How Does Breathing Change During Exercise?

Think of your last workout. Did you breathe more rapidly? Did your breaths seems shallow? Were you not paying attention to breath at all? Often, breath patterns change during exercise, and it sometimes changes in ways that can make it harder for you to get your muscles the oxygen they need for effective performance. Below, we'll consider how patterns of breath can change during exercise, as well as some tricks and exercise hacks you can use to make your breathing - and your workout - more efficient and rewarding.

It Often Becomes More Shallow

From a logical standpoint, frequent, shallower breaths make sense when you're exercising. However, this means you are getting less oxygen per breath.

Researchers Al Lee and Don Campbell explain that, by building strength in the diaphragm and in the intercostal muscles, athletes were able to use oxygen more efficiently when training. These athletes were trained using a technique known as respiratory resistance training

However, you don't need specialized training to reap at least some of the benefits of this training method. Whether you like to run or prefer a spin bike for consistent cardio, deliberately focusing on taking deeper breaths will allow you to train yourself to bring in more oxygen with each breath.

Spinning, in particular is often a high-intensity workout, and mastering this breath technique will help you get through even extremely challenging rides, whether you're taking a spin class or spinning in the comfort of your home.

It Can Help Increase Your Lifts

There's plenty of debate surrounding breath techniques and lifting. Generally speaking, for non-maximal lifts, it's best to exhale during the concentric ("lifting") phase, and then inhale on the eccentric ("lowering") phase.

This is because, since you're generally expending more effort on the concentric phase, it's simply easier to inhale during the eccentric phase when your body isn't working quite as hard.

For those who are attempting one-rep maxes or similarly challenging lifts, the right breath technique, along with the sturdiest weight benches and other equipment, can make the difference between a poor lift and a personal record. Some powerlifters use the Valsalva maneuver, which refers to exhaling against a closed glottis.

This increases pressure in the abdomen, supporting the spine and allowing you to lift more weight.

However, as Jesse Irizarry of T Nation explains, this method is only meant to be held for a few seconds at a time, and it should not be used routinely. Because it spikes blood pressure, it may not be suited to those with existing hypertension or those with cardiac issues.

The Right Meditative Breath Techniques Can Improve Performance

While many athletes use special breathing techniques to support relaxation and recovery, adventurer Wim Hof, who is better known as "The Iceman," advocates a distinct pattern of breath exercises before submerging oneself in ice.

He claims his breath exercises can support better health, and surprisingly, research backs him up.

In a study comparing 12 people trained by Hof to 12 controls, the people who had practiced Hof's breath and mindfulness techniques were able to fight off an injected strain of E. coli significantly better than the controls.

Hof also believes his breath exercises are the reason he has been able to perform unusual athletic feats, including climbing Mount Everest shirtless and running a barefoot marathon in the arctic.

While you may not want to challenge your body's tolerance of cold to this extent, using these breath techniques or others might be able to help you improve athletic performance and even fight off infections.

The More Fit You Become, the Less Exercise Affects Your Breath

If you have just started exercising, you may be discouraged by running out of breath quickly. However, if you maintain your motivation to exercise through this phase and increase your level of fitness, you will find that you don't breathe as hard when you reach similar levels of exertion.

This is because, in fit people, exercise does not raise the rate of oxygen intake or the levels of lactic acid in the blood as much as it does in an unfit person. Plus, as your fitness increases, you will need shorter recovery times than before.

If you are currently in the early stages of an exercise program, it may be helpful to give yourself longer rest periods as you build a level of base fitness. Additionally, practicing taking deeper breaths will help ensure you get enough oxygen even during especially tough workouts.

While running out of breath quickly can certainly be challenging, it may be helpful to understand that this will not always be the case.

Breaths Through Your Nose and Through Your Mouth Have Different Effects

Just as there's long been a debate over the best breath techniques to use when lifting, you've likely heard plenty of opinions on taking breaths through your nose versus breaths through your mouth.

The truth is that there's no one clear winner in this debate - nose breaths may work for some, while breaths taken through the mouth may work better for others.

Each technique has its own benefits. Breath expert Alison McConnell recommends breaths through the mouth, since this is easier and allows you to take in a greater volume of air.

Breaths through the nose, on the other hand, can help warm up cold air before it hits the lungs. For this reason, this technique is favored by Ironwoman Terra Castro. Plus, while taking breaths through the nose can be a bit more challenging, it increases blood CO2 saturation, and this may promote feelings of relaxation, even duringa workout.


Breathing all too often becomes an afterthought during exercise. But by making it a focus of your training can dramatically improve not just your performance, but your general wellbeing as well. By being mindful of how breath changes during exercise and by training in a way that uses your breath wisely and efficiently, you can expedite your journey to improved fitness.

Guest Post - by Mike Jones

Mike Jones is a healthy living and fitness enthusiast and endorser. Mike is regularly blogging on the benefits of smart, not necessarily hard, workouts and natural remedies towards inner and outer health. He is a contributor to Exercise Bikes Expert

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