center in the brain, to breathe in a way that balances the athlete's need for oxygen with the athlete's need for adequate carbon dioxide. The trick is to teach the medulla that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the body is OK.
During Step 2 the athlete learns to integrate several breathing techniques into their training regiment. In a few weeks, these techniques increase the medulla's tolerance of carbon dioxide. The athlete also learns to help the medulla's long-term tolerance of carbon dioxide by controlling their breath, both volume and frequency, during physical exercise.
Getting oxygen out of the blood and into working muscles is key to muscle oxygenation, energy production and, therefore, speed and endurance. The Bohr Effect tells us we must breathe in a way that balances the body's need for oxygen with the need to retain carbon dioxide in the blood, the key agent in transferring oxygen from the blood to the muscles. Step 2 of the Oxygen Advantage® program trains the athlete and their brain's breathing center to manage breathing in a way that balances oxygen and carbon dioxide needs. How you breathe really matters.