Posted by: jbiggars63 | January 5, 2012

Breathing; How it Effects Exercise

It is hard to imagine that something you do everyday can have striking effects on your routine! As I completed my weightlifting session this morning, I started to think about all the different things I do where I have to think about my breathing!  I will start with weight training!


People are tempted to hold their breathe during heavy exertions.  This is called the Valsalva maneuver. The Valsalva maneuver involves forcibly exhaling against a closed glottis (entrance to the throat), which increases your intrathoracic pressure (pressure in your chest). This raise in chest pressure can couple with adverse effects that could become life-threatening. The Valsalva maneuver causes your blood pressure to rise to extremely high levels. A study by the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the S.P.O.R.T. Clinic in California examined the effect of breathing on blood pressure during leg presses of the maximum weights subjects could lift. When subjects exhaled slowly during the maximal effort, the average blood pressure was 198/175 mm Hg. When subjects performed a Valsalva maneuver during maximal effort, the average blood pressure was an astounding 311/284 mm Hg. The blood pressure response to the Valsalva maneuver is dangerous because it compromises blood flow to important areas of the body, including the brain. Holding your breath during weight-lifting could cause dizziness or even fainting, especially when standing. In addition, according to the University of North Texas Health Science Center, the Valsalva maneuver increases your risk of catastrophic brain injuries. Such injuries include stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, retinal (eye) hemorrhage and retinal detachment.


Proper Technique

Proper breathing technique during weight-lifting simply requires that you do not do the Valsalva maneuver. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that inhaling during the concentric phase (when the weight is moving against gravity) produced similar blood pressures to exhaling during the concentric phase. Thus, whether you are inhaling or exhaling during the concentric phase, the important thing is to make sure you do not hold your breath, even just for a moment. However, many athletes find it is more comfortable to exhale during the concentric phase and inhale during the eccentric phase (when the weight is moving with gravity). In addition, the heart rate is slightly lower when exhaling during the concentric phase, which may offer some advantage to this technique.


Proper breathing is essential during exercise. During aerobic activities, such as running or swimming, a good breathing pattern ensures that your working muscles will continue to receive the oxygen they need to keep contracting. According to researchers at the University of New Mexico, proper breathing is also central to nonaerobic forms of exercise, including weightlifting, yoga, tai chi and pilates.

How Breathing Works

When you inhale, air is pulled into microscopic air sacs in the lungs called alveoli, where oxygen is delivered to red blood cells and carbon dioxide is transferred from the blood to the air in the alveoli. The oxygen-rich blood flows to your heart, which then pumps it out to your body. You exhale the carbon dioxide.

You Don’t Usually Have to Think About It

The respiratory center of your brain automatically sends messages to your respiratory muscles, telling them when to breathe. This is automatic; you don’t have to think about it. But according to researchers at the University of New Mexico, when you exercise, your brain notes that there is an increase in carbon dioxide and lactic acid—a byproduct of exercising muscles—in your blood and tells your respiratory muscles to increase the speed and depth of your breaths so you can offload all that extra carbon dioxide and deliver additional oxygen to your working muscles.

The Pace of Your Breathing

According to the American Council on Exercise, you can determine your effort level during exercise by how hard you are breathing. For moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking, you should not be breathing so hard that you can’t carry on a conversation. For vigorous-intensity exercise, such as jogging, you will be breathing faster but you still should be able to talk in short sentences. Elite athletes who are exercising near their maximum heart rate usually can’t say more than a word or two because they are breathing so hard.

The Role of Breathing in Yoga

Breathing patterns and techniques are central to the practice of yoga, which is not an aerobic exercise but nevertheless can improve a person’s strength and flexibility. According to University of New Mexico researchers, yoga’s pranayama breathing technique improves your immune system and helps with hypertension, asthma and stress.

Tai Chi Emphasizes Breathing

Tai chi, an ancient Chinese form of martial arts, uses movement, meditation and breathing to improve health. According to the American Cancer Society, tai chi improves posture, balance, muscle mass, flexibility, stamina and strength and provides the same cardiovascular benefits as moderate exercise, such as walking. Deep breathing through the diaphragm contributes to its benefits.

Common Misconceptions

The idea that the best way to take a deep breath is to expand your chest is a misnomer. University of New Mexico researchers say the best way to get a full, deep breath is to breathe from the diaphragm while expanding the chest at the same time.

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