Proper Breathing During Workouts – Pt. 3

Proper Breathing During Workouts - Pt. 3


Proper Breathing During Workouts - Pt. 3

In Part 3 we will discuss proper breathing for the different categories of exercise. And we’ll give more specific information about a few common work-out actvities.

To recap the two previous posts, in Part 1 we talked about breathing in very general terms: what it is and how it works. Additionally we talked about diaphragmatic breathing, felt by the experts to be the best way to breathe.

In Part 2, we discussed breathing and its benefits in the context of exercise and explored common breathing mistakes. We concluded by looking at the differences between nose and mouth breathing.



Stretching will be our first topic as we look at proper breathing for the different categories of exercise.

WellFit Personal Training tells us something many of us who are just getting started know well. Stretching can be horribly (my word) uncomfortable! At first. I speak from experience and observation.

We’re asking our bodies to move in ways we perhaps have never done. The older we are when we start, the harder it is if we’ve done little or no stretching thus far. And anyone like me knows the movements will likely be very small at first. So, how can breathing help?

WellFit instructs that we breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth for stretching. Deep breaths in, deep breaths out.

Additionally, each time you breathe out, let your body fall a little bit deeper into the stretch. It will give you more stretch and more flexibility.

That letting-your-body-fall-deeper-into-the-stretch-when-you-breathe-out thing really works! I find that, along with loosening my back muscles, this breathing strategy has helped me extend my hamstring stretch in particular by about two inches. That may not seem like much, but for this old broad, it’s YUGE!

By the way, in case you may not have known, yoga is an excellent proper breathing, stretching, flexibility, balance, and even strengthening activity. And as Summit Medical explains in Part 2, yoga also teaches mindful breathing generally, which is our goal in exercise.

So if you only have time to do one thing on a regular basis, yoga may be just the thing for you. Watch for my post on yoga-as-exercise, coming soon!


Now, we’ll look at aerobic exercise in our exploration of proper breathing for the different categories of exercise.

I feel very passionately about aerobic, or cardio, exercise. It includes things like brisk walking, running, walking and/or running on a treadmill, using an elliptical, cycling, swimming, and sports like basketball and tennis.

In my opinion, the main purpose of aerobic work is to strengthen our hearts and lungs. I view the heart as the most important muscle in the body. It’s constantly beating, from before we’re born until our last breath before death.

Even when we’re sleeping and all our other muscles are resting, the heart continues to beat to keep us alive. It gets no absolute rest. It only slows down a bit. If it were to stop completely to rest, we’d die. Duh!

It beats at anywhere from 80 or fewer beats per minute to 150 or more during some forms of exercise, anxiety and stress. Day in, day out. For years. Nonstop. Think about how many beats that is during the course of a normal life!

If we only exercise our other muscles and do no cardio work, how can that be good for or help our hearts? So, do cardio regularly. It’s cardio that will keep you alive and your heart healthy, along with diet, of course

Breathing properly while doing cardio will strengthen our hearts and lungs. It will enable them to better deliver to the rest of our muscles and bodily systems the oxygen they need. Therefore, the principle goal is to establish a consistent breathing pattern.

If we’re not breathing consistently, just imagine what our hearts must be doing.! And if we’re completely holding our breath while we exercise – – – yikes!

And Drew from WellFit agrees. He says the goal is control. Deep, controlled breaths that come from the diaphragm, not the chest. That should ring a bell from Part 1.

He adds that when we’re at rest, we’re breathing shallowly from the chest with only 10-15% of airflow. Therefore, we need deep breaths when we’re doing cardio.

He believes, contrary to some, that it doesn’t matter whether you’re breathing through your nose or mouth, that it’s a matter of personal preference. However, he does point out that some people say that breathing through the mouth is better during cardio because there’s less resistance for the air and you’ll get more oxygen in that way.

Consistent breathing means even, measured breaths versus short, shallow ones. It also means getting more nitric oxide into you body. Why is that imortant? Nitic oxide helps dilate the blood vessels, Furthermore, it increases the oxygenated blood flow to the heart to enable it to work more efficiently, explains Marta Montenegro, M.S., C.S.C.S.

Additionally, consistent breathing gets to your tiring muscles the oxygen they need to keep working. And Dean Somerset adds that for long-distance endurance sports in particular, a steady, consistent breath can help you maintain a steady, consistent pace.

Be aware that consistent doesn’t necessarily mean slow. “If you’re breathing very slow and relaxed, your ability to pull in more oxygen will be reduced, which will limit your ability to perform aerobic work,” says Somerset. He recommends that a breathing rate for endurance activities be to both inhale and exhale for 2 to 3 seconds each.


Next, we’ll explore strength and weight training in our examination of proper breathing for the different categories of exercise.

Breathing Out

WellFit describes an extremely common breathing mistake during weight training called the Valsalva Maneuver, a particular way of holding the breath. This creates a large spike in internal pressure potentially causing an increase in blood pressure. Such an increase is very dangerous for hypertensive people and can also cause dizziness.

I’ve frequntly done this myself before I knew better. But proper breathing easily prevents it. Here’s why.

The core “is the base of tension with which the rest of your body gets strength,” says Mark DiSalvo, C.S.C.S., NYC-based strength coach . “The more tightly your core is contracted, the less leakage of tension there is.” Somerset adds that “breathing can help create core pressure which stabilizes your spine and helps you lift heavier”.

Achieving this core pressure and strength is easily done simply by exhaling at the proper time during a movement. This has come as a welcome gem to me.

For strength training generally, when you exhale on the work or exertion [“concentric”] phase of the movement, you’re using the most commonly recommended technique, says Somerset. When you exhale and squeeze the air out, you increase core engagement, he explains.

