Breathing is a natural and dynamic process that is regulated as per the body’s requirements. During exertion, more oxygen is required for the muscles and other bodily processes to function efficiently, making it important to pay attention to breathing while working out. To make the workout effective, the right breathing techniques should be employed. Further, attention to detail — when to inhale and exhale and whether to use the nose or the mouth to breathe — is paramount.
When a person is anxious or stressed, their body tends to become stiff. The stiffness leads to changes in the breathing pattern, causing sub-optimal movement. Therefore, breathing correctly is mandatory for effective and efficient movement.
The importance of proper breathing during a workout
“Exercise is a coordinated set of movement patterns,” shares Abhinav Chandra Mishra, fitness and nutrition coach at HealthifyMe, Bengaluru. “Proper breathing is necessary to ensure oxygen supply to the muscles and keep the body functioning during the entirety of the exercise duration.”
“Our muscles need oxygen to function. During a workout, the oxygen demand increases. Thus, to cope with the demand, breathing is important. Also, breathing steadily while exercising helps remove the carbon dioxide from our body,” adds Kumar.
Should people breathe through the nose or mouth?
One should inhale through the nose, as unlike the mouth, it is designed to filter air during the process, say experts. While exhaling, we may use the mouth or nose according to comfort or habit.
“During a high-intensity exercise, we tend to breathe out from our mouth,” adds Rohit Kumar, lifestyle coach and exercise science educator from New Delhi. “Hence, we find it difficult to speak during or immediately after an intense exercise. It is recommended to inhale through the nose and exhale from the mouth. However, if you are comfortable exhaling from the nose, there is no harm.”
How to breathe during different types of exercises
Various forms of exercise need different types of breathing.
Resistance training: During resistance training, we should breathe out when our muscles squeeze or contract and stretch, and breathe in when they expand.
Kumar elaborates on the breathing process during exercises such as bicep curls. He shares, “When bringing the weight up, the muscle squeezes — breathe out here. Similarly, while bringing the weight down, the muscle stretches; thus, breathe in.”
While lifting weight, the goal is to control the weight and not be controlled by it. “And breathing helps one do that,” says Chandra, as he shares a few tips.
- Inhale before lifting the weight to ensure spinal stability.
- Remember to exhale when you exert or while moving against gravity.
- Inhale again at the start position.
Cardiovascular exercises: Nasal breathing works for exercises that include repetitive movement patterns for an extended period. It works best for low- to moderate-intensity workouts. You can use your mouth as well, but nasal breathing works better in increasing lung capacity.
When someone’s nose is blocked, they start opening their mouth to meet the oxygen demand. Similarly, while increasing the intensity of exercise, the oxygen demand increases; therefore, a combination of mouth and nasal breathing works. Use your mouth to exhale completely in case of strenuous demands.
Yoga, Pilates and free-flowing movement: The key here is syncing the movement with breathing. But the general rule while doing these forms is to inhale when stretching or performing opening movements and exhale when contracting or completing the closing movements.
“Always note that while breathing operates within general guidelines, each individual’s capacity and medical considerations introduce variety. The dynamic nature of breathing underscores its personalized essence,” stresses Chandra.
- Proper breathing during a workout is necessary to ensure oxygen supply to the muscles and to keep the body functioning efficiently during exercise.
- One should inhale through the nose as far as possible, while exhalation can be through the nose or the mouth. This helps in enlarging lung capacity.
- When performing stretching or opening movements, people should inhale, and while performing contracting or closing movements, they can exhale. In case of exercises such as lifting weights, inhale before lifting the weight to ensure spinal stability and exhale when you exert.