Breathing Awareness for Strength and Fitness

Feb 05, 2013

Written by: John Foster, Personal Trainer at O2 Fitness Chatham


How many times do you see people in the gym, holding their breath and straining their necks during resistance exercises?  It is a common sight, but the question is, "Is it healthy?"

My answer comes from the belief that healthy training techniques follow the principles of: Train, don’t strain!

Exercise Induced Stress

We can watch top athletes, especially top level sprinters, leave the blocks at the sound of the gun and rocket their bodies 100, 200, 400 and even 800 meters down the track and for many of those athletes their facial expressions are close to being tranquil, almost serene, even though their respiratory rates have climbed to much elevated levels. What is going on here?

These athletes have learned to deal with exercise induced stress in a masterful way - by not tensing areas of the body that are not involved in the movement, thus conserving energy.  And they use their breath, never holding it!

Exercise, especially resistance training, with dumbbells or our own body weight is a form of stress. We choose to place this stress upon ourselves to promote greater strength and fitness. But, are we training how to handle this stress effectively and in a healthful way?

Your next trip to the gym is your opportunity to explore and look deeper into yourself and at the way that you breathe when confronted with resistance exercises. Do you use your breath in a dynamic way to relieve tension or do you clench down holding it at critical moments?

Breathing Tips to Get Started

Though this article is not intended to go into detailed breathing techniques I offer you the following as a place to get started:

  1. Inhale smoothly through the nose during the soft phase of a movement.
  2. Exhale through pursed lips during the hard phase of a movement.

For example, healthy breathing for push ups is to inhale on the way to the ground and exhale on the way back up. For squatting, inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. This is simple on paper but harder in practice.

Effective breathing begins with your awareness.  I wish you good health and good breathing!

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