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Proper Breathing During Sit-ups

author image Becky Miller
Becky Miller, an ACE-certified personal trainer, has designed strength training programs for people of all ages and fitness levels since 2001. She specializes in empowering women of the baby-boomer generation. Her writing career began in 2004, authoring weekly fitness columns and feature articles for the "Navarre Press" in Florida. She earned her B.S. in business from the University of Colorado.
Proper Breathing During Sit-ups
Two women performing sit-ups on mats in a studio. Photo Credit tetmc/iStock/Getty Images

Breathing properly while doing sit-ups can increase their effectiveness, activating additional abdominal muscle fibers and stimulating them more deeply. The tendency to hold your breath while performing ab exercises is undeniable, but bringing consciousness to your breath and breathing through the pain can result in stronger, flatter ab muscles.

Waiting to Exhale

“Exhale when you exert” is the rule of thumb to remind you of the proper breathing technique while doing sit-ups. That means, as you exert your upper body, lifting it up off the floor, you should be exhaling. For added muscle recruitment, exhaling forcefully as you exert, even pausing for a moment at the top of the sit-up, involves maximal abdominal muscle fiber involvement as they contract to help the lungs expel the air.

Waiting to Inhale

Focusing only on the exhalation is a mistake because even more important than the exhalation is the inhalation. The inhalation delivers the much needed blood and oxygen to the abdominal muscles, providing to them the fuel they need to continue contracting. Deep inhalations also help lessen the unique pain experienced during ab exercises, allowing you to crank out more repetitions and get better results.

Slow and Controlled Breathing

Breathing should be done in a slow and steady manner, timing the sit-up with your breath. Don’t speed up your breathing or the motion of the sit-up when it starts to hurt. Instead keep it slow and controlled for the best results, breathing in deeply and out deeply. You have to go past the point of pain, feeling the cramping sensation in your midsection, to reap the most benefit from ab training.


Hyperventilation can result from breathing in excess of what the body needs, also known as overbreathing. Chemical changes occur during overbreathing that cause the carbon dioxide level in the blood to decrease. This reduces blood flow to the brain, which can result in nervous system woes, such as weakness, dizziness and confusion, among other things. Quick, shallow breathing tends to cause hyperventilation, rather than this slow, controlled method of breathing.

Don't Hold Your Breath

Proper Breathing During Sit-ups
Holding your breath raises your blood pressure. Photo Credit blood pressure image by Ivonne Wierink from Fotolia.com

Don’t worry if you find yourself inhaling when you should be exhaling. The main thing is that you are breathing. Holding your breath will raise your blood pressure, which can be dangerous. If you’re feeling light-headed and your face is red, chances are you were holding your breath and didn’t realize it. Breathing comes naturally, except when doing abs, for some reason. Always remind yourself to breathe when doing sit-ups and all abdominal exercises.

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