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How Should I Breathe?

The following question was answered by Cara Regas, MA, ATC, ACE-certified personal trainer at Fitness Quest 10.

What should your breathing pattern be when exercising? For example, should you exhale or inhale when lifting a weight?
Have you ever noticed that in the middle of an exercise you are gasping for air? You realize you were holding your breath throughout your exercises, questioning how to properly breathe during an exercise. Breathing is an imperative component of any exercise routine. Breathing brings oxygen into the blood stream and to the working muscles of the body. Oxygen allows those muscles to maintain a steady state of work.  Proper breathing techniques ensure the ability to sustain exercise. In contrast, holding your breath during a forceful contraction, a Valsalva Maneuver, causes an increase of the pressure in your abdomen and a loss of oxygen. That increase in the abdominal cavity can result in a change in blood pressure, which can result in a loss of oxygen and passing out. Therefore, it is important to breathe during activity.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) states that the correct way to breathe during activity is to exhale during the most difficult portion and inhale during the easier portion of the exercise. In other words, exhale on the exertion and inhale on the return. For example, when performing a bicep curl, begin with your arms extended. Take in a breath and as you contract your biceps bringing the weights up towards your shoulders, continuously exhale. When returning the weight back to the starting position, inhale and repeat the movement.

There are varying patterns of breathing depending on the exercise. Yoga and Pilates require a different breathing technique than lifting weights. As a general rule, try to breathe consistently throughout your entire workout. Use your diaphragm to breathe as opposed to your chest (short, shallow breaths). Diaphragmatic breathing is displayed through your stomach rising, not your chest. This breathing technique is used not only in forceful exercises but also in relaxation techniques (Yoga, centering, etc.). Properly used in your exercises, diaphragmatic breathing will increase the efficiency of your lungs and ultimately improve your performance and endurance in any sport.
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