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July 26, 2022 5 min read

Imagine this: You’re pushing through a heavy lift that could just be your next big PR, but you run out of breath and fail the lift because you didn’t know how to breathe properly.

Oxygen is one of the most basic and important parts of supplying energy to the body. It helps keep your heart beating and makes your cells and other organs function properly.

It’s no surprise that breathing is an essential part of life, but knowing how to breathe while you’re training can help not only improve your training, but it can also make it safer.

The Breathing Process

It’s a natural thing, so we don’t think much about breathing or its process, but it can be important to understand how it works to know why it‘s important.

The respiratory system is where this all starts. 

This is the system made of organs and tissues that help you breathe in and out. Your airways, lungs, and blood vessels all work together to move oxygen through your body and push carbon dioxide out.

The lungs are the primary organ of the respiratory system, and they‘re located on either side of the heart in the thoracic cavity, which is protected by the rib cage.

The diaphragm is a muscle in the chest that is also an essential part of the breathing process.

When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and creates a vacuum-like effect that pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale and air is pushed out of the lungs, the diaphragm relaxes.

Why is Breathing During Exercise Important?

Proper breathing helps bring oxygen to the muscles, and without enough oxygen, you can limit your performance and even make it more dangerous. It’s not just as simple as breathe in and breathe out, rather there are breathing techniques that can lead to better quality workouts.

Utilizing these breathing techniques can be beneficial for your body and your workout.

Here are the benefits to practicing proper breathing during exercise:

  • Oxygenate the Muscles: When you breathe, you help bring oxygen to your muscles, and during exercise, your muscles need all the oxygen they can get. Your muscles are working harder when you’re lifting, running, swimming, or doing any other physical activity.

Since they’re working harder, they need more energy, which requires more oxygen. 

Without the proper amount of oxygen, more lactic acid can build up and turn what could have been a long, intense workout into a short, disappointing one.

Deep breathing is important to get enough oxygen in and keep your body energized and moving throughout your workout.

  • Eliminates Carbon Dioxide: We inhale oxygen, and we breathe out carbon dioxide. It‘s a simple concept that we learn in middle school, but what we may not be aware of is why it‘s essential.

When we breathe in oxygen, our muscles, organs, and cells use it to function normally, but it also creates carbon dioxide as a waste product. 

We need to exhale this gas and excrete it from our bloodstream in order to get enough oxygen to the rest of our body.

Too much carbon dioxide in the body may cause more minor symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and muscle twitches, but it can also result in hospitalization or even death.

  • Lowers Blood Pressure: When you perform cardio or strength training, your heart rate can rise and along with that your blood pressure.

In order to recover your mind, body, and muscles, you need to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. One of the ways you can achieve this is through deep or diaphragmatic breathing.

During this breathing exercise, your heart rate can lower and your blood vessels can dilate, which helps to lower your blood pressure.

You can help increase your blood flow during your workout with Pumped-AF, our stimulant free pre-workout developed for maximum vasodilation.

  • Improves Heart Efficiency: If you have a lower resting heart rate, typically that means your heart requires less effort to function normally. 

Breathing exercises help to lower your heart rate and help make your heart pump more efficiently.

This means your heart can pump blood throughout your body a little easier, helping to improve your circulation and decreasing stress on this vital organ.

How to Breath While Working Out (Best Practices)

Your breathing pattern will typically change depending on what type of exercise you’re doing. Aerobic exercise breathing looks different from strength training breathing, and using these breathing exercises properly can help enhance your athletic performance.

Check out the best practices for breathing during exercise: 

Mouth Breathing Versus Nasal Breathing

As you start to work harder and fatigue is setting in, you may start mouth breathing because you feel like you’re getting more air in. However, breathing through your nose may be more beneficial to your body and performance.

Breathing through your nose can help release nitric oxide more than breathing through your mouth, and it can help get more oxygen to your bloodstream. 

The amount of oxygen you take in may not change within these types of breathing, but nasal breathing can lower your breathing rate and better oxygenate our cells.

How to Breathe During Weightlifting

When you lift a heavy weight, you may be tempted to hold your breath because that can be your body’s natural reaction when it’s going through stress. Breathing is important while lifting, but how you breathe is even more important.

The valsalva maneuver is a breathing technique that many weightlifters use in order to create more stabilization and lift heavier weight.

This involves taking a deep breath into your belly at the start of the repetition and holding it during the contraction. As you work past the eccentric part, you exhale forcefully.

For example, during a bench press, you take a deep breath before lowering the bar and hold it as the bar reaches your chest. When you press the barbell all the way up, you force the air out.

This technique increases the intra-abdominal pressure, which can help stabilize the spine and keep your body upright as you push through a lift. 

The valsalva maneuver can help you perform heavier and safer lifts and can be used by weightlifters of any fitness level.

This type of breathing is useful for weightlifting, but it can also be used during push-ups and other bodyweight exercises.

How to Breathe During Running

If you‘ve ever been on a long distance run and started to experience side stitches, it could be due to poor breathing patterns. Shallow breathing can limit the amount of oxygen you get to your muscles and cause fatigue and cramping.

Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep abdominal breathing, can help you take in more oxygen and use it more efficiently. 

To use this breathing technique, focus on breathing into your belly and not your chest.

You can practice this type of breathing by laying down and breathing deep into your belly through your nose. As you push the air out, try to make your exhale slightly longer than your inhale.

This type of breathing is not only beneficial for running, but it can also be helpful during swimming, biking, and high-intensity interval training.

When you run, you can also utilize rhythmic breathing, which is the act of creating a rhythm between your breathing pattern and running stride.

The American Lung Association recommends a 5-step pattern: three steps as you inhale and two steps as you exhale.

Start Breathing Better Now

How you breathe during your workouts can make a huge difference in your performance and your overall health. If you have difficulty breathing or experience shortness of breath during exercise, it could be a sign of overexertion, but if it continues, you may want to consult a physician.

From the moment you are alive, your body naturally knows how to breathe, so it’s not something that we likely think about too often, but it can play an important role in exercise.

Breathing is more than just inhaling and exhaling, and when you really start to breathe the right way when you’re lifting, running, or doing any other exercise, you’ll be able to see why.