Breathing: It’s so easy to do that it’s literally automatic, so why should you read an entire article about how to breathe? The answer is that breathing plays a big role in how you feel and how you perform during exercise. Dialing in your breathing technique can be your secret weapon for improving your fitness. Just ask any professional athlete, coach, or trainer—they’ll all tell you that breathing is a major component of their training.
So, take a deep breath, because we are going to help learn how to breathe when working out:
Why Breathing Technique Matters
Oxygen is the fuel your muscles need to do their work. When you begin exercising, your muscles are hungry for oxygen. The more efficiently you can deliver that oxygen, the faster, harder, and longer your body will be able to perform. That’s why just by learning how to breathe while working out you can become a better athlete.
Breathing the right way can:
- Improve your cardio endurance
- Help you lift heavier weights
- Improve your speed
- Help you recover more quickly
- Burn more fat during your workout
- Help you expel CO2 more efficiently
- Make your workout more enjoyable
On the flip side, bad breathing techniques can quickly demolish your workout. If you’ve ever lost track of your breathing and started to hyperventilate halfway through a sprint session, then you understand how important controlling your breath can be. Even worse, poor breathing techniques during a tough workout can leave you feeling dizzy or tank your blood pressure. Worst case scenario, you could black out at the gym, fall, and injure yourself.
Don’t let that happen! Here’s the best way to breathe when working out during cardio, conditioning, strength training, and mobility training.
How to Breathe During Cardio
If you don’t focus on your breathing during a tough tempo run or a long swim, you may quickly find yourself gasping for breath like a beached fish. The number one breathing strategy during aerobic workouts is to simply stick with a consistent breathing pattern. Many runners prefer a 3:2 inhale-to-exhale ratio, meaning an inhale every three steps and an exhale every two steps.
Play around with your breathing pattern and see what works best for you, then stick with it. Try to take nice, even breaths and use your breathing to help pace your run. Steady breathing is key to maintaining a good pace, especially during a long bike, run, or swim. If you find yourself losing control of your breathing as you grind up a huge hill, make an effort to recapture your breathing cadence once you hit flat ground again.
How to Breathe During Conditioning Training
If you’re hitting the gym for a sizzling interval workout, trying out that new BODYPUMP group fitness class, or simply want to perform a circuit of resistance machines, keep one key breathing rule in mind: exhale on exertion, inhale on release.
That means you want to exhale during the challenging part of the movement (the concentric phase), and then inhale as you finish the movement (the eccentric phase). For example, if your workout calls for pushups, inhale as you lower yourself down and exhale as you push yourself up. On a bicep curl, exhale as you curl the weight, inhale as you lower the weight.
Exhaling during the tough part of the exercise can serve as a release valve to help you keep your blood pressure even. This pattern also ensures that you continue breathing throughout the exercise, which allows you to keep feeding oxygen to your muscles. During the last part of a brutal interval workout, your muscles are going to need every last molecule of oxygen you can give them.
Before your workout, practice your breathing as you warm up with the movements. Make sure you feel confident about when you should be inhaling and exhaling. During the workout, check in with your breathing. If you start to get out of sync, slow down. It will take a while to feel comfortable with this breathing pattern, but over time it should come to feel automatic.
How to Breathe During Strength Training
When you step up to a heavy barbell or dumbbell or set that resistance machine to a challenging weight, think about breathing into your belly. This is known as “diaphragmatic breathing.” As the name implies, diaphragmatic breathing utilizes your powerful diaphragm (located between your chest and abdomen) to pull air all the way into your abdomen, rather than your chest. This brings much more oxygen into your lungs, which your muscles will need in order to move that heavy weight.
Diaphragmatic breathing is especially important for heavy lifting. By filling your belly with air, you naturally tighten your core and stabilize your spine. This can help you maintain good form as you squat, deadlift, lunge, bench press, and more.
Just remember to follow the concentric/eccentric breathing pattern. During a front squat, for example, take a deep belly breath as you lower yourself down, then exhale as you stand up. Exhaling powerfully can help you drive up the weight and possibly even hit a new personal record.
Take the time to work on your diaphragmatic breathing as well as your eccentric/concentric breathing pattern at a lighter weight until it begins to feel automatic. Then, start loading on the heavy weights. (Here are five things you need to know to gain lean muscle mass.)
How to Breathe During Mobility Training
Breathing is a central part of many mobility practices, including yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi. In yoga, instructors teach their students Pranayama, the art of breath control. Though breathing patterns vary slightly between the disciplines, the overall focus is very similar.
Instructors teach their students to be mindful of their breathing and to actively practice diaphragmatic breathing. Most mobility disciplines encourage long, steady inhales and exhales. A common practice is to inhale and exhale for a count of four or five seconds. Instructors may also have students hold the inhale for a second or two before exhaling.
Diaphragmatic breathing can help students release stress and tension, allowing them to increase their range of motion and move more deeply into different poses. These deep breathing exercises are also meant to help students reach a relaxed, meditative state. After all, it’s hard to think of that passive-aggressive thing your boss said when you’re focused on each breath.
You can even perform diaphragmatic breathing at home to clear your mind and release negative emotions. Find a comfortable spot to sit. Close your eyes. Focus on five by five breathing: five seconds of inhalation, five seconds of exhalation. Breathe deep into your belly, filling your whole body with air. Let your thoughts drift away and focus only on your breathing. Add some soft, gentle music if you prefer. (Learn about the benefits of meditation.)
Just because breathing is automatic doesn’t mean that it’s easy or that you don’t need to actively work on it. By focusing on your breathing and tweaking your breathing pattern, you can improve almost every part of your workout.
Next time you hit the gym, remember to train your breath as much as your muscles!