How to Breathe Properly While Exercising

There are many things about our body that we take for granted because we don’t have to think about them – it comes naturally. One of those things is breathing. Unless you are a professional athlete or frequent classes like Pilates, Yoga or dance, you aren’t taught how to breathe properly for maximum performance. This means your breathing is likely shallow, meaning you are breathing up high from your chest, not low and wide from deep in your lungs. Joseph Pilates once said ”Squeeze out the lungs as you would wring out a wet towel dry.”


Now before we get into some techniques of breathing, here is some little important information about the mechanics of our breathing.


Some Facts About Your Body

Your torso can be divided into two sections – the thoracic cavity (or chest cavity), and abdominal cavity. The thoracic cavity is essentially the “chamber” of the body, and contains the rib cage. Your abdominal cavity is where many of your organs are contained, such as the stomach, kidneys, small intestines, and more.


Every single time you inhale and take in oxygen, your thoracic cavity actually expands, and then contracts when you breathe out. Why is this important? Well, ideally you want make sure you’re letting out as much air as possible when you breathe out, and taking in as much air as possible when you’re breathing in. This way, fresh air enters your lungs, rather than the residual air in the lungs that are higher in carbon dioxide and other elements, and are not as “fresh” as the air you are taking in.



For those beginner runners out there, breathing can be something you struggle with, and it can be a large road block to go further. The best advice, and this comes from all the runners I have talked to, is to breathe both from your nose and mouth. Two to three deep breaths for every foot strike, and follow the same for exhaling. I remember when I was playing soccer in high school and as our warm up the coach would make us run the field and sing or talk to each other. This taught us to not lose our breath or get ahead of ourselves. If we could not control our breathing, we needed to slow down to run at a pace our lungs and heart could handle. This was a great way to teach us how to progressively get faster and stronger.



In yoga, breathing is one of the most fundamental skills used, and in some classes you don’t even get to move to the physical part of yoga until you can grasp the concept or show that you can properly apply your breath with movement. Yoga is an “in-the-nose out-the-nose” breathing technique that resonates from deep in the back of the throat in a space between the vocal cords. This is known as the “ujjayi” or “victorious breath.”


In a book by Lesli Kaminoff, Yoga Anatomy, she explains that the pathways must be clear of obstructing forces in order for prana and apana to have a healthy relationship. In yogic language, this translates as “good space,” whereas dukkha refers to “bad space,” which is commonly translated as suffering. The basic idea is that when you make more “good space,” your pranic forces will flow freely and restore normal function. That’s also why it’s commonly said that yoga is 90% about waste and removal. If you take care of the exhalation the inhalation takes care of itself. Wow, did you ever imagine that yoga would teach you all that?



Now, because I am a Pilates teacher and I believe and love the breathing techniques taught in Pilates, I find myself doing this method in everything I do. No matter if I am lifting weights, running, doing yoga or dancing, I have found that when I train my lungs to be strong by breathing wide and deep by opening my ribcage, not quick and shallow, my endurance for the movement I am doing is longer and my recovery is much faster.


If you don’t already know, Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates who suffered from severe asthma as a child. Thus, he went out to teach himself boxing, diving and gymnastics. During this time, he thought to himself, if he could discipline his body to do these activities why not learn the discipline of correct breathing. Joseph Pilates said that the secret to correct breathing lies in the diaphragm.


In the book by Collen Craig, Pilates on the Ball: The World’s Most Popular Workout Using the Exercise Ball, she says the Pilates breathing pattern is a therapy in themselves. We attempt to slow down rate of breath, increase the depth of respiration and link the breath to the movement. “The ribcage is not fixed but is instead a very mobile interplay of living malleable tissue,” according to Frank Back, from a conscious movement workshop.


Most people like to exhale on the exertion while contracting your abdominals, or you can switch it around by inhaling on your exertion. The latter technique can help you be strong in a weak situation. But what if one day we need to inhale and exhale during exertion, but never trained your breathing to be strong? This is what Pilates teaches. The more you work on your breathing, the longer you’ll be able to inhale and exhale, so that you are not just doing one breath for every movement, but one breath for every two to three movements!


Yikes, you are probably dizzy from all of this breathing! Don’t worry, in time that goes away. Keep training, keep breathing, and keep pushing on. Your life depends on it!



The opinions shared in this article are those of the contributor and not Total Gym Direct.


Melissa Muñiz

Melissa L. Muniz is a certified Pilates Instructor, Dance teacher, Choreographer, Actor, Model and full time Mom! She has spent over a decade traveling the world studying traditional dance such as Flamenco in Spain and cultural dance in Indonesia to name but a few. She has toured with Nickelodeon as a dance performer and actor and starred in several music videos and movies. Melissa had the opportunity to train teachers for the opening of the first Pilates Studio in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and has been working with Total Gym as a Gravity Master Trainer since 2002. She has loved the inspiration and support that Total Gym gives and lives by. Melissa now resides with her family in Atlanta GA, teaching at a Wellness Center where she infuses life, happiness and understanding of the body, to those with an open heart and mind.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. thorouhly enjoyed muniz’ breathing video I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in washington D.C. in 1998 and utilized this technique. the video reminded me again about proper breathing and how vital itis to any workout :I now do yoga or just the average gymn rat since
    I had an aschemic stroke in may of 2011.

    thank you again for vontacting me

    kate mccormack

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