What’s the proper way to breathe when exercising?

There is nothing more natural than breathing. It’s the first and last thing we do in our lives because if we’re not taking in and exhaling air, well, we’re not going to last long.
However, it’s surprising how much confusion some people have when it comes to knowing the right way to breathe during exercise.
“Breathing doesn’t take thought, does it?” some people might ask. “It happens naturally, so who needs instructions on how to do it?”
The answer is yes and no.
Oftentimes people do breathe correctly by natural instincts, but there are an awful lot who hinder their workouts by doing it improperly. They might hold their breath when a weight workout gets extremely tough, exhale or inhale at the wrong time or not take big enough breaths.
And believe it or not, your breathing approach should change for different types of activities.
Here are some breathing pointers to consider for different types of common exercise regimens:

Areobic/Cardio exercises — When doing aerobic exercises (ie: cardio), like running, cycling or swimming, avoid shallow breathing. Take stronger, deep breaths and develop an inhale/exhale pattern that feels comfortable.

Weight/resistance training — When doing weightlifting or resistance training, exhale on the exertion (hardest part of the lift) and inhale on the recovery (easier part of the lift).
For example, when doing a bench press, exhale when you lift the weights off your chest, and inhale when you lower it back down. Another way to think of it is “blow the weight off your chest.”

Relaxation exercise — Use much deeper, controlled breathing for mind/body activities like yoga or tai chi. This can also be called diaphragmatic breathing. It is intended to help strengthen the diaphragm, decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate, decrease oxygen demand and use less effort and energy to breathe. This breathing takes the most work to learn and trainers can provide tips.

Mouth or nose breathing? — Here’s the answer to one final, big question that’s full of a lot of hot air. When running or cycling, should you breathe in more through your mouth or nose? Some people say to breathe in through the nose in these activities, but that’s really a tip that only helps when the air is extremely cold.
Like most experts, I believe that runners should breathe in and out through their mouths. The muscles need oxygen to keep moving and your nose simply can’t deliver enough. Deep belly breathing allows you to take in more air, which can also help prevent side cramps. You can switch up for short spurts breathing through the nose, but deep breaths are the way to go.

At Home Fitness consultant Aaron Dorksen’s blog deals with a variety of fitness topics, ranging from workout tips, motivational ideas and feature stories on how exercise impacts people’s lives. E-mail him with comments, questions or ideas for future blogs at aaron@athomefitness.com