So you’re ready to start lifting weights. Good for you! You’re officially on the path to better strength, a leaner body, and a longer life. Now, once you’ve got your gym membership sorted, you’ve picked up some new flashy exercise clothes, and you’ve got your workouts ready to go, you may think you’ve got all of your bodybuilding bases covered. Well, there’s one big detail you’re likely missing: Knowing how to breathe.
Proper breathing technique as you lift weights is a major aspect of accomplishing both an effective and safe workout. Per LiveStrong, the right breathing technique while pumping iron ensures that your body receives enough oxygen, and that the blood circulating throughout your working muscles is adequately oxygenated and capable of purging any lingering waste. What’s more, the wrong breathing pattern during weightlifting can cause a rapid increase in blood pressure, excessive abdominal pressure, hernias, and even loss of consciousness.
Keep reading to learn more about the #1 most common breathing mistake while lifting weights—as well as the right way to pattern your breaths in the weight room. And for more exercises that you should do—especially as you get older—don’t miss The Best Exercises for Building Stronger Muscles After 60, Say Experts.
Lifting weights requires concentration. It’s understandable that beginners tend to focus all of their attention on the actual act of lifting and maintaining proper form throughout the motion, but all too often this leads to forgetting to breathe.
“A common mistake that novice weightlifters make is holding their breath. They focus on the weight they are lifting and forget to breathe during the movement. This can lead to higher blood pressure during exercise, feeling dizzy, and even fainting,” explains Jeff Parke, owner of Top Fitness Magazine.
“At no point should you be holding your breath during an exercise, as this can cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure. Restricting your breath can also make you dizzy or lightheaded, which is extremely risky when dealing with heavy weights and workout equipment, as falling can lead to serious injuries,” adds Matt Scarfo, NASM-certified CPT-OPT, CES, PES, FNS and Precision Nutrition Pn1, of LiftVault.
Most weight lifting motions can be separated into two distinct phases: the eccentric phase and the concentric phase. Take the bench press, for example. The eccentric portion is when you lower the bar to your chest, while the concentric phase is the actual strenuous act of lifting all that weight. “You want to exhale as you do the concentric portion of the exercise, aka the push or the ‘hard part!’ So on your way up from a squat, on the way up in a push up, and the pull down on a lat pulldown, for example,” comments Zoë Schroeder, MS, RDN, C.S.C.S.
If you’re a fan of alliteration, Katie Prendergast, NASM-CPT, SC suggests using “exhale on the effort” to help you remember the right breathing pattern. Following this pattern will improve recovery time between sets, help you get the most out of your workouts, and promote proper form. Eventually, all of that will help you start lifting heavier and heavier weights.
“When our diaphragm contracts and lungs expand it exerts a force which increases intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure helps to keep the core in a set and stable position during weightlifting. Imagine your core as a balloon. If it’s inflated it’s firm and stable, but if it’s deflated it will be floppy and your core muscles will have to work harder to stabilize it. Therefore you should breathe in before you lift the weight, such as when you’re lowering it,” comments Rinaldo Ramkissoon, founder of Scrubs and Shakes. And for more great exercise advice, see these 5-Minute Exercises for a Flatter Stomach Fast.
While forgetting to breathe is the most common mistake, some new weightlifters tend to go in the opposite direction: Breathing too much too fast while exercising. This isn’t a good idea either, as it can lead to hyperventilation. “Another common mistake is breathing too quickly. Breathing fast while lifting weights can cause you to lose consciousness. At the same time, this could result in dropping heavyweights on your body which leads to more damage,” Christine Wang, founder of TheSkiGirl, explains. “If you’re breathing too fast (almost hyperventilating) you can throw your body off balance,” adds Eatthis’ own Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.
Now that we’ve established how to breathe during weight lifting, you may be pondering the ideal technique for cardio sessions. Katie Prendergast, CPT, recommends inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. That way, your nostrils will filter the air entering your body. “Nasal breathing helps control your heart rate by engaging your parasympathetic nervous system, which is commonly referred to as ‘rest and digest,'” she notes. And for more reasons to exercise more, see here for What Happens to Your Body When You Sit Too Much Every Day, Say Experts.