Everyone knows how to breathe. But not everyone seems to know how to breathe when working out. How is breathing during exercise different than regular breathing? Why is the proper breathing so important? Why is it inseparably connected to the training results? And finally, how to exactly breathe properly during strength training and cardio?

Regular breathing vs. workout breathing

Normally, we don’t think about how to breathe. Our brain knows it best and controls the breathing process without an active part of our conscious will. Workout, however, is not entirely a natural situation, as we consciously repeat some sequences of movements for a longer time. This means that the natural breathing pattern will not necessarily apply here.

Exercise breathing should be a controlled process, at least at the beginning, and at least to some extent. It should be harmonized with the pace of the workout and the actions of the muscles.

3 most common mistakes:

1. Holding your breath – counterproductive, and in some cases even dangerous, reflex. But that’s what many of us do during strength workout. As our body muscles brace, we unconsciously breathe in and hold, as if we were preparing for a punch in the stomach. That’s especially common when we do an exercise involving our core muscles: the abs, obliques, and the lower back muscles.

2. Breathing in & out in the wrong phases of exercise – most exercises comprise of two or more phases, each of them involving a muscle contraction or retraction. Basically, we should breathe in when the muscles retract, and breathe out when the muscles contract. Sometimes we tend to do this the exact opposite way. More of when to breathe in and when to breathe out below.

3. Breathing with the mouth closed all the time – that’s funny, especially at the gym: some people breathe so loudly, or even grunt, or scream with each rep, to make sure everyone else notices how hard they work out. Others, on the other hand, try to be invisible, so they try to be as quiet as possible – even when breathing.

Whereas grunting or screaming is not necessary, it’s sometimes better than breathing soundlessly through the nose. Our body needs lots of oxygen during workout, so don’t be afraid to breathe through the mouth when exercising. More oxygen equals more effective muscle work.

How to breathe properly when exercising?

Strength training (with and without weights)

As it’s been said earlier, we should synchronize the breathing with the proper phases of an exercise: breathe in when the muscles retract, and breathe out as they contract. What does that mean in practice? Let’s take a classic crunch, for example. Put one hand on your upper abs to feel the muscle contraction as you go up, and retraction when you go back down. This means that when crunching, you should breathe out when going up, and breathe in when going down. The same pattern will apply to the push-ups, squats, exercises with barbell and dumbbells. Breathe out when the muscles work the hardest. Generally:

  • Breathe OUT while going UP
  • Breathe IN while going DOWN

IMPORTANT: The “up &down rule” will reverse when we will be pulling things – for instance in lat pull-down on the machine the muscles will contract when pulling down – and that’s when we should breathe out.

In endurance exercises which base on constant muscle contraction, like the plank, or the V-sit, we should breathe calmly all the time and especially avoid holding our breath.

Cardio workout

It would be very hard to synchronize the breathing with every step while running or jumping rope, for instance. That’s why we should remember to keep an even pace of breathing. Developing a good rhythm will help us supply the muscles and brain with the right amount of oxygen and this in turn will let us run and jump for a longer period of time. Find your own rhythm of breathing, for instance a double breathe-in and a single breathe out for a moderate pace of run.

Why is the proper breathing so important?

  • Oxygen is crucial in the process of producing energy. The better we synchronize the breathing with our workout, the more energy our body is able to produce. In other words, breathing properly, we’ll be able to run longer and faster, jump higher, lift more.
  • As a result of more productive training, we could achieve better results in a shorter time. It may be the matter of HOW rather than WHAT. We can have a perfectly adjusted workout programme, but if we make mistakes exercising and breathing, it won’t work as it is supposed to work. Breathing, right next to the proper form of exercising, is a crucial detail we should pay special attention to.
  • Holding our breath during workout may result in hypoxia – that is lack of oxygen necessary for our body to work properly. Some of us may think that they’re in such a bad shape because they feel exhausted after a few minutes of workout. The reason may actually be the improper breathing – if the body does not get enough of oxygen, the muscles cannot work at their best which is why we feel tired and weak.

To sum up

Hope these several tips will help you achieve better results of your workout. As basic activity as breathing may be sometimes underestimated when in fact it is crucial. Pay attention to details in workout because sometimes even the little details translate into great results.

About Cathy Patalas

The sports soul and the alleged specialist in words of 52Challenges.com. The main 52C Blog writer. A diligent student at the English Department of the University of Wroclaw, majoring in applied linguistics. An ex-acrobat and aerobic gymnast with the 13-year long experience in „training for winning”. A multiple medallist of Poland nationals in acrobatic gymnastics, and academic nationals in aerobic gymnastics. A fan of gymnastics of every existing type. Personally, finds making everyday choices in a healthy lifestyle even more demanding a challenge than making everyday sacrifices in the athlete’s lifestyle.