How to Breathe the Right Way

Breathing is a key element in your health and fitness. Discover how to figure out if you don’t breathe correctly and learn Get-Fit Guy's 6 ways to enhance your breathing.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #118


If you’re not breathing correctly, then this can create huge problems for you since healthy breathing patterns are how your body maintains a high metabolism and delivers oxygen to vital tissues. In addition, if you breathe too fast or don’t inhale deeply enough, you can increase the pH of your blood, and this can decrease the amount of blood getting to your brain and muscles and result in less oxygen being released by that blood.

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But that’s not all. Your breathing is also a sign of how well your core muscles are working. If you have shallow breathing (also known as upper chest breathing) or if you have too quick a breathing pattern, then your diaphragmatic muscles may not be actively stabilizing your trunk, which can lead to poor posture, as well as impairments in your physical or athletic coordination and your low back stability – all of which increases your risk of injury and decreases your performance potential.

How to Know If You Breathe Right

Before you learn 6 Quick and Dirty Tips to breathe the right way, it’s important for you to recognize if you’re not breathing correctly. Here are 7 common signs of dysfunctional breathing patterns:

  1. You inhale with your chest. When you begin inhaling (breathing in), you may notice that your chest is the first thing to move, typically going up or slightly forward. If so, this is a sign that you are engaging in shallow or upper chest breathing.

  2. Your rib cage doesn’t expand to the side. If you place your hands on either side of your rib cage when you breathe, you should notice that your hands move to the side about 1.5-2 inches as your trunk widens. If not, this is also a sign of shallow breathing.

  3. You’re breathing with your mouth. Do you find that even when you’re not exercising, you commonly have your mouth open as you breathe? Unless you have a sinus infection or congestion that keeps you from breathing through your nose, your mouth should be closed as you breathe from deep within your nasal cavity.

  4. Your upper neck, chest, and shoulder muscles are tight. Do you carry lots of tension in the muscles around and under your neck? If you get a massage, or you reach back and feel those muscles, do they feel painful, tender, or tight? If so, this can be a sign that you are engaging in stressed and shallow breathing.

  5. You sigh or yawn frequently. Do you find that every few minutes, you must take a deep breath, sigh, or yawn? This is a sign that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen in your normal breathing pattern.

  6. You have a high resting breath rate. A normal, relaxed, resting breath rate should be approximately 10-12 breaths per minute. If you measure how many times you’re breathing each minute and you exceed 12, this is a sign of quick and shallow breathing.

  7. You slouch forward. Poor diaphragmatic control can cause specific muscles to become short and tight. Typically these muscles are your chest and the front of your shoulders. So if you find yourself slouching your head or shoulders forward, this can be a sign that you’re not activating your diaphragm when you breathe.

6 Ways to Breathe Correctly

So if you find that you experience any of the above 7 signs that you’re not breathing the right way, there are lots of things you do about it. Here are 6 ways to train yourself to breathe properly:

  1. Blow up balloons. When you practice blowing up a balloon, it encourages you to contract your diaphragm and core muscles. You can enhance this effect by getting into a crunch or sit-up position on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, then blowing up a balloon by inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. At the same time, try to maintain pressure against the ground with your low back.

  2. Purse your lips. Practice breathing through pursed lips by creating as small a hole as possible in your mouth to breathe through. As you do pursed lipped breathing, this helps to keep you from breathing too fast. Take 2-4 seconds to breathe in through your nose, then take 4-8 seconds to breathe our very slowly through pursed lips, and practice this 1-2 times per day for about 3-5 minutes. Imagine you’re blowing through a straw, or trying to blow at a candle just hard enough for the candle to flicker, but not get extinguished.

  3. Do planking exercises while. In previous Get-Fit Guy episodes, you learned how to do the front plank and side plank. These exercises can also be used to teach you how to breathe properly. Simply get into a front or side plank position and take 8-12 deep breathes from your bellybutton. Try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

  4. Contract your abs as you breathe. A simple activity that can teach you how to use your abdominal (core) muscles to breathe better is to wrap your hand around your waist line, and then try to push your hands slightly away and out to the side as you breathe out. You should feel that your abdominal muscles are moving your hands as you breathe.

  5. Upper chest resistance. Lie on your back, place a hand on your upper chest, apply slight downward pressure to the hard bone in the middle of your chest (your sternum) and try to maintain that pressure while you inhale and exhale. This will force you to “bypass” your chest while breathing, and instead breathe from deep within your belly.

  6. Limit shoulder movement. Begin by sitting in a chair with your arms and elbows supported by the arms of the chair. As you inhale through your nose, push down onto the arms of the chair, and as you exhale through pursed lips, release that pressure on the arms of the chair. The purpose of this exercise is to keep you from elevating your shoulders while breathing (which can cause upper chest breathing).

If you have more questions about how to breathe the right way, or have other ideas on how to train yourself to breathe better, then post them in Comments or join the conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

Man Breathing Incorrectly and Woman in Plank Position images from Shutterstock.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.