How Should I Breathe When I’m Working Out and Exercising?


question-icon-newThis might seem like a weird question but I wanted to ask it anyway because its something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m a beginner bodybuilder and I would like to know about the correct way to breathe when working out. When I’m lifting weights, when should I inhale and exhale? I see a lot of people huffing, puffing and grunting during their workouts and I just want to make sure I’m doing it correctly. Is there a specific sequence of breathing to follow?

answer-icon-newProper breathing is vital during exercise. Various studies have been conducted concerning the importance of correct breathing when working out. The outcome of such studies points towards the same thing. During activities such as swimming or running, breathing properly ensures that the active muscles get the right amount of oxygen so that they can keep contracting. Correct breathing is essential to both aerobic and non-aerobic forms of exercise. Examples of aerobic exercises include swimming and running, while non-aerobic (or anaerobic) exercises include weight lifting and yoga among others. Anaerobic basically means “without air”.

The brain automatically sends signals to the respiratory system telling it when to breathe. However, when exercising, the brain notes that the blood has increased carbon monoxide, as well as lactic acid, which is a byproduct from exercising muscles. This triggers the signals to the respiratory system prompting it to increase the depth and speed of your breaths. The aim of this is to offload the extra carbon monoxide and increase the supply of oxygen to the active muscles. This way, they will continue contracting and you will exercise for a longer period, thus increasing your efficiency.

Since the muscles need more oxygen while exercising, holding one’s breath reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. You will end up running slower, or you will not lift weights as much, and your progress will deteriorate. The impact of improper breathing ranges from inefficiency in workouts to negative health effects. Incorrect breathing during a weight training workout might lead to a buildup of pressure in the thorax and the abdomen can also increase in size rapidly causing a dangerous rise in your blood pressure. This in turn can cause instances of dizziness, fainting or worse still, stroke for those at a higher risk.

During stretching or lifting weights, proper breathing plays a central role. Flexibility training aims at helping prevent cramps, injuries, stiffness and also emphasizes the need to breathe properly. Some people have a bad habit of holding their breath while exercising. This is referred to as the Valsalva maneuver. It limits the flow of oxygen to the brain and muscles causing dizziness and the possibility of fainting (passing out) among other complications.

According to fitness experts, the correct breathing technique when lifting weights involves inhaling on the eccentric portion (lowering the weight), and exhaling during the concentric portion of the exercise when you push or pull the weight being lifted. Basically, you want to inhale during the least resistant portion of the exercise (breathe in while lowering the weight down on squats) and then breathe out on the most difficult portion of the exercise (exhale when pushing the weight back up to the top when doing squats).

Weight lifting increases the need for oxygen to the muscles, making you breathe faster. In other words, you should breathe out when doing the hard part of the lift and then breathe in on the easy part, when you let the weight come back to the starting position. Another example is the barbell bench press, where you will exhale when you push the weight up to the top and then inhale as you lower the bar down to your chest.

Along with weight training, you should try to include some other forms of exercises into your overall fitness routine. According to Tai Chi, a form of martial arts practiced by Chinese, proper breathing, meditation and movements are vital to good health. The American Cancer Society has reported that Tai Chi enhances posture, muscle mass, balance, flexibility and strength. This exercise results in the same cardiovascular benefits just like moderate exercises like walking. The importance of correct breathing when working out cannot be underestimated as it contributes significantly to many health benefits.

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