How should you breathe during exercise?

Good breathing techniques can help you get more from your workout. Here are the ins and outs you should know.

Written by Medibank
Cropped shot of a young woman meditating against a grey background

You’ve been doing it since birth. In fact you do it in your sleep, with your eyes closed. It’s all too easy to take breathing for granted, but being more mindful of how you breathe when you work out can be key to adding a little extra oomph to your gym session, or going that extra mile or 10 on your next run.

Here are a few pointers to help you be more mindful of how you breathe, so you can get more out of your next workout.

Firstly, let’s stretch it out

All workouts should begin and end with a good stretch. This is important for minimising your risk of injury – and it’s also the perfect time to dial in your breathing.

As you loosen up those limbs, be sure to focus on steady, deep breaths. Not only are you supplying a rich supply of oxygenated blood to your muscles, you may even notice that little extra reach when you time each stretch with your exhale.

Make sure you also stretch out the chest and abdominal area as this will prepare your lungs and diaphragm for the workout ahead. Which brings us to the next point…

Secondly, don’t be shallow

Know the difference between chest breathing and abdominal breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing). Chest breathing is short and shallow, while abdominal breathing uses the lungs’ full capacity by expanding and contracting your diaphragm. This is exactly what you want.

Abdominal breathing also helps the body to relax, which can bring about a number of other health benefits.

Yoga places great importance on the virtues of deep breathing, so it’s a great place to practise being at one with your abdominal breathing technique.

Breathing for cardio

Abdominal breathing is key to a great run, and so is finding the right breathing rhythm for you.

In running circles, breathing rhythm is a measure of how many steps you take for every breath in and out. For instance, a breathing rhythm of 3:3 means three steps for inhale, and three steps exhale.

If you’re forever short of breath and fatigued on your runs, it may be due to a less than ideal breathing rhythm. For instance, if you’re inhaling and exhaling at every step (1:1), you mightn’t be giving yourself enough time for ‘quality’ air.

Just out of interest, the most common breathing rhythm for experienced runners seems to be 2 steps for inhale: 2 steps for exhale (2:2). Beginners may want to start at 3:3 to really emphasise each breath.

Breathing rhythm step by step

You can always experiment with different breathing rhythms on a flights of stairs. You’ll surprise yourself with how much better you feel when you focus on deeper, more controlled breathing.

Breathing for strength and gym work

Breathing rhythm is just as important during weights sessions. Again, it all comes down to being mindful of each breath you take, and when. For loading-lifting activities, it’s best to inhale before the lift and then exhale through the lift.

Some believe a slower, more controlled exhale can increase abdominal pressure, thereby providing greater support during load. We don’t recommend any technique that impedes the natural breathing action.

Nose or mouth breathing?

You can Google this all day, non-stop and still be none the wiser. Ultimately, whether you breathe through the nose or mouth is personal. Also, it’s hard to make any concrete ruling when individual physiologies can be so varied from one person to another. For instance, for Lord Voldemort, we strongly recommend inhaling and exhaling though the mouth.

Written by Medibank

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