Breathing is something we obviously all do in order to be alive – but do you breathe correctly when you exercise? Did you realise the majority of the time when we breathe during rest we only use about 10 – 15% of our lung capacity? We take short sharp breaths consistently through our daily lives.

Whilst exercising our bodies require large amounts of oxygen increasing our respiration rate. Knowing some simple breathing techniques will allow your body to get more from your exercise routines or sports and or avoid complications such as dizziness after intense training.


As a basic rule it is important to always maintain a good posture in order to keep your chest open to improve your lung capacity. If running you should maintain a straight back and hold your head high. When doing cardio it is best to try to breathe abdominally – this allows you to gain larger volumes of oxygen into your lungs. When your not training practice breathing where your abdomen rises naturally and allow your abdomen to contract slightly to push the air out. Another way to enhance your breathing is to combine Abdominal with Thoracic breathing – also practice this when you are relaxed  –begin by inhaling abdominally filling the bottom of your lungs as much as you can and then aim to fill the top of your lungs into your chest feeling your rib cage opening up or expanding slightly outward. If and when you combine the two you will achieve greater amounts of oxygen into your bloodstream. If you are someone who enjoys training in the cold outdoor air it is a good idea to try to focus on breathing through your nose to warm the air before it gets to your lungs – obviously breathing through the nose can be difficult depending on the intensity of the workout, but this may help avoid getting sick and keep you training.

Resistance Training

Strength training requires stability to perform the movement of sometimes very heavy weight. Breathing appropriately will help maintain support or what’s known as bracing. Some trainers advise using the Valsalva maneuver – which is a moderately forceful exhalation against a closed airway. This particular style of breathing can help to stabalise the trunk during heavy compound lifts such as the Dead lift, Squat, Olympic weightlifting and bench press. Generally this method will be utilized by athletes who have a healthy blood pressure and are accustomed to training with heavy weight. This type of breathing is not suitable for everyone however, especially if you have higher levels of systemic blood pressure. Forced exhalation throughout normal repetitions is the general best practice for people going to the gym to improve their fitness. For example if we are doing a bench press we breathe in on the negative repetition where the weight is lowering to our chest 2 or 3 times in and breathe out in a relaxed manner and out gradually when we push the weight above our chest. We want to always keep oxygen in our blood for our muscles – so focus on breathing in a controlled manner.

High Impact Sports or Training

High intensity sports place high demands on our bodies – and if your not in good shape you can expect to get gassed out fairly quickly. Depending on the sport you play breathing can vary slightly however as a rule try to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Breathing from the diaphragm is the aim – accessing the larger lower parts of your lungs allows for more oxygenated blood and more rounds or better performance whilst training. Its always very important to try and not hold your breath when under pressure – obviously different if your underneath the water say duck-diving a huge mass of whitewater whilst surfing! However, staying relaxed in a pressure situation no matter what sport you are involved in can only help to maintain focus allowing you to perform your best.

Cool Down and Stretching

The aim here is to equalise our breathing –You may have completed an intense set of exercises and now its time to focus on equal length inhale and equal length exhale. This type of breathing is said to calm the nervous system, reduce stress and lower the blood pressure.  As a general rule whilst stretching you should breath in when you have opened your body in some way ( e.g. shoulders pulled back and chest out ) and breath out when closing your body in some way ( e.g closing or inward flexion of shoulders ) .

If you can gain a regular and rhythmic breathing pattern or system according to the type of training you do you will gain greater results. Sometimes this may take lots of practice, as we have to teach ourselves new forms of breathing and naturally it is something we do without thinking – but why not give it a try, you have nothing to lose.