What Is the Right Way to Breathe When Lifting Weights?

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Shot of a sporty young woman lifting a barbell in a gym


There are a lot of things you’ve got to think about if you’re trying to build muscle. How often you’re training, the types of lifts you’re doing (compound exercises are a trainer favourite), and what you’re fueling your body with are all important factors to get stronger and build muscle. Eating protein, carbs, and fat and doing more complex exercises like deadlifts and pull-ups are great for improving strength, but there’s one thing you’re more than likely not doing — breathing.

Focusing on your breath isn’t solely reserved for your favourite yoga class or your meditation practice. Breathing properly while weightlifting can help improve both your core and overall strength. To find out how you should breathe when lifting weights, POPSUGAR spoke to Heather Milton, MS, RCEP, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and clinical specialist at NYU Langone Sports Performance Centre.

Why You Should Breathe When Lifting Weights

It may be tempting you hold your breath during your lifts, especially if the weight is heavy, but you’ve actually got to breathe. “When holding [your] breath, that creates intrathoracic pressure (pressure placed on organs that help with breathing and circulation between the neck and abdomen), which can lead to less blood flow back to the heart,” Heather explained. The less blood you have flowing to your heart, the less blood your heart pumps out, which can potentially restrict the amount of blood flowing to your head and other extremities, she continued. If you’ve ever felt lightheaded while lifting weights, holding your breath could be the culprit.

The Correct Way to Breathe When Lifting Weights

As a general rule of thumb, and to prevent feeling lightheaded and improve your technique, Heather said that “when performing the concentric (muscle shortening) part of the lift, you should exhale.” For example, if it’s leg day and you’re performing squats, you should exhale every time you push the weight up, coming to a standing position. This means that you should also inhale every time you lower the weight down, also known as the eccentric (muscle lengthening) portion of the lift.

Another reason you should focus on your breath during your strength workouts is because, “Breathing with correct timing can improve core muscle engagement and enable better lift mechanics and strength,” Heather explained.

Breathing alone won’t help you lower your body fat percentage — you’ve still got to focus on things like progressive overload, being consistent with your training program, and providing your body with the proper nutrients — but it can definitely help. Now it’s time to put your new breathing skills to use with this four-week muscle-building workout plan.





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