How to Breathe While Exercising

If you’re not getting enough oxygen when you work out you’ll feel out of breath, tire quickly and generally not be able to achieve much from your exercise. You may give up, feeling deflated and defeated, which can be an incredibly demotivating if you’re trying to improve your fitness. I’ve had clients with very low self esteem when it comes to exercise because they think they’re not physically capable, when in reality all they were doing was breathing badly.

Here are four tips that can help you to breathe better and make the most of your body.

Breathe into the stomach

As I covered in more detail on my blog on breathing exercises, breathing into your stomach is far more effective at bringing oxygen into your body than breathing into your chest. This is because it engages your diaphragm, the muscle responsible for squeezing and expanding your lungs, instead of using the limited movement your chest is capable of. Diaphragm breathing lets you breathe deeper, which gets more oxygen into your bloodstream.

If you’re having difficulty engaging your diaphragm while breathing, I highly recommend that you try some of the breathing exercises in the blog mentioned above, which can be done without any training from the comfort of your own home.

Exhale on exertion

For most strength training exercises, the golden rule is to exhale on exertion. For example, if you’re doing a squat, you’re going to inhale slowly on your way down, then exhale on your way up. For a curl, you would exhale when you lift the weight then inhale as you lower it back down.

It’s easy to remember: inhale down, exhale up.

The exception is with pulling exercises, such as using a lat pulldown machine or rowing machine. In these cases, you inhale on exertion. When you’re doing a pulling motion you want your chest expanded and your shoulder blades pulled together, which is far easier if you’re inhaling.

Time your breathing to your steps

For cardiovascular exercises such as walking, jogging or running, a technique that I’ve found to work fantastically with my clients is to time your breathing with your steps, called the Russian breathing ladder.

You start by inhaling for one step then and exhaling for one step and keeping up this pattern for around a minute. Then you increase the pattern to every two steps for a minute, then three steps and so on. With practice, most of my clients can maintain around ten steps inhaling and ten steps exhaling before they start feeling light-headed.

This takes a lot of concentration to keep up, so I recommend practising while walking before attempting the Russian breathing ladder while jogging or running. It’s definitely worth a try if you enjoy these kinds of exercises, especially for long distance endurance running. I’ve even had clients with only one lung able to get back to running using this technique.

Don’t smoke, seriously

We’ve all heard people talk about friends or relatives who have stayed healthy their whole lives despite smoking. Maybe they’re out there, but I can say in all my years of training I’ve never met a smoker who can keep up with my programme.

Whether they’re in their twenties or their eighties, I can spot smokers a mile off. If you smoke, your lungs simply won’t be able to meet the demands of exercise, and your body will become exhausted far quicker than it should. Nearly every client of mine who’s a smoker quits eventually. You simply can’t train and smoke, you have to give up one if you’re going to keep the other, and when people feel the benefits of exercising and breathing properly, it becomes an easy choice.

Quit entirely or switch to e-cigarettes; either way, smoking needs to be the first habit you get rid of if you want to improve your fitness.

Breathing right is the just first step to making the most of your body. If you want to take it further, get in touch with us at  or 0207 937 1628  to find out about our functional training programmes that are perfectly tailored to your lifestyle, passions and objectives.


Ryno Erasmus

Functional Trainer