Breathing Techniques for a More Effective Workout

Breathing Techniques for a More Effective Workout

Listen to the instructor in a class and they will often tell you to breath. What is the importance of breathing actively and intentionally during exercise? Have you wondered what the big deal is with breathing in a yoga class, or a Pilates class? What kind of breathing do you do with weight lifting? Is it necessary to concentrate on breath with intention, or can you just get on with the business of the exercise? Let’s explore some breathing techniques to increase the effectivness of your workout.

The Importance of Breathing During Exercise

For many years, breathing, and the importance of how to breathe during different forms of exercise has been largely ignored, particularly in weight lifting circles. We knew, of course, that you had to breathe, and that holding your breath while lifting resulted in the “Valsalva Maneuver,” a spike in your blood pressure. I was even taught to “exhale on the exertion.” But it was never heavily emphasized, with the exception of Pilates and Yoga. Recently, I’ve been watching a video series from a well known strength coach, Mike Boyle, who is finally acknowledging the importance of using breath to help activate the core.

The Diaphragm and How it Works

If you’ve ever sung in choir, or played a wind instrument of any sort, you were taught about the diaphragm, and it’s role in breathe control and supporting your sound.  Here are the basics:


The diaphragm is a deep core muscle that helps to support your breathing, and also activate your other core muscles. Here’s how it works, on the simplest level: When you inhale, the lungs expand and the diaphragm moves down to allow room for the air. When you exhale, the diaphragm moves up, pushing the air out of the lungs, and allowing the other muscles to coordinate. Picture parachute play at a preschool.

parachute play

When you watch kids play with a parachute, you see it rise and fall, much like the diaphragm does when you breath.

Try this now: Lie on your back and relax. If you need a pillow or cushion under your knees, you can do that, or you can put your feet on the floor with your knees bent if you prefer. Place your hands on your belly, just under your rib cage. Take a nice deep breath in through your nose, and out from the mouth, counting to 5 as you inhale and exhale. Notice how the midsection expands as you inhale, and contracts as you exhale.

Practice These Breathing Techniques

Now lets get more purposeful about feeling how the muscles work in concert with your lungs. Inhale through the nose to a count of 5, then exhale from the mouth for 10 counts, and completely empty the lungs by 10. Do you feel how those muscles contract as a team? Do you feel them tightening? Be sure to keep the shoulders relaxed. Do 5 of these breaths.

Finally, let’s add one from my singing days. Inhale through the nose to a count of 5, and then exhale from the mouth in 4 quick, percussive puffs, with one long one on 5 as you empty the lungs completely. Feel how the muscles contract forcefully as you puff. This is the diaphragm working really hard at its job. Do 5 of these. When you have practiced this and can feel that core activate, layer that breathing into your exercise.  In Pilates, we use that percussive breath for the Hundred exercise. In Yoga, there are prescribed breathing exercises called Pranayama that can be incorporated into your practice.  And in your weight lifting exercises, they can be used to activate the core to prepare it for the exertion of lifting.

If you need help with your breathing techniques, come see me for a fitness consultation!

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Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen

Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.

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