Fitness Articles

How to Breathe During Exercise

The Ins and Outs of Proper Breathing for Every Workout

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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. The exertion phase is typically the hardest phase of the exercise—lifting, curling, or pushing the weight. The easier phase brings you back to the starting position by lowering or returning the weight. To help, all of SparkPeople's exercise demos explain when to inhale and exhale based on these recommendations. By focusing on breathing in on the return and breathing out on the exertion phase of each exercise, you'll also prevent yourself from holding your breath. However, don’t get too caught up about when to inhale and exhale. Breathing in reverse is much better than not breathing at all.

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.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • Exercise breathing has been a problem for me; I inhale and exhale on exactly the wrong part of the activity. It may go back to my high school wrestling days (50+ years ago) when I learned to hold my breath when exerting pressure on an opponent. I now know that your body needs to carry the oxygen to your body to fuel the muscles. - 4/24/2016 10:59:07 PM
  • As I was just wishing I'd seen this article long ago, I clicked "Save" and discovered I'd done so long ago. Talk about feeling stupid, ay ay ay, I've always had difficulty coordinating inhaling and exhaling with exercise moves. I'd give up on proper technique and feel less than satisfied with counting aloud; if you're speaking, you're breathing. I'll never forget the article again. - 5/18/2015 5:30:57 AM
  • Most often Coach Nicole reminds exercisers when to breathe while using one of her videos. This has been extremely helpful, though I still sometimes get my inhale and exhale cycles turned about . - 8/22/2014 10:47:19 PM
    I love website. I have referred this website to many of my friends as well as family.
    Thank you for all the wonderful advice and encouragement. - 5/4/2014 5:27:44 PM
  • Much good information here. - 3/23/2014 6:11:48 AM
  • Great article. I think it's good to breath on any exercise. It make you feel better as well. - 9/17/2013 4:47:47 PM
  • I naturally fall in to counting breaths as I exercise. I think this comes from gymnastics and yoga. I just recently realized how much it helps me hold positions longer and power through a work out more. I am helping train a friend for running and some strength training. She forgets to breath. I actually have to tell her, remember to breath. It is a bit of a joke to us now, but I sent her this article as a reminder LOL. - 3/20/2012 11:21:42 AM
  • I have recently been focusing more on my breathing while running, and I realized that I was breathing too quickly (and far too shallow), which caused me to tense my body too much. The entire action of running flows so much easier when the breathing is calmer and then the body can relax into the movement.

    Thank you also for explaning the difference between belly breathing and rib cage breathing. I now have a better understanding of just exactly what my pilates instructor was wanting us to do. - 10/19/2011 6:36:06 PM
    This is a really great article. I have a problem of holding my breath while I'm running, and it makes it so much harder for me to maintain a pace and go good distances. I really hope this helps-- making me aware of my breathing. - 4/14/2011 10:09:40 PM
  • This is a brilliant article and I've only recently realised how IMPORTANT it is to breath right. I found that I was breathing way too shallow whilst on treadmill, which was giving me a stitch after like 30mins running. So today, when I started feeling the stitch, I made it a point to concentrate on breathing deeply and, lo and behold, the stitch disappeared and I was able to complete my 60min run.

    Thanks for the article. - 2/11/2011 6:27:41 AM
  • Proper brething is a critically essential element in the correct practice of KARATEDO. Why was this NOT mentioned in the article? - 1/28/2011 10:46:04 PM
  • Thanks. I have been working on my breathing as I breathe shallow and with my anemia, I have to increase my oxgenation to build my body. Great article. - 10/30/2010 9:13:22 PM
  • thanks. i know i breathe at the wrong times when i workout - 9/16/2010 12:53:08 PM
  • MORIAH86
    Good article...I'm practising with the book...Thanks for the heads up. - 9/16/2010 9:17:15 AM
  • Thanks for a good clear comparison of breathing for these different disciplines. Singers do have a leg up on breathing deeply, but often there is confusion when it comes to "belly breathing" and "rib expansion." I have found that aspects of both types of breathing are valuable to singers, so fear not to explore. It is true that audible inhalations and exhalations are not something to encourage if you care about your voice. Best to take it easy with that... - 8/31/2010 5:15:20 PM

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