Breathe Easy

Breathing skills for exercise after meeting with a weight loss surgeonHow to get the most out of each breath and your workout

Breathing—it comes as naturally to us as the beating of our hearts and the blinking of our eyes, an unconscious function that we execute thousands of times each day without even thinking about it. In our everyday lives, breathing is automatic, delivering oxygen to the brain and body without fuss or focus.

However, when we exercise, breathing becomes an entirely different animal. It may not be the first thing you think about when you work out, but breathing delivers oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to hard-working muscles, making proper breathing techniques crucial in preventing painful cramps and stitches and performing better with less effort. You should always check with your weight loss surgeon before trying the following activities if you’re a patient of bariatric surgery, but learning how to breathe right as you exercise could help you get the most out of your workout.

Strength training

When lifting weights, you should breathe out as you exert yourself. For example, if you’re doing a bench press, breathe out as you push up on the bar and back in as you bring it back down. Breathing out as you strain to lift heavy objects contracts the respiratory muscles, which helps to steady the load and maintain lumbar stability. It may take you a moment to find your rhythm, but be sure to breathe out, as holding your breathe can slow the return of blood to the heart and raise blood pressure.


When engaging in a cardio activity like walking, experts say that synchronizing your breathing to the rhythm of your steps will reduce pressure on the diaphragm and make for easier, more comfortable movement. One way to do this is to find an easy ratio—try taking one breath for every two steps. In other words, breathe in while you take two steps, one left and one right, and breathe out as you take the next two steps. There’s also a fair amount of debate over whether you should breathe through your mouth or nose, but both appear to have their own benefits—the only real consensus is that you should use whatever airway feels most comfortable and natural.


At times, yoga can be calming and meditative, while at other times it’s more active and vigorous. Yoga has two different breathing methods, or pranayama, to deal with the requirements of different levels of activity. Sama vritti (equal breathing) is the more tranquil of the two, and yogis claim that it calms the nervous system, reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. The concept is simple—just equalize the lengths of your inhale and exhale. Ujjayi breath (victorious breath), the more active breathing form, is used to push through harder forms of yoga. With this form, breathe in and out through your nose with a slight contraction in the back of your throat. With some of yoga’s more demanding poses, many have a tendency to hold their breath, but this is typically caused by overexertion. If you catch yourself holding your breath, try taking a short break to breathe and refocus.

Sure, breathing can seem like a no-brainer, but for most forms of physical activity, breathing right is an integral part of proper form. If you have any questions about how to breathe during a specific kind of exercise, consult a licensed physical trainer or instructor.