Breathe correctly during sport – how it works

Sport becomes easier if we breathe properly during it. As our body consumes more oxygen during exertion, it is important that we purposefully support it in performing its various activities.

30.03.2022 Lara Brunner 3 minutes

Generally speaking, we intuitively also breath correctly during sport: when we move more, our rate of breathing automatically increases. This means that more oxygen reaches our lungs. From here, it is transported to our organs and cells in the bloodstream: this in turn serves to boost our performance.

Even though we generally breathe correctly when doing sport, there are certain activities during which we should consciously pay attention to breathing properly – during strength training or when running, for example. One rule, however, applies to all activities: never hold your breath!

Proper breathing during strength training

When exerting ourselves, we often employ the so-called Valsalva manoeuvre without realising it: we breathe in deeply and then hold our breath instead of breathing out. During strength training, in particular, we should avoid this breathing technique under all circumstances, as it is unhealthy: our muscles become over-acidified, meaning our performance declines. Our blood pressure also increases quickly. Typical signs of this include short interruptions in breathing and a red face. Our jugular veins sometimes even protrude when our blood accumulates in them.

In order to avoid employing the Valsalva manoeuvre during sport, you should make a conscious effort to breathe out during exertion – for example when lifting a weight – and breath in following exertion – or when lowering the weight. While breathing correctly is an important aspect of strength training, strength training is also important for breathing: it strengthens our all of our skeletal muscles. Our torso, shoulder girdle, diaphragm and abdominal muscles are especially important here. They support us in breathing.

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Proper breathing when jogging

Generally speaking, we can be confident that we will breathe correctly and sufficiently during running training. During endurance training, you should therefore not focus too much on breathing correctly otherwise you could easily suffer a stitch. The long-distance runner and coach Viktor Röthlin recommends that all of those who have difficulty in jogging in a relaxed manner and breathing regularly run with a small stone in their hand. They therefore focus on the stone instead of breathing.

Breathing out is important, as those who breathe in too quickly and deeply when jogging run the risk of hyperventilating. Whether we breathe through our mouth or nose when training for sport differs from person to person. You quickly get a feel for what works better for you. Röthlin only advises breathing in through your nose when the temperature falls below freezing, as this warms and moistens the air.

Stitches while jogging – triggers and tips

Getting a stitch in your side is annoying, but harmless. You may notice cramp-like pains in your upper abdomen or under your ribs – no one really knows what exactly causes stitches. Hypotheses include increased blood flow to the spleen, decreased blood flow to the diaphragm, eating too much before working out, poor posture and changes in tempo and rhythm. 

To avoid side stitches, the first step is to figure out when you tend to experience the problem. Then you can decide how best to respond to it. General tips include: Don’t exercise on a full stomach and don’t drink high-carbohydrate beverages before your workout. Maintain a constant speed while jogging or increase your speed slowly. Always try to breathe evenly. It can also help to strengthen your core muscles.

If you still develop a stitch, reduce the intensity. If that doesn’t help, stand still and breathe deeply into your abdomen and out again. Press your hands against the painful spot as you inhale. Release the pressure as you exhale and bend forward slightly. Or you can stretch your arms over your head, opening the chest, and take deep breaths in and out.

Side stitches are not just a problem for beginners – professionals get them too. During your next workout, try to breathe regularly: inhale for two steps, exhale for three steps. Or find the breathing rhythm that works best for you. Good luck!

Read more

Jogging for beginners: 10 important tips
Too fast, too often, too long – we’ll you what to look out for as a novice runner.
March 28, 2022 3 minutes

Why and how do we breathe?
We inhale and exhale around 20,000 times a day. But why do we breathe? What happens to the oxygen that we inhale?
March 19, 2018 2 minutes


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