The Bohr Effect: A Compound Love Story

The Bohr Effect is a physiological phenomenon that explains how an increased tolerance for carbon dioxide improves the body’s ability to utilize oxygen. The most critical factor that facilitates this utilization is a lower blood pH.

If that sounded cool but just flew over your head, know this: improving your tolerance for carbon dioxide is an objective metric worth exploring. In order to better understand how and why, I’d like for you to first engage with this material on a physical level. Like a 200m run buy-in into a workout, this is essential(!), but will only take a minute.

Instructions: Take a full breath in. Take a full breath out. Now, hold your breath. Look away from the screen until you feel a strong urge to breathe again.

Mmm. Air hunger…

Like periodically fasting from food can make food taste better, did your appreciation for oxygen go up after holding your breath? We’ll come back to that theme later, but here’s the deal: your desire to inhale again after a breath hold is more so attributed to your body’s inability to tolerate more carbon dioxide, as opposed to your body’s inability to tolerate less oxygen. By better understanding your tolerance (or lack thereof) for carbon dioxide, you can begin to better understand the functionality of oxygen and hemoglobin in your body.

That being said, a simple debrief on hemoglobin.

  1. Your red blood cells contain it.
  2. It’s the vehicle that transports oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.
  3. Oxygen has a high affinity to it, but must detach in order to be utilized throughout the body.

Alright, scientific jargon aside. To personalize the concept of the Bohr Effect, I want you to imagine hemoglobin & oxygen as a couple.

Hemoglobin is steady, structured, selfless. He loves Oxygen, but knows that for her to be her best self, she needs autonomy to interact with the world (body). Mind you, codependency is real here; he’s her chauffeur for life. Oxygen is more complex. Like sunshine, she has a natural charm, but is obsessed with Hemoglobin. We’re talking stage 5 clinger – always reluctant to leave his side – well, unless particular circumstances exist. These circumstances include the world getting increasingly dark (increase in carbon dioxide). In fact, the darker the world appears, the less dependent Oxygen is to her dear Hemoglobin, and the easier it is for Oxygen to leave Hemoglobin and exercise her purpose in life: share light with everything around her. 

Relationship analogy aside, the theme of leveraging intermittent absence as a way to increase appreciation is the essence of this conversation.

When you breathe in, oxygen levels increase and carbon dioxide levels decrease in your body. Your blood pH is higher, more alkaline. Conversely, when you hold your breath and/or perform work off of a breath hold, carbon dioxide levels increase and oxygen levels decrease. Here blood pH is lower, more acidic.  

Like the uncontested advantage to getting more miles per gallon of gasoline in your car, there’s nothing but upside to maximizing the oxygen from every breath that you take.


Kimmy Moss


3/2/20 WOD

Spend 15 min working on handstand skill…


Then, AMRAP 20

5 Ring Dips

10 Toes-to-Bar

15 Squats

20 American KB Swings (55/35)