How to breathe correctly during exercise

Breathing techniques during exercise

It seems like an odd thing to forget but when someone is concentrating on lots of different things, knowing how to breathe correctly is often the first element that is left out. This is especially prevalent in beginner exercisers but is surprisingly still very common for experienced lifters as well.

Some of the common mistakes made are holding your breath, breathing too deep or too shallow, too fast or too slow, and inhaling and exhaling at the wrong times. These may not make or break your workout, but they will definitely affect your performance.

Breathing during Cardio training

When breathing during cardio you want to maintain deep and controlled breaths. You should concentrate on not breathing with your chest, but breathing into your stomach. When we’re at rest, most of the time we’re only breathing into the upper portion of our lungs which makes our chest rise but not our stomach expand. This causes a relatively small amount of oxygen intake per breath. In order to take in close to the full capacity of the lungs, we need to perform stomach breathing, otherwise known as diaphragm breathing. During stomach breathing, the lungs can fully expand, in turn delivering large amounts of oxygen to the bloodstream, while also shuttling carbon dioxide out of your body.

During cardio, try to maintain a rhythm with your breathing. For example, while running you could breathe in for 2 steps, and out for 2 steps or whatever similar tempo works best for you.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re breathing through your nose, or through your mouth, that’s all a personal preference. Some people find that breathing through their mouth is better because there’s less resistance for the air and you’ll get more oxygen in that way, and others find that breathing through the nose allows them to keep better rhythm with their breaths. There is no right or wrong, it is whatever works best for you.

Breathing during weight training

The most common thing people do during weight training is to hold their breath. This technique is called the Valsalva maneuver and it causes a very large spike in your internal pressure. This technique is used deliberately by powerlifters and weightlifters because it allows more stability through the trunk during maximal lifts. Generally though, holding your breath should be avoided as it causes a rapid increase in blood pressure and can also result in severe dizziness. This is important as most general gym-goers are performing 8-15 reps per set and holding your breath for that long is a dangerous practice. It is especially important for anyone with hypertension!

While lifting weights you should exhale through the exertion part of the lift. For example, if we’re using the bench press, you lower the weight down to your chest, breathing in on the way down, and as you lift, perform a big forceful breath out. This works the same with all your lifts. When doing pulling exercises, you breathe out with the pull. In more technical terms you breathe in on eccentric, and forcefully breathe out on concentric. As with cardio, it is important to keep a rhythm with your breathing during strength training which helps you control the tempo that you lift the weight. I like to use a 3-second breath in during the eccentric and a 1-2 second forceful breath out during the concentric.

If you do happen to forget the order of these, the main thing is that you are breathing during your lifts. Once your lifts become reasonably challenging, the breath out will assist you in completing your lift, but if you get mixed up, just make sure you don’t hold your breath.

Breathing during stretching

Stretching can be quite an uncomfortable thing to do especially when first starting out. It is commonly said not to push your stretches to a level where you’re in pain, but any sort of effort during stretching will cause some discomfort.

Personally, I use a technique of 5-second full inhalation through your nose, 5-second hold, 5-second full exhalation through the nose, 5-second hold. Note that your holds should not feel uncomfortable. Try to relax as much as possible while using this technique. When using it during stretching you should aim to sink a little further into the stretch during each exhalation. I perform 6 breaths for each stretch which takes the stretch to 2 minutes. Using this technique you only perform 3 breaths per minute but you will feel amazing afterwards.

If you don’t wish to perform this technique, simply try to breath 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out, keeping control over your breathing, deep into the stomach, and allowing yourself to stretch slightly further each exhale.

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