The Right Way To Breathe During Exercise

In my ten-plus years of training and coaching, I’ve often been asked about the right way to breathe when you’re exercising. Good news, team!  It’s a simple, easy answer:

Breathe naturally.

With most exercise, there is no additional benefit to inhaling or exhaling at a certain point with the movement, or breathing in or out through the nose or mouth. The very best way to breathe when you’re working out is to stop thinking about it and just let your body do its thing. Your body is finely tuned to match breath with its need for oxygen, and assuming good health and clear airways, it’ll do a great job with no conscious effort from you.

However, there are two major exceptions to the “just do what comes naturally” rule:

If you’re dealing with asthma, COPD, or other respiratory conditions, the rule basically still applies: Don’t over-think your breathing patterns. Instead, make sure you prepare for a workout by using any prescription inhalers (or anything else you’ve been prescribed) at the appropriate times. And take it slow to start, both on a workout-by-workout basis, and when beginning to add more exercise to your weekly routines. Much of the shortness of breath that comes with exercising with a respiratory condition can come from poor general fitness as well as any impact a condition might have on your respiratory condition. Keep workouts to a low intensity and short duration to begin with, and be mindful of how environmental conditions can impact your breathing (hot and humid or cold weather are two common triggers for disturbed breathing). I’m always advising my clients that the goal is “Challenging but Achievable” Take it easy as you get used to a new workout, and build your fitness levels from there.

If you have respiratory or cardiovascular conditions (including and especially high blood pressure) it’s important to avoid holding your breath during exercise. This can be a tough: When you challenge your bodies, holding your breath is a natural response, especially when doing resistance training or heavy/high intensity work. This breath holding action is technically called a Valsalva’s Maneuver, in which you close your throat and contract your diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This action essentially “squeezes” your lungs. Since you aren’t exhaling, this leads to a large, rapid increase in blood pressure, and you may feel light-headed or faint. Large, rapid increases in blood pressure aren’t much good for cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, and passing out is no good in general. So do your body a favor and make a conscious effort to breathe continuously throughout your workout. This is where you may see some recommendations to inhale during the “easy” part of a movement and exhale through the “hard” part, which is a totally ok way to approach it. In the long run, pay attention to what your body does naturally, and if needed, find a breathing pattern you are comfortable with. You and your body will make more progress, more safely. And isn’t that the point?

At-Home Exercise: Incline Pushup

Push ups are an excellent way to build upper body strength.

Push ups are also hard, especially if you are doing them correctly.

Incline push ups are the right way to work your way down to the flat-on-the-floor traditional push up. I prefer this incline version to the from-your-knees version. The technique and body alignment is closer to the traditional and will make it easier to progress to the floor (if you so choose).

The key to getting the most out of this exercise is to keep your entire body involved. The main movement is still produced with the muscles of the arms and chest, but holding your body in a straight line means maintaining active muscles all along the back of the body too. Think tight glutes, squeezing the shoulder blades down and together to activate the muscles of your back, and keeping your abdominal muscles braced. All of a sudden, this is a full body exercise!

Incline Push Up
  • Stand on the balls of the feet with hands on a bench, a bar or a wall, just outside shoulder width.
  • Keeping your body in a straight line by tightening your tummy and glutes, and keeping head and neck in line with the spine.
  • Lower yourself towards the bar or wall.
  • Push yourself back up to the starting point.
  • To make it more difficult, move hands to a lower position; to make it easier, move hands higher.
  • Aim to maintain the straight line with the hips and back in neutral (I can’t emphasize this enough). No sagging through the lower back or hiking the hips up.
  • You should feel this: “bracing” through torso/core, slight squeeze in glutes, work in arms and chest.

Incline Pushup


Five Ways to get Fit on a Budget

Getting fit often can cost money, but it doesn’t have to be a lot – sometimes it can even be free!

No one likes getting sticker shock. Getting around to joining a gym can be hard enough, and when we finally get there, finding out they want a three figure down payment can be a big surprise. Thank god there are other options.

  1. Join a budget gym. It doesn’t cost too much to bring your own towel and water bottle, and if you don’t mind basic or minimal amenities, a budget gym can be all anyone needs. In the US, these gyms can range from ten to twenty-five dollars a month, and frequently have 24-hour access. You’ll get the most bang for your buck if you can find a gym with free weights, open space to exercise, and other fun toys like suspension trainers and battle ropes. My local favorite in the Portland area is Workout Anytime – they have all the toys and great space to use them.
  2. Join a group. Most areas offer some sort of recreational sports leagues with various levels of competition. And if organized sports aren’t your thing, Meetup is becoming increasingly popular worldwide/ Groups get together to enjoy golf, hiking, running – you name it, and usually for little or no cost. Can’t find one in your neck of the woods? Sign up and start your own.Running Group
  3. Get outside. You don’t need a gym membership to get fit. Walking, running, cycling, and swimming might require a small investment to get started (new shoes, a bike, a pool pass). But you’ll get a lot out of them if you are consistent in using them. Plus there are an increasing number of parks with exercise equipment built right alongside. park with exercise equipment
  4. Make your own gym. Keep an eye out for sales at sporting goods stores, online classifieds like Craigslist in the US and Gumtree in Australia, and second-hand stores. You’ll find all sorts of deals on everything from cardio equipment to kettlebells. Don’t want to shop? There are plenty of household items that are great substitutes. Run up and down the stairs, fill up some empty milk jugs, do step ups on a step stool, or grab some buckets of paint or bricks from the backyard to add extra home Dumbbells for sale
  5. Check out your health insurance. You may have fitness options that you weren’t aware of. In the US, the Silver Sneakers and Silver and Fit programs cover gym memberships and other fitness programs for adults 65 as part of many major health insurance programs. In Australia, exercise physiology services may be covered by Medicare or your private health insurance company. It’s worth checking out your health insurance coverage to see if they offer any exercise-related preventative health benefits.

The old saying “if there’s a will, there’s a way” hold true here. Explore your local options, get creative, or just take yourself outside. If I’ve missed any good low-cost fitness options, please feel free to share in the comments section!