How to Control Breathing During Push-Ups

beautiful athletic woman pushed from the floor
Controlling your breathing during push-ups is crucial. (Image: chesterf/iStock/Getty Images)

One of the most ancient forms of exercise, yoga, recognizes the importance of breathing during exercise. You can use your breath to do more than simply fill your lungs with air. If you know how to breathe properly, you can get more out of your exercises. For push-ups, focusing on your breathing will help you use your core more effectively and make you more focused.

Mindful Breathing

Both yoga practitioners and other athletes, particularly martial artists, have different breathing techniques for different types of movement. Typically a short, powerful movement is matched with a short, powerful breath and a longer, more relaxed movement has a similar style of breath.

This mindful form of breathing may be difficult at first, but it is important to learn. Breathing is one of the few things that are controlled by both our voluntary and involuntary nervous system. Because of this dual control, you can regulate your breathing or turn your focus to other tasks and let your nervous system take over and breathe for you.

While you probably have your breathing on autopilot most of the time, it is important to have some awareness of the way that you breathe. Certain things can cause you to breathe irregularly, such as stress or poor posture. It's also important to take over control of your breathing during exercise because different exercises demand different types of breathing.

Breathing During Push-Ups

Push-ups are a quick and powerful upper body exercise. Just like a martial artist throwing punches, you need a short and powerful breath to match the movement that you're doing. The first thing that you should practice is breathing through your mouth.

Breathing through your nose is a better option when you aren't doing certain forms of exercise. When you breathe through your nose, air is funneled through your sinuses, which trap debris and microorganisms and add some moisture to the air you breathe in before it hits your lungs. The only problem is that you can't get much air through your nose very quickly.

Urban woman sitting on a bench of a park and breathing deep fresh air
Breathing through your nose is typically the best strategy except during exercise. (Image: AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images)

When you breathe through your mouth, you can get in a lot of air quickly and expel it just as fast. That's why you should only breathe through your mouth when you do push-ups.

When you descend toward the bottom of the push-up, breathe in. When you breathe in your ribcage and abdomen expand, which means that the muscles surrounding them have to relax slightly. As you push yourself back up, breathe out forcefully. A hard exhale requires your abs to push air out with more force, which helps in a push-up because it causes all of your ab muscles to contract, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Spine Stabilization

Breathing also helps you stabilize your spine. According to a study in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics, your spine is less stable when you have very little air in your lungs. It makes sense then to breathe in and fill your lungs during the descent of the push-up. You need the most spinal stability at the lowest point in the push-up because as you start to press back up, your lower back is being pulled toward the ground.

Breathing and Metabolism

Short and powerful breathing is beneficial because it works with the motion of the push-up. In a short-duration activity such as the push-up, it's not as important to get oxygen from your lungs. That's because push-ups are an anaerobic activity, which means that you don't get your energy from oxygen. You use energy that's stored in the muscle in the form of sugars and other energy molecules like creatine. This energy system typically lasts from 30 seconds to three minutes, according to an article from the American Council on Exercise.

Because oxygen isn't the top priority during push-ups, you don't need to worry about taking long, deep breaths to fill your lungs. Instead, short and powerful mouth breathing is preferred because it can help with your push-up performance by contracting your abdominal muscles at the proper time.

If used correctly, breathing can make you better at certain exercises. While every exercise is slightly different, push-ups work well with a short and powerful mouth breath, similar to the ones that boxers use when they punch. You can even add in a sound effect to the exhale to emphasize the short and powerful nature of the breath.

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