Does Breathing Technique Affect Your Workout Performance?

Effective breathing while exercising or performing physical tasks can help significantly improve your strength and stability.

When it comes to optimizing your training, minor tweaks can significantly impact your overall performance. For example, changing the lifting angle or posture can stimulate muscle growth and protect you from injury. Similarly, paying attention to your breathing can get you better results.

This article will discuss how breathing can affect your exercises and how you can use different techniques to improve your workout performance.

The heart and lungs perform crucial tasks during an exercise. For example, when you work out, the lungs allow the exchange of vital gases, provide energy and remove waste products. On the other hand, your heart pumps oxygen-carrying blood cells to the muscles so you can perform physical activities.

Two noticeable things happen when performing an exercise: your heart rate shoots up, and you take shallower and more frequent breaths.

During an exercise, your muscles work harder. As a result, they use more oxygen and produce more carbon dioxide (waste products). This requires you to breathe faster and heavier to supply more oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from your system. Average individuals increase their breathing rate by up to 400% to cope with the demands of their body during exercise. In addition, your heart pumps more blood to deliver oxygen to your muscles.

Each time you inhale, you take in oxygen, which is like fuel for your muscles. The more you move, the more oxygen you need.

You may have heard a friend or a coach reminding you to breathe while exercising as if you don’t know how. Some also advise holding your breath during a lift, while others are completely against it.

These may leave you wondering if you’re doing the “breathing part” correctly and how you can use them to improve your workouts effectively.

As a general rule, inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth with pursed or puckered lips. This will allow you to take in more air and maintain optimal airflow in and out of the lungs.

The air you breathe in using your mouth is dryer and cooler, which can trigger the narrowing of the airways, resulting in difficulty breathing or exercise-induced asthma. Therefore, when performing aerobic exercises, it is best to breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth to warm and humidify the air.

During strength training, you’d want to inhale when the muscle is in an eccentric contraction or lengthened state and exhale on each concentric contraction or when the muscle is shortened.

Take bicep curls for example: you should inhale during the negative phase of the rep and exhale as you bend your elbows.

This will allow you to have a sufficient supply of air throughout each set and prevents a drastic increase in blood pressure. Controlling your breathing also regulates your heart and respiratory rate, so you don’t use too much energy.

Exhaling also generates sustained contraction of the core muscles and provides better stability to your trunk. This prepares the body and gives you more balance during strength training.

When lifting heavy weights, particularly in compound body movements such as squats and deadlifts, you can use the Valsalva maneuver to improve your core stability and protect your spine.

To perform the Valsalva maneuver:

  1. Breath in with your belly (use your diaphragm/belly breathing)
  2. Brace your core (tighten your belly as if someone is punching your stomach)
  3. Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth to prevent air from escaping, and try to exhale. Exhale with a closed glottis)
  4. Lift while bracing your core. Don’t let any air escape
  5. Breathe out normally after you complete your rep
  6. Repeat until you finish your set.
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The Valsalva is about taking a deep breath and holding it down. You may be unknowingly doing this technique when taking a poop or when you’re pushing heavy objects. When you exhale against a closed glottis, the air can’t escape your lungs, which results in increased pressure on your chest and abdomen. This provides the required stability to your core when performing heavy lifts.

When done correctly, this maneuver can be an effective tool for lifting heavier weights while keeping your trunk more stable.

However, this technique can decrease blood flow and oxygen to the brain for a short time, resulting in dizziness and even fainting. Therefore, people with cardiovascular and lung conditions should not perform this technique. It is also best to ask a personal trainer to teach you how to perform the Valsalva.

Here’s a workout plan that will help you practice breathing technique effectively:

Aerobic exercises, such as biking, jogging, running, or brisk walking, require a continuous flow of oxygen to create sustainable energy and fight fatigue.

It is crucial to use belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) rather than using your chest muscles while performing aerobic exercises. Belly breathing engages the diaphragm, which is the main respiratory muscle, and allows you to take in more oxygen.

Aerobic exercises also rely on proper breathing rhythm. The American Lung Association recommends using the 5-step pattern: 3 steps as you inhale and 2 steps as you exhale.


Left step - right step - left step


Right step - left step


Right step - left step - right step


Left step - right step

This could be hard at first, but it will naturally train your breathing pattern, so it’s not impacting the same foot on the inhale and exhalation phases. This reduces the overall impact on the feet, knees, hips, and pelvis and may prevent overuse injuries.

Breathing also affects the tension of your muscles during flexibility and mobility workouts, particularly stretching exercises.

One pilot study also suggests stretching while deep-slow breathing with closed eyes to reduce muscle pain and tension and promote short-term relaxation.

Slow breathing can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and help decrease muscle tension. For example, during stretching, take a deep breath at the end range and gradually exhale to stretch your muscles a little bit further and improve your flexibility.

For explosive and strenuous exercises such as high-intensity cardio or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), it is vital to breathe however it feels most natural to you. Therefore, do not hold your breath, and focus on taking deeper belly breaths during rest periods.

Remember, breathing is also an exercise, and regularly performing an exercise makes you good at it. In addition, performing breathing exercises can also improve exercise endurance and reduce stress levels.

Proper breathing is critical in accomplishing any physically demanding tasks. Depending on your exercise, you can use specific breathing techniques to significantly improve your workout performance and prevent injuries.

Correct breathing patterns can help you use energy more efficiently, regulate your heart rate, and enhance your training.

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Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.

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