Proper Breathing During Workouts – Pt. 1

Proper Breathing During Workouts – Pt. 1


Proper Breathing During Workouts - Pt. 1

In this first of a 3-part discussion on proper breathing during workouts, we look at breathing generally and what constitutes correct breathing. We also discuss paying attention to our breathing during exercise.

In the second part, we explore principles of correct breathing during exercise and the mistakes we commonly make.

Finally, in the third part, we explore breathing issues relating to strength training. aerobic training and stretching. Additionally, the third part explores breathing specifics for particular workouts.

In other words, small bites into a big and very important topic!


We breathe every minute of every day without even thinking. But the smallest of conscious, intentional changes can improve our performance and, therefore, our results.

Focusing on breathing while working out is one of those small things that can make an enormous difference in results. I am personally learning this from my own most recent experience. I now pay attention to how I should breathe during my workouts. And I’m seeing a difference already.

For example, something as simple as when you breathe in and out can make a noticeable difference. Mike Clancy, C.S.C.S., a NYC-based strength coach, in an interview with, says, “When you [think about] the rate, quality, and control of your breathing in your training, you can get better results.”

Although our body’s process of controlling every single breath is complex, the principle is quite simple. Our bodies know how to do it from the moment of birth and typically do it on autopilot. But we can affirmatively adjust the different ways we breathe depending on a variety of conditions.

If your brain can grasp this, you will use your breath to your best advantage. This is true in everyday life. And it is especially true in exercise.

So, let’s start by laying out what you need to know about breathing and why proper breathing during workouts is important. Next, we’ll learn the best way to breathe. Finally, we’ll explore how it affects your workouts. I’ll try to keep it simple!



Breathing in – or inhaling – regularly and deeply brings into our systems the oxygen that powers our muscles. Simply put, “oxygen in” enables our bodies to function. And the more we move, the more oxygen our bodies need.

Breathing out – or exhaling – regular, deep breaths gets rid of carbon dioxide, a waste gas. If our lungs don’t properly remove carbon dioxide from our blood, it can harm our organs.

As emphasized by Sadia Benzaquen, M.D., oxygen is simply the fuel for our muscles. To do anything—talk, walk, exercise—we need to get oxygen to our muscles. Dr. Benzaquen is a pulmonologist and director of the interventional pulmonology program at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Additionally, Dr. Benzaquen explains the route through our bodies that air travels to deliver the oxygen to its destinations.

First, air comes in through our mouths. Next, it passes through the larynx (the “voice box”), the vocal cords, and then the trachea (the windpipe).

Now it goes to main bronchi (passageways that bring air to the lungs) of the right and left lungs. Then it travels to the bronchioles (smaller branches of the bronchi) and finally to the alveoli.

The alveoli are the tiny air sacs in our lungs that separate air into oxygen and carbon dioxide.


The lungs then pump the resulting oxygen-rich blood to the heart, brain, muscles, and organs of the body. In exchange for this life-giving oxygen, the body expels the carbon dioxide waste gas through the mouth or nose.

The more active we are, the more oxygen our bodies need in order to engage in our activities. Marta Montenegro, M.S., C.S.C.S., says the more efficiently oxygen gets to our muscles, the harder and more efficiently we work. Ms. Montenegro is an adjunct professor of exercise science at Florida International University in Miami Ultimately this leads to improved outcomes.

For these reasons, Mike Clancy instructs us that correct breathing should be one of our primary focuses during exercise.

It can help us lift more weight.

It also gives us more muscular endurance during weight lifting and cardio-based activities like running, swimming, and biking.

Finally, it can help us recover more quickly during high-intensity activities and sports like basketball and soccer.

All these are reasons why proper breathing during workouts is important.



Marta Montenegro explains that the diaphragm muscle should be the main engine driving our breathing. This is true whether or not we are exercising.

The diaphragm is the dome-shaped muscle under our lungs between our thoracic (chest) and abdominal (stomach and gut) cavities. And here’s a little fun fact. It’s the muscle that moves when we have the hiccups!

Many of us don’t use this muscle at all when breathing. Instead, we take shorter, more shallow breaths that begin and end in the chest. 

Breathing in this shallow way prevents us from delivering proper amounts of oxygen to our lungs. Furthermore, it increases our heart rate and blood pressure, says Montenegro. That can ultimately increase feelings of anxiety and stress, and even shortness of breath.

Alternatively, diaphragmatic breathing works best for efficient, effective breathing. Every inhalation engages the diaphragm. Slow breathing in through the nose or mouth, preferably the nose, fills your abdominal area (versus your chest) with air. Slow exhaling follows as the stomach collapses, explains Clancy.

The Summit Medical Group says about diaphragmatic breathing that it is the most important technique for breathing during exercise. It gives us deep, full breaths that fill our lungs with the oxygen our bodies need for exercise.

And they have a terrific easy tip to tell you 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. 


Montenegro tells us that diaphragmatic breathing helps ensure core activation. Core activation just means using your abdominal muscles to help you perform a series of movements.

Furthermore, diaphragmatic breathing causes us to breathe deeply enough to deliver sufficient oxygen to the muscles. Sufficient oxygen prevents the muscles from fatiguing earlier than they might otherwise do.

Dean Somerset, C.S.C.S., adds that propelling your breath from the diaphragm helps avoid mid-workout side stitches, or abdominal cramps. Mr. Somerset is an Edmonton, Alberta kinesiologist and exercise physiologist

These cramps are typically the result of “using [the wrong] muscles to drive respiration.” Researchers still don’t fully know what causes them. But Somerset suggests that using the diaphragm to breathe deeply may help minimize your getting a side stitch.


I hope you will benefit from this information about why proper breathing during workouts is important. As you read Part 2 & Part 3 you will come to know more of the benefits of the principles discussed here.

We now know why breathing is generally important to our functioning. Additionally, we’ve learned that correct breathing has a clear connection to the improved performance of our bodies. And this is true both generally in life and particularly in exercise. Finally, we’ve learned how to breathe properly using our diaphragms.

In Part 2 of our series, we’ll look at general principles of correct breathing during exercise and mistakes we commonly make.

It is always my fond hope that you will find this information helpful. I welcome and look forward to your comments, questions, and feedback!

And remember — Fitness with Attitude, everyone!


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