Breathing Techniques to Boost Exercise Performance

There's one little tweak that can make or break your success at the gym: your breathing technique. Try these breathing exercises while running, weight training, stretching and practicing yoga.
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1. Before Yoga

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For Zen-like concentration before a yoga class, try this three-part breathing technique from trainer Lisa Hampton, MS, founder of Mindful Fitness LLC.

Place your hands on your stomach and breathe deeply into your belly for two to three minutes. Next, put your hands on your diaphragm, and focus on breathing from your diaphragm for two to three minutes. Now, move your hands further up to your chest and focus on breathing there for two to three minutes. Finally, you'll combine all three breathing methods: inhale into your belly, then feel the air travel to your diaphragm, then your chest; as you exhale, feel it leave your chest first, then the diaphragm, then your belly. Give yourself time to perfect this technique.

2. While Resting or Before Stretching

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Hampton works with clients on a technique borrowed from yoga called ujjayi (oo-jai-eee) breathing, which is both energizing and relaxing. Breathe in through your nose, then exhale through your nose, keeping your mouth open and making an "ahhh" sound while trying to feel the breath at the back of your throat.

Eventually, you will be able to do this with your mouth closed, but it will take practice. "At first, try breathing this way when the demand for oxygen isn't as great, like during rest or stretching," Hampton advises. Breathing this way forces you to take deeper, fuller breaths, which calms the nervous system and dampens the stress response.

3. While Strength Training

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  • Inhaling to prepare for an exercise and then exhaling with effort is still the golden standard of breathing, says Hampton. For example, inhale, then exhale as you lift the weight for your biceps curl. Inhale as you lower, then exhale again as you lift. Follow this pattern.
  • Don't hold your breath, as this can cause your blood pressure to spike.
  • Aim to keep your breathing steady and deep, rather than shallow and quick. "Breathing through the mouth skips your brain," says Hampton. When breathing through your nose, you're more likely to be present and connected to your body, she explains. And by staying focused, you can better build muscle because you're not working from momentum alone.

4. During Cardio

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When it comes to proper breathing during a run, “the main thing is to find a rhythmic breathing pattern that works for you,” says running coach Greg McMillan. He shares his tips for a better cardio workout:

  1. Keep it steady
    A good approach is following the 2:2 method, says McMillan, which means breathing in for two steps and then out for two steps. This works well for running or the elliptical machine at a moderate pace.
  2. Pick up the pace
    For a faster pace or during interval training, you'll need to increase the frequency to something like 1:1, he says. You don't have time to take deep breaths - your breathing may be shallower, but it can still be efficient.
  3. Exhale the excess
    If it feels like you can't catch your breath, it means you are building up too much carbon dioxide, and need to focus on expelling it, he says. Your instinct may be to keep taking deep breaths in, but you'll get rid of the CO2 more efficiently if you focus on blowing the air out.
  4. Listen to your lungs
    Tune in to your breath to gauge your workout intensity. If you're really struggling to catch your breath, chances are that you should go slower instead of increasing the intensity. Stay mindful of the signs that your body is sending you.

Related:4 Breathing Tips to Boost Your Cardio

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