Are You Breathing Properly During Exercise?

Breathing is one of those things that almost everyone seems to forget about, unless you're paying attention to it.

Breathing is one of the most important components when you're doing any kind of exercise. It is also one of the first things that need to be learned about when starting to exercise. Unfortunately, it's often left out of many of the trainings.

Proper breathing form is the basis for getting the mind-body connection going and deriving the most benefit from any exercise and is also a way of dealing with any pain.

As this article explains in more detail, it shows you how to breathe during various types of exercise. All you need to do is remember to remember to breathe!

2 things that will help you:

  1. Exhale With The Effort. With any 2 part movement where there is a contraction/decontraction phase, inhale when you are preparing the movement, then exhale with the effort of the movement. For example, when you are standing up from a seated position, inhale then exhale as you are standing up.
  2. Ocean Breathing. Learn this method of breathing for use in any situation. It is very calming and is helpful to stay centered.  Inhale through your nose, with your mouth closed, allowing your breath to pass over the larynx during the inhale and exhale. Imagine inhaling and exhaling air through a straw in your throat. When done properly, it feels like the air is passing directly to the throat (even though it is coming imperceptibly through the nose). “…make the sound in the back of the throat…”. It almost sounds like a whispering voice —like a heavy, contented sigh, or like a slow, controlled pant.


When people begin a fitness program, they understandably have lots of questions, from how to perform certain moves to which exercises are most effective. One question that everyone seems to ask is how to breathe properly when working out.

I know what you are thinking. “Who would need instructions on how to breathe?” Breathing doesn't take thought; it is involuntary, just like blinking your eyes. Shouldn't we stop thinking about it so and just let it happen? Yes and no. Trainers or exercise instructors regularly need to remind their clients to breathe because so many people tend to hold their breath when they work out.

But holding your breath isn't the only problem people face during exercise; their breath is often too fast, too slow, too deep or too shallow. Sometimes they even inhale and exhale at the wrong times, and while that will not make or break your workout, it can affect the exercise itself, how well you perform it, and your mind-body connection.

Breathing Basics

In our daily lives, breathing comes naturally and doesn't require any thought. We need oxygen, so we inhale, and we need to rid our bodies of carbon dioxide, so we exhale. However, few people use their lungs to their full capacity. It has been reported that at rest, people use just 10%-15% of their actual lung capacity, usually a result of quick, shallow breaths that make the chest rise and fall.

When you exercise, however, your working muscles demand greater amounts of oxygen and you create more carbon dioxide waste as a result. This results in an automatic increase in your respiration rate. But exercisers—especially new ones—shouldn't take this process for granted. Becoming more aware of your breath can help you feel more comfortable (breathing too slowly can increase your heart rate and affect your perceived intensity), prevent complications (like dizziness or faintness that can result from a lack of oxygen), and get more out of your workouts. Here's what you need to know to breathe properly during five common types of exercise.

Cardio (Aerobic) Exercise

When you are walking, running, biking, Spinning, or doing any other form of cardiovascular exercise, try to breathe deeply. Diaphragmatic breathing allows for deeper, fuller breaths and better oxygen delivery during intense exercise. Here's how to do it:

  1. Relax your abdominals slightly. Pulling them in too tightly or sucking in your stomach will limit how fully your can breathe.
  2. Breathe deeply enough that your belly—not your chest—rises and falls as you inhale and exhale.
  3. Continue this technique at your own pace to meet your oxygen needs during exercise.

The key is to find a breathing pattern that is comfortable for you and stick with it.

Strength Training

Like cardio, strength training increases the body's need for oxygen and automatically results in a faster breathing rate. However, many people have a tendency to hold their breath during strenuous activity like weight lifting. Known as the valsalva maneuver, this can limit oxygen delivery to the brain and cause dizziness, fainting, a spike in blood pressure and other complications. During strength training, the most important thing to remember about breathing is to just do it! Never hold your breath; be aware of how you are breathing at all times, whether through the nose or mouth.

Beyond that, fitness experts recommend that you exhale on the exertion phase of the exercise and inhale on the easier phase.


Properly breathing while you stretch after your workouts helps your body relax so that you can return to a resting state, in addition to aiding in the mechanical removal of waste byproducts of exercise. It may also allow you to increase your flexibility because proper breathing during stretches will help you to relax more fully and therefore stretch more deeply. Many people tend to hold their breath during stretching or to take short and shallow breaths, but ideally, we should take deep, relaxed diaphragmatic breaths. Most experts recommend inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth when stretching. On every exhale, try to relax more fully or give into the stretch a little further, but make sure that you never stretch past a seven on a scale of 1-10.


Joseph Pilates used to say, “Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breathe correctly,” which is why breathing takes center stage during his mind-body exercises. Pilates typically involves lateral or ribcage breathing, which differs considerably from the diaphragmatic breathing explained previously. With your abdominals engaged (naval pulled toward your spine), inhale deeply through the nose without allowing your belly to rise; instead, think about the air filling your lungs and expanding them laterally and into your back while your belly remains tight and flat as if you are wearing a corset. On your exhale, open your lips slightly and push all of that air out of your mouth both forcefully and slowly, making your exhale audible (like a “whoooooo” or “seeeeeeee” sound). This style of breath keeps the abdominals engaged and helps you to perform Pilates exercises with greater ease and better control.

Like strength training, you will most often exhale during the phase of an exercise that involves the most exertion. Over time, it will get easier to breathe properly and at the correct times during your exercises.


In yoga, “breathing serves a variety of purposes,” according to Stepfanie Romine, a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher. Like Pilates, yoga has a unique form of breathing known as “ujjayi” breathing. During this slow, even breath through the nose, one should inhale for 4-5 heartbeats, pause slightly, and then exhale for an equal length of time. The back of the throat constricts slightly to allow the air to create an audible sound. The audible breath serves as a “moving meditation” during a yoga practice, Romine says, meaning that when poses get difficult, the mind can focus on the rhythm and sound of the breath to stay calm. This breath, which sounds like the ocean, helps you stay in the moment and centered while practicing yoga.

In yoga, each pose (or new movement within a pose) should start with an inhalation. Inhalations are used for movements that involve standing taller or lengthening in a folded pose. The exhalation is used to go deeper in a pose. Exhalations are also used to get out of a pose.

There is a lot more to proper breathing than just going with the flow. Keep in mind that you may need to consciously practice these various techniques for a while before they become automatic, but your workouts will improve dramatically if you are able to perfect them. When all else fails, just breathe!

SOURCE: Nicole Nichols at

PHOTOS: SparkPeople, FEATURED by Mark Forman on Flickr

Author: Peter Tiedemann

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