Proper Breathing During Workouts – Pt. 2

Proper Breathing During Workouts - Pt. 2



Proper Breathing During Exercise

In Part 1, we started by looking at the process of breathing. Then we learned about results of breathing – besides just keeping us alive, that is!. And we finished with an introduction to diaphragmatic breathing and what it does for us.

Here in Part 2, we look more specifically at breathing in the context of exercise. We explore the mistakes people make and the benefits of breathing properly. Finally we look at the differences between nose breathing and mouth breathing.


As a general matter, proper breathing during exercise depends both on the type of and the force necessary for the activity you’re doing. It also enables us to exercise safely, effectively and comfortably.

Dr. Sadia Benzaquen tells us that correct breathing actually requires its own strength and effort for correct performance. Who knew! The consequence is that the very movement of breathing affects the mechanics of your body.

“Every inhale and exhale changes the volume of the lungs. That in turn changes the position of the thoracic spine, the ribs, the pelvis, the shoulders, and the inter-abdominal pressure,” Dean Somerset, C.S.C.S. says. For that reason, the way you breathe can impact how hard or easy it is to get through a workout.

I’ve only recently come to appreciate this. Paying attention to my breathing and making the effort to do it correctly is enabling me to complete reps and sets with somewhat less effort. That has come as a very welcome surprise to me! And I know it will get even better as my breathing becomes more skillful and efficient.

Once you’ve nailed the diaphragmatic breathing we discussed in Part 1, you can then think about what the most effective breathing pattern is for the type of exercise you’re doing.


The Summit Medical Group gives us several very important tips about proper breathing during exercise and before we start. Huge thanks to Summit for this efficient, easy to read and understandable information! As I can add absolutely nothing to their genius, I’m just going to copy their great list here:

  • Start by relaxing your muscles and mind
  • Be 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
  • Do not hold 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


The author of this information says that when his clients begin working out for the first time he must constantly remind them to breathe during the work out.

In his experience, the most common mistakes people make are

– holding one’s breath,
– breathing too deeply or too shallowly, too quickly or too slowly, and
– inhaling and exhaling at the wrong times.

These mistakes might not make or break your workout, but they will definitely affect the performance of each exercise


The The Summit Medical Group explains that breathing properly allows us to:

  • Exercise more comfortably, safely, and for longer periods;
  • Prevent injuries such as hernias, back pain, and spikes in blood pressure which puts a strain on blood vessels;
  • Increase blood flow throughout the body;
  • Improve our ability to relax; and
  • Let go of distractions and stay focused on the exercise.

Summit also points out that if we are resuming exercise or exercising for the first time, we may find it difficult to control our breathing. However, they say, heart and lung (cardiovascular) fitness improves quickly if we exercise regularly. Then we will develop proper breathing patterns that become second nature to our specific workouts.


Have you ever stopped to think while you’re breathing whether you’re breathing through your mouth or your nose? Or how they feel different? And sound different? Or do different things for your body even though they’re both just ways of getting air into your lungs and oxygen into your body?

Breathing in through your nose is ideal, says Dr. Benzaquen. Special hairlike structures in the nose, called cilia, help filter out pollution, allergens, and bacteria before they travel into your lungs. Mucous in the nasal passage can prevent irritation. And it also helps humidify the air you inhale, he adds.

Breathing through the mouth, on the other hand, doesn’t provide the same filtering and humidification processes.

However, you cannot take as much air in through the nose as the mouth. This explains why many people breathe through their mouths during exercise without even thinking about it.

“Nose breathing may not be good for maximum power,” says Dean Somerset, “but it can be helpful to slow down the rate at which you breathe.” This can be useful when you’re doing something like yoga where the main goals are mobility and relaxation.

So, the most common approach you’ll likely hear from a trainer seems to be to breathe in through the nose and out through the month. However, there can be variances depending on your activity. And for those of you who may want to go really deep into the weeds about recent research into the benefits of nose breathing in athletics and sports, click to see this Washington Post article. Fascinating to geeks like me!


Well, another small bite at the larger-than-I-expected picture of proper breathing during exercise. Many of these principles also apply generally to how we can breathe more effectively. I truly hope it’s making sense and will be useful to your exercise regime.

In Part 3, we’ll get more specific about proper breathing for the three main types of workout activity: stretching, aerobic or cardio, and weight and resistance work.

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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