Breathing During Exercise

Preferably Without Passing Out

When I first started working out, I looked online for tips and tricks on where to get started. I researched the difference between isolation and compound movements, weighed the benefits of strength and endurance training, and studied the strange chemistry of sports supplements. I also found many suggestions telling me how to breathe.

This would strike me as silly, seeing as how I’d found moderate success breathing on my own for my entire life.

I could also barely curl ten pounds at the time, and I would break a sweat after five minutes of jogging. Breathing techniques hadn’t even come into play because I simply wasn’t putting the level of stress on my body that would make it necessary.

Now, about two years later, I can deadlift more than my bodyweight, run a steady 25 minutes, and truly appreciate the merits of measured breathing.

Upper Body:

Every individual has their preference. Mine is to skip upper body training entirely, but I never do. Instead, I drag myself to the gym, find myself a bench, and I breathe out during the concentric phase, and in during the eccentric phase.

Consider lateral pull-downs. With this exercise, the bar is raised over your head and it is your job to pull it to chest-level. How difficult this is depends on how many plates you’ve attached to it. Either way, you would exhale while pulling the bar to your chest, and inhale while extending your arms over your head again.

Similar to rows, curls, and presses, this is an exercise to be patient with. Breathe in time with the movement. Do both slowly. Your lungs should fill up just as your arms fully extend above you, and the last bit of air should leave you just as the bar reaches your chest.

It takes a bit of discipline and quite a bit of getting used to, but if you plan on lifting heavy, it’s worth learning. The steady rhythm ensures you get your body a good amount of oxygen rather than holding your breath and taking random gulps when you realize your face is going to explode. (This act is very common, especially with old guys for some reason.)

Squats:

One of The Big Three (Squats, Deadlifts, and Bench Presses), squatting also happens to be one of my favorite exercises. There’s something satisfying about slapping more and more plates on an iron bar as your strength and ability progress.

That said, there’s a lot of room for error when it comes to the technique of squats, and little room for ego. (I once witnessed a guy with toothpicks for legs try to squat 185 lbs, blow his knee out, and steal my personal trainer because she had to go help him. Don’t be that moron. Don’t steal people’s trainers.)

When you’ve found the proper amount of weight for your strength, and preferably a spotter to go with it, and you’ve stepped away from the rack with the bar on your shoulders, take a deep, even breath. Hold it as you drop your ass to grass and let it go as you return to standing. Don’t worry if that “exhale” inadvertently turns itself into a grunt or a scream. (This is called “beast mode.”) Just take another breath and perform your next repetition.

Another method of breathing during squats is to inhale while lowering and exhale while standing. I’ve tried this and, while it’s fine when I’m working with lighter weights, it’s not great for heavy squats.

Breathing in creates unnecessary movement. Unless you’ve somehow managed to perfectly balance the bar, it’s easy to lose balance. Your core should be as stable as possible during the movement, as it is not only keeping you from folding under the weight, but from swaying from side to side.

Really, though, the only things that should move at all during this exercise are your legs and hips. Everything else — head, chest, and shoulders — should be steady.

Running:

Running isn’t my strongest suit. I will own up to that. I’m too impatient and too in love with weights to dedicate myself to 45 minutes on the treadmill.

Still, I don’t think 25 minutes straight is that bad. I’ve certainly done this often enough to feel confident when I advise you to keep your back straight at all times. Don’t slouch over, even if you get that dreaded side cramp. Keep your head up and, if you’re really out of breath, tilt your chin up a bit. This keeps your airways clear.

Additionally, learn rhythmic breathing. During an easy run, it may feel a bit silly, but it will keep you from gulping air once difficulty rises. The more smooth and efficient your oxygen intake, the farther you will be able to push yourself.

And that’s all it’s really about. At the risk of being cheesy, working out is worth more than health benefits, or the endorphin rush, or looking amazing naked. Physical accomplishment brings about such a simple, pure sense of pride that’s hard to match. Practicing proper breathing techniques may feel weird, especially at first, but for that boost to your abilities, it’s worth it.

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Breathing During Exercise