You may be counting down the minutes remaining in your two-mile run or the speed at which you’re curling that dumbbell, but I bet the last thing on your mind when you’re working out is whether you’re breathing properly. Big mistake. If you’re not paying attention to breathing, you may not be getting the oxygen your body needs during exercise. Poor breathing can lead to tiring out more quickly, not recovering as well and not getting the most out of your workout.
Steady, even breathing during exercise—whether you’re jumping rope, swimming laps or pumping iron—is necessary for healthy oxygen intake and to ensure your muscles are fueled with the oxygen they need for contraction. Not sure what you might be doing wrong? Follow these guidelines:
Those who lift weights regularly may already know: it’s best to exhale on the exertion. Breathing during exertion would seem natural to help you lift the weight, but it’s also important in helping prevent internal injury such as hernia, blood vessel strain and raising blood pressure.
How is it done? If you’re doing a pull up, for example, exhale while pulling your body up, then inhale on the way back down. If you’re doing barbell curls, exhale while lifting the weight, then inhale as you lower it down.
Most importantly, don’t hold your breath, which could delay oxygen to the brain and raise your blood pressure, cause dizziness or fainting. Trust me, you don’t want to be that person in the gym who passes out!
Breathing properly while running, walking, swimming or biking provides a nice rhythm to your workout. A lot of runners like to take a breath every two foot strikes: one left, one right (while breathing in), then two steps (while breathing out). Find a breath pattern that you’re comfortable with and that works for you.
During other types of cardio exercise, try to breathe deeply (breathing down to your stomach, not just to your chest) and in as relaxed of a way as possible. Whether you breathe through your nose, mouth or a combination is up to you. If you find your breathing patterns are short and hurried, slow down. Breathing short and fast can increase your heart rate and lactic acid levels, which decreases endurance in any cardiovascular exercise. You may need to practice a little until you’ve built endurance and find a good rhythm.
Yoga and stretching
Breathing is key in the practice of yoga.The focus should be on equal length of breath during inhalation and exhalation. This type of breathing seems to calm the nervous system, reduce stress and lower blood pressure. It may also help increase flexibility, because it encourages relaxation, which in turn promotes deeper stretching.
In yoga, the poses usually start with an inhalation, then you exhale while stretching into or finishing a pose. This type of breathing is also beneficial for stretching in general.
Two quick tips:
- Be sure to use good posture while exercising and breathing. Hunching over while standing causes the lunges to be compressed and makes it harder to breathe.
- It’s also important to stay hydrated as oxygen intake is increased during exercise.