Breathing is one of the deciding factors in your workout success. You supply your muscles with oxygen and can increase your performance. Find out how correct breathing works and which mistakes you should avoid.
Without food, water and sleep, we can survive for a period of time. However, breathing is our livelihood – and therefore the most normal thing in the world. Hardly anyone thinks about their breathing. Unconsciously, air flows through the nose or mouth into our lungs and out again around 20,000 times a day.
When you breathe in, your body absorbs oxygen. This is essential for all metabolic processes and is transported to the organs and cells via the bloodstream.
When you exhale, the air is forced out of the lungs through the mouth and nose. In addition to carbon dioxide, it contains other “metabolic waste” such as nitrogen.
Different muscles are involved in inhalation and exhalation. The main player in the respiratory muscles is the diaphragm, which is located below the lungs. It separates the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. By contraction, the diaphragm ensures that the chest rises and falls or – with so-called abdominal breathing – the stomach arches and pulls inwards again.
How important is breathing for muscle training?
Anyone who sits in a stuffy room for a long time becomes tired and unable to concentrate over time. It usually helps to ventilate briefly to collect new energy. It is similar with the muscles: They need oxygen in order to be able to perform and not to tire too quickly. The more we exert ourselves physically, the more oxygen our muscle tissue needs.
In addition, the right breathing technique can increase your performance in strength training. It helps you build tension in your core and keep you stable. This is a crucial factor, especially when working with heavy weights. The more stability you have in your body, the more strength you can muster and, as a result, improve your performance. You get more out of each repetition and see successes faster in the end.
The wrong breathing technique, on the other hand, can lead to injuries. If you breathe too shallowly, you lack body tension and your cells do not get enough oxygen. If you hold your breath for too long, veins and alveoli can burst due to the intense tension. In the worst case, you can pass out due to the acute lack of oxygen.
Correct breathing during strength training
When exercising, whether running or lifting weights, the breathing rate increases. You breathe faster and more intensely because your body needs more oxygen due to the exertion.
There are three basic rules for correct breathing during strength training:
- The rule of thumb is to exhale during the concentric phase (tension) and inhale during the eccentric phase (relaxation). Using the example of the bench press exercise: if you push the weights up, you exhale, if you release them, you inhale.
- Try to keep breathing calmly and deeply despite high stress. It helps if you get into the habit of taking deep breaths at a low frequency even when you are resting. With it you train your respiratory muscles and can call up the technique during training.
- Get used to abdominal breathing. It uses less energy than chest and shoulder breathing. At the same time, you take in more oxygen per breath. Abdominal breathing can also lower blood pressure and stimulate digestion.
Pursed breathing: advantages and risks
Many athletes swear by so-called press breathing when doing strength exercises: between inhalation and exhalation, at the moment of greatest stress, there is a conscious pause for breath. This has advantages, but also carries risks.
Advantages of pursed breathing
By holding your breath, you tense your core muscles and give your body more stability in the moment of stress. In addition, your muscles are freshly supplied with oxygen and at their peak performance. During inhalation and exhalation, the muscle cells are weaker.
Risks of pursed breathing
Holding the breath increases the pressure on the heart. In particular, people who suffer from high blood pressure or vascular diseases should avoid press breathing.
But even healthy athletes can have cardiovascular problems if the respite is delayed too long. Then there is a second risk: The removal of waste products such as carbon dioxide and lactate is sabotaged and your muscles can become acidic. The possible consequences are muscle pain and hardening.
How to use pursed breathing
If you are healthy and fit, you can use pursed breathing in strength training.
Using the example of the squat exercise:
- Inhale deeply and fill the abdomen with air, consciously tensing your core so that you are standing stable.
- Get on your knees and hold your breath.
- Overcome the lowest point and exhale vigorously through the slightly open mouth as you move upwards. It can help to make a whistling sound.
Important: Do not hold your breath for too long, as this can lead to an unnecessary lack of oxygen and increase the pressure on your heart. As soon as your head turns hot and red, this is a clear warning sign.
You should also never breathe in or out at the moment of greatest effort – when squatting at the lowest point of the squat – otherwise the muscles would lose strength.
Summary: Breathing during workout
- Breathing is essential for strength training: it supplies the muscles with oxygen and can improve performance during exercises.
- The right breathing technique ensures stability in the core and helps athletes get more out of each repetition.
- The rule of thumb is to breathe out while tensing and breathe in while relaxing.
- Abdominal breathing is considered to be effective in giving the core extra stability during training.
- A short respite at the moment of greatest exertion can help trained and healthy athletes to improve their performance.