The Ins and Outs of Breathing During Exercise By Jay Blahnik

There is a lot of discussion about the correct way to breathe during exercise. While there is limited research on the topic, most experts agree your breathing patterns during exercise should change depending on what activity you are doing. Why does it really matter? Proper breathing during exercise helps in a few important ways. It makes cardiovascular training more efficient, helps with power and stability during strength and endurance training, and it fosters relaxation during mind/body and flexibility training.

Here are the ins and outs of breathing during exercise:

Cardio training -- When doing cardio training, such as running, cycling or swimming, it is important to remember that breathing and the cadence of the cardio activity may not always be in sync.  For example, when cycling up a hill, you may be pedaling a bit slower, but your breathing rate may be high. The most important thing is to avoid shallow breathing during cardio training whenever possible. Shallow breathing is an indicator that you are either working too hard or have not established a good breathing pattern for the activity you are doing. Try taking stronger, deeper breaths during cardio training (without any feeling of holding your breath), and establish an inhale/exhale pattern that feels comfortable for you. For example, many runners will inhale once during three foot strikes in a row (right, left, right), and then exhale once during the next two foot strikes (left, right).

Strength/endurance training -- When doing strength or resistance training, such as weight lifting, you should generally exhale on the exertion (or most difficult part of the exercise) and inhale on the recovery (easiest part of the exercise).  For example, when doing a crunch, you should exhale when you lift your shoulders off the ground, and inhale when you lower your shoulders to the ground. Another example of this breathing pattern can be found in many Pilates classes. Instructors will often encourage their students to think “inhaling on the preparation for the move,” and “exhaling on the execution of the move.” This breathing pattern usually makes it easier to perform strength/endurance moves.

Relaxation -- When doing mind/body, stress reduction or flexibility training, such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, you should generally focus on deeper, diaphragmatic breathing that will not only help you execute the moves more deliberately, but will also help you relax and focus on the exercises while reducing stress. Diaphragmatic breathing is intended to help you strengthen the diaphragm, decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate, decrease oxygen demand and use less effort and energy to breathe. This type of breathing is marked by expansion of the abdomen rather than the chest when breathing, and is done with slow intakes of air, allowing the body to absorb all of the inhaled oxygen. Most instructors and trainers can provide direction on how to breathe this way while executing these types of movements, or you can read about it in almost any comprehensive yoga or tai chi book.