Exercise form is important for increasing your gains and protecting yourself from injury. But when’s the last time you thought about the way you hold yourself between sets?
In a recent study, scientists from Western Washington University set out to find out what works best when you’re gasping for air: standing up with your hands behind your head or bending over with your hands on your knees.
The result: Bending over Michael Jordan-style reduces your heart rate by 22 more beats per minute (BPM) than staying upright does.
So why should you care? After all, isn’t the whole point of a workout to get your heart rate up?
Recovering quickly offers a big advantage in sports and workouts, says study author Lorrie Brilla, Ph.D. If you can lower your heart rate and catch your breath in a shorter amount of time than your competition, then you can go harder, faster, and longer than him when the whistle sounds again.
Well, of course: That makes sense in a game, but when you’re training for a game? (Or to just look better!) After all, ever been told by a coach that bending over is lazy? Not true. It’s actually smart.
If you’re doing cardio or high-intensity intervals, bringing your body closer to its baseline allows you to attack the following set or sprint with just as much intensity as the one beforehand. Ultimately, “you’ll be able to perform more total work and reap a bigger benefit,” Brilla says.
According to the researchers, bending over is ideal for recovery for multiple reasons. For one, it slightly moves your body’s primary breathing muscle—the diaphragm—so you can bring more air into your lungs with each breath, says Brilla.
The position also allows your abdominal muscles to force out more carbon dioxide every time you exhale, she says. And that’s important, because CO2 is a byproduct of exercise. In order to get rid of it, your heart rate increases to pump more blood to your lungs so the gas can be replaced with oxygen. However, if you can expel a greater quantity of the gas through your breaths, your pulse will slow down faster, Brilla explains.
A slumped, hunched-over position may also relay the message to your brain that it’s time to relax, she says. This shuts off your sympathetic nervous system—the one that’s wired to make your heart beat like crazy and your adrenaline spike—and kick starts your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down your breathing and helps your body unwind.