We asked personal trainers for breathing hacks that will make exercise feel easier and work better
Breathe Your Way to a Better Workout
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"I probably say this a thousand times in a day to my clients," confirms celebrity trainer Joey Thurman, author of 365 Health and Fitness Hacks That Could Save Your Life (out March 8). Duh, breathing is important—but beyond making sure you don't pass out, is the way you breathe during your workout really such a big deal? Yep, says Thurman. "Without proper breathing, you risk injury by not activating your muscles, you have a less efficient workout, and your form suffers," he says. "The way you breathe during a workout dramatically impacts your results," agrees Joshua Carter, a.k.a. "The Body Transformation Expert," a personal trainer and Fit Body Boot Camp owner with over 20 years of experience. (In fact, breathing alone can net you a better body.) Naturally, different workouts require different types of breathing. So we asked the experts for the inhale-exhale tips that will help boost these common moves.
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"The conventional wisdom for how to engage your core is 'flex your abs as if someone is about to punch you in the gut,'" says Carter. "That's not a bad piece of advice, but there's one problem. When people find themselves in a stressful or sudden situation—like anticipating a punch—they tend to stop breathing. That can actually cancel out a lot of the benefits of engaging your core." Instead, try this: Once you're in your plank, take a long, slow breath in through your nose. As you inhale, begin to tighten every muscle in your body—clench your abs, squeeze your glutes (butt), tense your leg muscles. When your lungs are full, your muscles should all be tight. Slowly exhale through your mouth; you should aim to keep your muscles engaged, but you may find that they naturally relax as you breathe out, so repeat the tightening process on your next breath in.
Another way breathing can help your plank: To check to see if your abs are fully engaged, take a sharp, short breath out—like you're trying to blow out candles on a birthday cake. This will force your abs into proper position. (Try our 31-Day Plank Challenge.)
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Most exercises follow the same breathing rule: Breathe in on the "passive" phase, when you're getting into or returning to starting position, and out on the "active" phase, when you're lifting, pushing, or pulling. Push-ups follow this rule, but what trips most people up is that because it's a relatively small movement, it requires short, rapid breaths, Thurman says. We have 8 more ways to pump up your push-up.
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Breathe in through your nose on your way down. "Taking a deep breath on the negative (the way down) part of the motion keeps the chest upright and your spine in proper alignment taking pressure off of your lower back," says Thurman. Your exhale should last about as long as it takes you to drive yourself back up—if you're coming up quickly, breathe out in a short, sharp burst; if you're after a slower, more controlled motion, breathe out slowly instead. (Bet you've never tried these butt-busting squat variations.)
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"Deadlifts place a lot of demand on the body and your stabilizing muscles. Without proper form and breathing injury is likely to occur," says Thurman. And though it sounds counterintuitive, he says this is one exercise where it's best to hold your breath. "Most exercises require you to exhale during the concentric (positive or 'way up') but holding your breath during the deadlift will help you keep your back position and legs properly loaded and muscles engaged. Imagine someone tied a belt around your waist so that your chest fills up with air and your belly cant expand. This will protect your back and maintain proper form." As you grasp the bar or your dumbbells, take a deep breath in, tighten your abs, then hold the breath as you bring your body upright. At the top, exhale, then breathe in, hold it, and lower your body back down.
Weighted Upper Body Exercises
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For bicep curls, tricep tips, and other upper body moves, your focus should be on breathing naturally, not following any specific in-out maneuver, says Thurman If you find yourself holding your breath, try counting your reps out loud, which will force you to open up your airways. Overhead motions are the exception to that rule, though, says Thurman. "If you're doing an overhead shoulder press or bunch press, for example, core engagement is important to stabilize your lower back, so again, inhale on the way down while squeezing your abs, and exhale through the top of the motion." Check out these 6 easy moves for a buff upper body.
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With running, rowing, or the elliptical, how you breathe is more important than when you breathe. "I simply want people to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouths. Running is extremely demanding and simply breathing in general is the most important part! You will find your natural rhythm as you find your stride (pun intended)," says Thurman. If you get a side stitch, though, switching up your breathing can help. Try this formula: two steps on one inhale, two steps on one exhale.