Think pulling your belly in toward your spine while you’re exhaling/breathing out. That may not be what a trainer wold say, but it helps me understand it – because it was really counter-intuitive to me at first

Breathing out/exhaling acts as “a . . . pressure release valve to . . . prevent a significant drop in blood pressure during the movement” says Somerset. Apparently this can happen if you hold your breath during a movement! Oy!

In other words, exhaling on the concentric portion of a movement can help stabilize and power you during a lift. It may also protect against lightheadedness post-lift.

Breathing In

This is the easy part because you’ll know without having to think about it! Your body will be screaming at you to breathe in.

So, you’ve breathed out during the work/concentric part of the movement, and you’ve actually completed that part of the movement. Now what? You’re screaming to yourself – and maybe your trainer – “Can I breathe in yet?”

Yes! Now!!

The non-work portion (eccentric) is when you lower the weight back toward the ground. That’s when you breathe in/inhale in preparation for the next work movement.

Easy peasy. Not to mention that you’re body’s autonomic nervous system will do it for you. Otherwise, you die! Just kidding. But you’ll find as you’re paying attention to your breathing that it really requires no thought about when to inhale. It’s the timing of the exhaling that can be confusing at first.

As I’ve been training myself to do this breathing thing consistently and correctly, I have developed a trick for myself. I do a few deep breaths slowly in and out before starting a set. This lets me easily figure out when to start the movement to coincide with the correct “direction” of the breathing – in or out. Out on the work part, in on the relaxing part. I hope that made sense!

Some examples might help.


Here are a few examples of proper breathing for the different categories of exercise for fairly common weight and strength training and cardio or aerobic activities.

These examples are not intended to be even close to exhaustive. Rather, they are intended to give you a clearer understanding that you can apply to other activities as well of when to breathe in and when to breathe out or when to breathe steadily in and out.


When you’re doing a bicep curl, the work (or concentric) portion of the curl is when you lift the weight toward your shoulder. That’s when you breathe out. Breathe in when you are returning the weight toward the floor.

So, breathe out when you lift the weight toward your shoulder. Breathe in when you relax the weight toward the floor.

This will apply whether you are using free weights or machines.


In a bench press, the work movement is when you push or “press” up. The relaxing part of the movement is when you lower the weight.

So, breath out when you push/press (or lift) up. Breathe in when you relax, or lower, the weight.

This will be the same with any press activity, and it will apply whether you are using free weights or machines. Think shoulder press or chest press, for example.


For pulling activities, breathe out on the pull. Breathe in when you return the movement to its beginning position.

For example, this would apply to a tricep rope pull-down that then returns to the top of the pull.


These are all activities in which your rythm will be pretty even. The rythm enables you to easily regulate your breathing so that it supports the activity. You should think in terms of so many steps per inhale and the same number of steps per exhale. The rythm of steps to breaths will keep your breathing controlled and consistent throughout the movements.

WellFit recommends, for example, that for running, do two steps and breathe in, then two steps and breathe out. Dean Somerset suggests for running breathe out for three foot strikes, and in for another three foot strikes.

For other cardiovascular exercise such as walking, cycling, or swimming, Summit Medical recommends that you breathe through the mouth or nose at even intervals. In other words, for so many steps or strokes, breathe in, and the same number of steps or strokes for breathing out. Make each breath you take in equal to each breath you push out.

I find the best rythm for me on the elliptical and treadmill, for example, is a count of 2 on the inhale and 2 on the exhale. It may be different for other activities for me, I imagine. Furthermore, everyone will likely be different.  

If you happen to mix up the order of these or forget which way to go – in or out – the main thing is that you are breathing. So don’t hold your breath during your exercises! Just remembering this will make a huge difference in the benefit you derive from your workouts.


Well, this was the final bite of the apple of proper breathing during exercise. We’ve looked at several principles during this 3-part series. I’ve tried to set things out in a way that would make sense, going from the broad picture to the narrower.

In Part 1, we learned about how breathing works and the best way to do it.

In Part 2, we generally explored benefits of breathing for exercise and common breathing mistakes. We also discussed nose and mouth breathing.

In this final part, we’ve examined proper breathing for the different categories of exercise

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!


Leave comments and questions on the blog posts themselves. I will answer each and every one of them.

The blog email address is:


Instagram: @aileens_fitness_with_attitude


8 thoughts on “Proper Breathing During Workouts – Pt. 3

    • Aileen Lee says:

      Aren’t you wonderful to say such kind things, Se7en Bites!! Very much appreciated, and I’m thrilled to know that the information is useful to you. I just checked your website and remembered that I saw your episode with Guy Fieri! Whohoo!!!! I hope it brought you boatloads of business. I’m not going to have any new posts up for a week or two, but do please continue to stop buy. It means a lot, and I’ll do a plug for you! Thanks again so very much. Aileen @

    • Aileen Lee says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Amado! My apologies for not getting back to you sooner, but I really do appreciate that you visit the blog regularly and like my style. I do try to write in a way that will let people know what my personality (wack!), so am thrilled to know it came though. I checked your web page, and your work looks lovely. I see it’s in French and wonder are you Quebecois? Your name seems Italian or Spanish, though. Ah, the mysteries of meeting people on the internet! Thanks again so much, and I hope you will continue to visit Fitness With Attitude. I many not have any new posts uo for a couple of weeks, but do please keep checking in. Thanks once again. Au revoir!

    • Aileen Lee says:

      Thanks so much for your very kind words, and apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I’ve had a little drama to deal with for about a month so couldn’t take time to anwer comments, so thanks for your patience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *