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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
Proper Breathing During Sit-Ups Photo Credit: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

Correct breathing techniques when you’re doing sit-ups — or any resistance exercise — can make a huge difference in the outcome of your workout. Breathing correctly means your workout can leave you feeling energized, while improper breathing can leave you feeling fatigued.

It might even result in injury or other health problems, such as headaches, dizziness and pain in the neck and shoulders. Therefore, it’s important to bring mindfulness into your breathing when you’re doing stomach exercises.

Learn the Pattern

First, the basics: “The golden rule for breathing when you’re working out is to exhale during the hard part and inhale during the easy part,” says Los Angeles-based personal trainer David Knox, author of “Body School: A New Guide to Improved Movement in Daily Life.” “This is especially true when you’re doing abdominal exercises like sit-ups, crunches or planks."

  • For sit-ups and crunches, exhale when you’re lifting your torso and inhale when you’re lowering it back to the ground. 
  • For leg lifts, exhale when you’re lifting your legs and inhale when you’re lowering them.
  • For
    planks, inhale when you’re lowering and exhale when you’re lifting.
    Maintain a regular breathing rhythm when you're holding the pose. 

The chest should fill up laterally rather than from front to back, “Like the sail of a Spanish galleon filling out from the sides,” says Knox. “Your ribcage and core shouldn’t thrust forward, but should expand outward. You should feel a sense of expansion through the rib cage and the middle of the back.”

For sit-ups and crunches, inhale on the way up and exhale on the way down.
For sit-ups and crunches, inhale on the way up and exhale on the way down. Photo Credit: boggy22/iStock/Getty Images

Breathing Exercises for the Abs

In fact, breathing exercises by themselves can strengthen your abdominal muscles, says Knox, who’s also a yoga instructor. Applying force to the breath when both inhaling and exhaling can strengthen the belly. When exhaling air, the body relies on abdominal muscles to squeeze force air out of the thoracic cavity.

Normally, breath is drawn in and out by the abdominal muscles. During exercise or intentional forced breathing, the secondary breathing muscles in the chest engage. This lifts the ribs, allowing the lungs more room to inflate as more air rushes in.

For a simple ab-strengthening breathing exercise, lie flat on your back and gradually lengthen the duration of your inhalations and exhalations. “The more you control your breathing muscles in your workout, the stronger and more articulate they’re going to become,” says Knox.

Read More: 10 Most Effective Ab Workouts

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