Fitness Articles

How to Breathe During Exercise

The Ins and Outs of Proper Breathing for Every Workout

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Like strength training, you will most often exhale during the phase of an exercise that involves the most exertion. However, breath is used in Pilates as a way to hold your attention; your instructor will ask you to exhale on the part of the exercise where they want you to focus your intention, which may or may not always be the hardest part of the exercise. It's OK if you mess up when to inhale and exhale in Pilates, but do you best to maintain this lateral breathing technique. 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 addition, "the breath serves as a metronome for the body, each movement timed to the length of an inhalation or exhalation," Romine says. 

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: sinking lower into a lunge in Warrior pose, getting the nose closer to the knees while folding; 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!

 This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople fitness expert, Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer.

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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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