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Correct Breathing for Cardio

By Zoe Glass ; Updated December 19, 2017

Proper breathing is fundamental to getting the most out of any physical activity or exercise routine. Poor breathing technique restricts your body's access to the oxygen it needs, which in turn can make you tired, hamper your recovery and prevent achievement of the results you desire. Practicing proper breathing will boost the value of both cardio and strength workouts, and it can also help you generally feel better when you aren’t exercising.


If you slouch, your body works less efficiently and your lungs cannot open fully. Especially if you spend a lot of time sitting, your shoulders round, your head drops forward, and the muscles around your chest and core become tight—all of this restricts how much the lungs and ribs can expand to accommodate those cleansing, deep breaths. According to “The Everest Principle: How to Achieve the Summit of Your Life,” you should perform cardio, such as running, with a straight back and head held high. This keeps your muscles correctly aligned, opens your chest and improves lung capacity.

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing is when you inhale fully through your nose, allow your abdomen to rise naturally, and then contract slightly as you exhale. Practice abdominal breathing while seated until it becomes comfortable and natural. Then, during exercise, your body will be more apt to proper breathing and you will benefit from the improved blood flow and and a stronger oxygen supply to your brain and muscles.

Nose Breathing

Nose breathing is when you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. This actually reduces the time it takes the air to leave your lungs, giving your lungs more time to harvest those oxygen molecules. Nose breathing also filters impurities and warms the air, protecting your lungs from cold air and pollutants, according to professional middle distance runner Perry Fields. She says this approach is essential during cardio, and recommends training yourself to breathe through your nose during easy cardio. Then, you can work up to nose breathing for all but your most intense workouts.

Thoracic Breathing

Thoracic breathing activates the middle lobes of the lungs. This is a little more taxing to perform than abdominal breathing, but results in the intake of more oxygen which boosts your cardio workout. This is also known as "Pilates" breathing, as the style is relied upon during these exercises. A 2014 study, published by the National Institutes of Health, found that "this breathing pattern increased [inhalation] volumes in the healthy subjects and increased oxygenation." When done correctly, you should feel your rib cage expand slightly outward as your lungs fill. As with abdominal breathing, it's best to practice this while relaxed—keeping your hands on your ribs to monitor the movement—until it feels natural.

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