Proper breathing is essential during exercise. It’s strange to imagine how easy it is to forget to breathe, since we all breathe constantly without hesitation throughout the day. However, it’s extremely easy to forget to inhale or exhale during physical activity, especially when muscles get sore and movements become more difficult.
Having a good breathing pattern during aerobic or cardiovascular exercises, such as running, ensures that your muscles continue to receive the oxygen they need to keep contracting (which allows for muscle growth and room for your strength to increase).
As you breathe, the air you inhale is pulled into microscopic air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. This is where oxygen is delivered to red blood cells. Your blood becomes rich with oxygen and flows to your heart, which then pumps it out to the rest of your body as you exhale carbon dioxide.
The respiratory center of your brain automatically sends messages to your respiratory muscles, telling the muscles when to breathe. Since this action is automatic, you don’t have to think about it. But when you exercise, your brain notices an increase in carbon dioxide and lactic acid (a byproduct of exercising your muscles) in your blood. In response to this increase, your respiratory muscles increase the speed and depth of your breaths so you can dispose of all the extra carbon dioxide and deliver additional oxygen to your working muscles.
The American Council on Exercise states you can determine the amount of effort you’re putting in to your workout by how hard you are breathing. For an exercise with a medium level of intensity, your breath shouldn’t be too heavy (you’d still be able to carry a conversation easily). For an exercise with a high level of intensity, the speed of your breathing will increase, impeding your ability to speak cohesively.
Holding your breath while working out, especially during high intensity exercises, can potentially produce what is called the valsalva effect. The valsalva effect impedes the return of blood flow to your heart, producing a sharp rise in your blood pressure, followed by a sudden drop in blood pressure. This effect is dangerous because the sudden increase and decrease in blood pressure has the potential to make you faint or blackout while exercising. The best way to prevent any sort of injuries or negative effects on your body is to learn proper breathing techniques while exercising, that will ultimately benefit the way you breathe daily.
Fitness experts at the University of California Riverside say the correct breathing technique when lifting weights is to inhale before lifting the weights or do the movement and exhale during the course of the lift. Keep your face relaxed with your mouth opened, isolating the tension in your body to the muscles working while you’re exercising. Exhale while lifting the weight or when the tension or resistance in your body increases; this is called the exertion phase. Inhale deeply while you lower the weight or when the level of tension and resistance in your body is low; this is called the relaxation phase.
This pattern is easy to remember if you inhale when the movement is easiest and exhale through the difficult portions of the exercise. Achieving a full, deep breath is the main goal in practicing a good pattern of breathing, since it will expand your lung capacity and make your exercises easier to endure. The University of New Mexico researchers say the best way to get a full, deep breath is to breathe from the diaphragm while simultaneously expanding your chest.