Zombie breathing patterns

“Over the oxygen supply of the body, carbon dioxide spreads its protective wings.”

Johannes Friedrich Miescher, MD, 1885

Most cursorial animals rely on ‘panting’ to thermoregulate during exercise, but humans have adopted a more efficient ‘sweating strategy’. This physiological adaptation underpins the phenomenon of the ‘persistence hunt’ and the ‘endurance-running hypothesis’. Exaggerated breathing behaviour known as ‘hyperventilation’ or ‘overbreathing’ (fig 1) is a sign of physiological stress and a classic symptom of Over Training Syndrome (OTS). All aspects of OTS have biological, psychological and social influences that need to be considered, but the act of ‘breathing’ is a biomechanical behaviour that can be COACHED.


Maintaining adequate oxygen delivery to the cells is essential to human health, particularly for the brain, which requires consistent delivery of both glucose and oxygen to function properly (see zombie runners post). Numerous physiological systems are involved in supporting oxygen homeostasis, but one of the most crucial (and the most misunderstood) is the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by oxidative activity of the cells (fig 2) and maintained in extra-cellular fluid and blood. The amount of CO2 in solution in the blood (carbonic acid) influences the acidity (pH) of the blood; the pH and temperature of the blood in turn affects the affinity of haemoglobin for oxygen and it’s ability to release oxygen to tissues and cells (dissociation) (fig 3). Hyperventilating or ‘overbreathing’ reduces carbonic acid in the blood, creating a higher pH (alkalinity), increasing the affinity of haemoglobin for oxygen and reducing it’s ability to dissociate and release oxygen to the cells.




High pH increases the affinity of haemoglobin for oxygen and reduces dissociation (release to tissues)

Low temperatures have the same effect (see zombie diet post)

Hyperventilation in otherwise healthy runners is symptomatic of metabolic acidosis from prolonged fasting or low-carbohydrate dieting, OR a habitual-faulty breathing pattern due to chronic stress (sympathetic dominance) and poor biomechanics (fig 4).


BTR considers the ‘skill’ of breathing to be as important as the skill of running and is a fundamental part of the ‘Bulletproof Runner’ system.


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