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Proper Breathing During Exercise

With healthy lung month here, what better time to consider how you breathe when you exercise?

Whether you enjoy walking, running, swimming, cycling, or resistance training, proper breathing is important for exercising safely, comfortably, and effectively.

That’s because taking in regular, deep breaths promotes the transfer of oxygen that powers the muscles, and pushing out regular, deep breaths eliminates waste gases such as carbon dioxide.

See your Summit Medical Group practitioner
to ensure it is safe for you to exercise.

Although breathing at rest or during exercise is instinctive, there are breathing techniques that can increase the amount of time you are comfortable exercising (your endurance) as well as improve the quality of your workout.

Proper Breathing During Exercise

The most important technique for breathing during exercise is to use the muscle that extends across the bottom of the chest cavity (the diaphragm). Breathing from the diaphragm instead of the chest (where you breathe when you are not exercising) will allow you to get deep, full breaths that fill your lungs with air and oxygen that your body needs for exercise.

To know if you are breathing properly from the diaphragm, place your hands on your lower ribs. As you breathe in, you will feel your ribs rise. As you breathe out, you will feel your ribs fall. 

General tips for breathing properly during exercise include:

  • Relaxing your muscles and mind
  • Being aware of your posture and body as you warm up
    • Stand up straight or position yourself to breathe from the diaphragm 
    • Relax and open your chest
    • Lift your chin
    • Breathe in and breathe out evenly and deeply
  • Breathing through the mouth or nose at even intervals when engaging in cardiovascular exercise such as walking, running, cycling, or swimming
    • Make each breath you take in equal to each breath you push out 
  • Breathing out when you resist (or lift) weight and inhaling as you relax into starting position
    • Taking deep breaths in can help stabilize muscles of your abdomen, back, and sides (core muscles) and protect your spine during exertion
  • Not holding your breath
    • Adjust your breathing or speed/intensity so that you may breathe in and out at a rate that matches your exercise pace
  • Keeping a rhythm
    • Counting breaths in and out
    • Using your steps, cycling rotations, or another rhythm in your movement to help guide your breathing rhythm
    • Listening to music that aligns your breathing and exercise rhythm
  • Slowing your exercise pace if you cannot catch your breath
    • Stand up straight with your hands over your head and breathe in and out deeply and evenly until your breathing rate returns to normal
  • Adding yoga to your workout routine to learn mindful breathing techniques (pranayama) you can use in your cardiovascular and weight training workouts
  • Focusing on maintaining slow, even, and deep breaths until your breathing returns to normal as you cool down after your workout

Benefits of breathing properly during exercise include:

  • Exercising more comfortably, safely, and for longer periods
  • Preventing injuries such as hernias, spikes in blood pressure/strain on blood vessels, and back pain
  • Increasing blood flow throughout the body
  • Increasing your ability to relax
  • Helping you let go of distractions and stay focused on your exercise 

If you are just starting back to exercise or if you are exercising for the first time, you may find that it’s difficult to control your breathing. But the good news is that heart and lung (cardiovascular) fitness improves quickly if you continue exercising regularly, and soon you will develop breathing patterns that are second nature to your activity!