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General Exercise Breathing Techniques
Part 1 of 1
By: Jackie Wright

One of the questions most frequently asked by my clients is how to properly breathe during exercise. Of course, they are trained to do this with each type of exercise they perform; however, it can become somewhat confusing, when on their own, as each type of exercise requires a different breathing pattern or technique.

Before launching into the actual breathing techniques for each type of exercise, it is important to remember that whether or not you master these techniques, the main thing you must always do is to breathe! Holding your breath, or practicing the Valsalva maneuver which is used in power lifting, can be unsafe and deprives the body of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation can lead to unsafe elevations in blood pressure, among many other negative bodily reactions, including poor performance, and should be avoided.

Breathing during cardiovascular exercise (running, fitness walking, cycling, swimming, etc.):

During cardiovascular forms of exercise, inhale deeply through the nose if possible and exhale through the mouth. This brings oxygen into the body which is circulated throughout the body and eliminates the carbon dioxide. Focus upon rhythmic breathing which will help prevent hyperventilation and will provide the body continuously with the oxygen it requires to continue exercising effectively.

When performing anaerobic interval training you may become winded; therefore, when the anaerobic interval is completed, you will decrease the intensity enough to pay back the “oxygen-debt” and restore the body’s oxygen, resuming rhythmic breathing.

Breathing during muscular strength and endurance training exercise (bench presses, squats, etc.):

During this type of exercise, proper breathing techniques help the body to stabilize and perform powerfully through engagement of the core muscles of the body and focuses the mind on the body part(s) that are engaged ensuring proper form and technique.

Attempt to exhale during the exertion phase or hardest phase of the exercise and inhale upon the return phase or easiest phase of the exercise.

An example would be during bicep curls to exhale as the lower arm curls toward the shoulder and inhale as the arm returns to the fully extended position. Another example would be during squats to inhale as the body lowers into the squat position and exhale as the body returns to the standing position.

Breathing during relaxation, flexibility or cool down exercise:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing is often utilized during relaxation or cool down segments of the fitness routine where slow, deep inhaling through the nose, expanding the diaphragm is followed by slow exhaling through the mouth which helps the body to relax after a taxing workout.
  • During flexibility exercise, breathing helps the muscles to relax enough so that stretching can safely and effectively occur.
  • Slowly inhale as you flow into the stretch and exhale as you hold the stretch, then inhale as your body returns to the beginning position and finish the series with an exhale.

So remember, the main goal when breathing during all forms of exercise is simply to breathe, and avoid holding your breath.

(There are dozens of effective breathing techniques utilized in yoga and Pilates disciplines; however, those will be addressed in future columns.)

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