Breathing Rate During Exercise

Do you ever stop and think about your breathing rate during exercise?

Are you holding your breath?

Inhaling when you should be exhaling?

There is much debate about the correct breathing rate while working out.


“Breathing is the first act of life. Our very life depends on it. Millions have never learned to master the art of correct breathing.”
-Joseph H. Pilates



Here are some basic guidelines to follow to develop the best breathing rate during exercise:

1. Avoid holding your breath during exertional activities.

2. Exhale through your lips, they should form a pucker like you are going to give someone a kiss and you look something like a blow fish.

3. Try to control your respiratory frequency by slowing a fast rate of breathing. You can do this by exhaling longer and louder. Don't be afraid to make some noise!

I have one client who even sounds like he's growling as he exhales. It scares some of the other exercisers...but, Whatever works!


Whenever you increase the intensity of your workout the breathing rate during exercise will change.

You will start to notice the expiration time decreases and the inspiration time increases.


What this means is...

you will find it harder to catch your breath and will, in turn, inhale at a faster rate to try to get more air in.

On the other hand, the exhalation time will decrease because you will be so focused on the inhalation.


Try this experiment, especially if you start feeling tightness in the chest or short of air.

Exhale through puckered lips for as long as you can trying to expel all the air out of your body. This will help you relax so that you are not struggling on the inhalation.

When inhaling place your hands around your ribcage and feel it expanding as you fill up with air. Imagine you are a balloon inflating on the inhalation and deflating (getting smaller) on the expiration.


breathing rate during exercise image


A good rule of thumb for your breathing rate during exercise whether it is weight training, stretching, or doing Pilates is to inhale in preparation for an exertion.

The inhalation should happen when you are extending the spine or lengthening a muscle.

The exhalation is normally performed when exerting yourself; while pushing or pulling a weight, contracting a muscle, or flexing the spine.

I like to instruct my clients to count out loud as they are pushing or pulling a weight. For instance, if you are doing a chest or leg press and you count 1...then 2....then 3...as you press the weight away from you, then you are exhaling at the correct time on the exertion.


My clients find that Pilates training compliments their strength training workouts because their breathing rate during exercise is more efficient.

This helps at getting oxygen to the muscles when they need it so they experience more ease in their lifting and less cramping in the muscles.



The Pilates “Hundreds” used for a Deep Breathing Exercise:

deep breathing exercise image

This Pilates exercise can be performed with the head up or down depending on the strength in your abdominal muscles.

Lying on your back with knees bent, arms long at your side slowly roll the head and shoulders off the mat reaching your fingertips to the end of the mat.

Feeling a fold below the chest to keep the head floating with the abdominals working start to pump your arms up and down while breathing in for a 5 count and then exhale for a 5 count.

Keep the entire body still except for the arms hinging at the shoulder and pulsing up and down in sequence with your breathing.


Deep Breathing Exercises

By practicing deep breathing exercise daily you can learn to keep your breathing continuous and decrease the added stress on your body.

Deep Breathing Exercise:

Standing or sitting up tall wrap an elastic band or scarf around your ribcage. Keeping your abdominal muscles contracted, inhale through your nose and feel your ribcage expand and stretch the band or scarf. Breathe in for 2 counts and then exhale through the mouth for 2 counts.

Next, slow your breathing down to 4 counts in and 4 counts out. Repeat this longer breath several times. Lastly, try breathing in for 8 counts and then out for an equal 8 counts.

Focus on keeping the abdominal muscles contracted and feeling the ribcage expand outwards stretching the band while inhaling.

The Pilates exercise the “Hundreds” is an abdominal breathing exercise that is commonly used in the beginning of a mat exercise session to not only strengthen the torso, but also works to strengthen the respiratory or breathing muscles.

Leave breathing rate during exercise and find more cues for breathing and exercises in my new Pilates Ebook here.

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