Breathing and Exercise
It’s very likely you have heard the words “Make sure you are breathing!”, when training, whether it’s come from your Gym Instructor, Personal Trainer or spotting buddy. But, have you ever wondered why you are told to breathe properly during exercise, particularly weight training?
What Not to do?
Firstly, let’s have a look at what happens when we hold our breath, otherwise known as the Valsalva Manoeuvre (VM). The Valsalva Manoeuvre is the name of the occurrence of holding one's breath. This happens naturally to brace the spine during the lifting of objects such as weights or unblocking your ears on a flight. Although there is a benefit to holding your breath while lifting (such as bracing the spine), the risks are far more detrimental.
The VM is one of the body’s ways of increasing intra-abdominal pressure, which it does by not allowing air to escape from the lungs. Unfortunately, the VM has the ability to increase your blood pressure, causing symptoms of dizziness, fainting, decreased blood flow to the heart, and even stroke. As you can see, there’s a reason your trainer is concerned about you holding your breath!
So I bet you are now wondering how you can brace your spine to protect it from injury and breathe at the same time. Well, it’s quite simple really. All you need to do is brace your abdominal muscles (core) at the start of the exercise. This still allows you to breathe normally whilst still protecting your spine. This can be hard to master, but a good and easy way of doing this is by counting your repetitions out aloud through the entire movement to ensure you are not holding your breath. As you lift the weight or perform the exercise, you should be breathing out, counting the repetition that you are performing, and while lowering the weight (e.g. during a bench press) or finishing the exercises you should breathe in.
More on the Importance
If you enjoy walking, running, swimming, cycling, or resistance training, proper breathing is important for exercising safely, comfortably, and effectively. That’s because taking in regular, deep breaths promotes the transfer of oxygen that powers the muscles, and pushing out regular, deep breaths eliminates waste gases such as carbon dioxide.
Although breathing at rest or during exercise is instinctive, there are breathing techniques that can increase the amount of time you are comfortable exercising (your endurance) as well as improve the quality of your workout.
Proper Breathing During Exercise
The most important technique for breathing during exercise is to use the muscle that extends across the bottom of the chest cavity (the diaphragm). Breathing from the diaphragm instead of the chest (where you breathe when you are not exercising) will allow you to get deep, full breaths that fill your lungs with air and oxygen that your body needs for exercise.
To know if you are breathing properly from the diaphragm, place your hands on your lower ribs. As you breathe in, you will feel your ribs rise. As you breathe out, you will feel your ribs fall.
General Tips on Breathing
Relaxing your muscles and mind
Being aware of your posture and body as you warm-up
Stand up straight or position yourself to breathe from the diaphragm
Relax and open your chest
Lift your chin
Breathe in and breathe out evenly and deeply
Breathing through the mouth or nose at even intervals when engaging in cardiovascular exercises such as walking, running, cycling, or swimming
Make each breath you take in equal to each breath you push out
Breathing out when you resist (or lift) weight and inhaling as you relax into starting position
Taking deep breaths in can help stabilize muscles of your abdomen, back, and sides (core muscles) and protect your spine during exertion
Not holding your breath
Adjust your breathing or speed/intensity so that you may breathe in and out at a rate that matches your exercise pace
Keeping a rhythm
Counting breaths in and out
Using your steps, cycling rotations, or another rhythm in your movement to help guide your breathing rhythm
Listening to music that aligns your breathing and exercise rhythm
Slowing your exercise pace if you cannot catch your breath
Stand up straight with your hands over your head and breathe in and out deeply and evenly until your breathing rate returns to normal
Adding yoga to your workout routine to learn mindful breathing techniques (pranayama) you can use in your cardiovascular and weight training workouts
Focusing on maintaining slow, even, and deep breaths until your breathing returns to normal as you cool down after your workout
Benefits of Breathing Properly During Exercise Include:
Exercising more comfortably, safely, and for longer periods
Preventing injuries such as hernias, spikes in blood pressure/strain on blood vessels, and back pain
Increasing blood flow throughout the body
Increasing your ability to relax
Helping you let go of distractions and stay focused on your exercise
If you are just starting back to exercise or if you are exercising for the first time, you may find that it’s difficult to control your breathe. But the good news is that heart and lung (cardiovascular) fitness improves quickly if you continue exercising regularly, and soon you will develop breathing patterns that are second nature to your activity!
Keep breathing in... AND out!