Fitness · Health · Movement

How to Use Your Breath to Improve Your Performance

By Brittney Bergen

We talk and talk and talk about using food to fuel your performance. What if we stop for a second and chat about something even simpler?

Let’s take a basic look at using your breath to improve your movement in the gym, and in competition.
Let’s take a basic look at using your breath to improve your movement in the gym, and in competition.

The Importance of Breath

Instead of going down the path of aerobic vs. anaerobic respiration, let’s focus on fundamentals:

  • During exercise, your muscles require more oxygen than at rest.
  • Your body also needs to be able to get rid of carbon dioxide and other organic compounds faster.
  • Proper breathing helps you effectively engage your core muscles to keep your spine safe, and your body in alignment. This helps you prevent injury and allows you to move with more ease.

With just these three things in mind, does it not make sense that to optimize our performance, we’d take a solid look at our breath?

Stay tuned for a future advanced blog all about the breath. For now, let’s start coordinating your movements with your breath to boost your performance.

How to Coordinate Movement with Breath

  • For Gymnastics-Based Movements:
    • Inhale when you open, or move away from your body. Your chest cavity and abdomen are in a natural enlarged state to take in more oxygen.
    • Exhale when you close, or move towards your body. Your chest cavity and abdomen are in a natural contracted state to expel your breath.
    • Examples: toes to bar, hanging knee raises, knees to elbows, pull-ups, muscle-ups, etc.

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For toes to bar, inhale in your “superman” position, and exhale as you close your body to kick the bar.

The next time you’re at the gym, try a set of toes to bar, knees to elbows, or hanging knee raises where you ignore your breath. Then, try another set where you focus on inhaling when you open and exhaling when you close. Afterwards, send us a message (@idealisticisabel) on Instagram, and let us know what you noticed!

  • For Basic Lifts:
    • Take in a big breath before you start the movement
    • Hold your breath throughout the movement to maximize your intra-abdominal pressure
    • Exhale when you’re past your sticking point
    • Examples: Heavy squats, bench presses, shoulder presses, etc.
  • For Explosive Movements:
    • Think of yourself like a tennis player looking to generate maximum force
    • Exhale forcefully, or let out a grunt at the explosive peak of the movement
    • Examples: Olympic weightlifting, kettlebell movements, box jumps, and rowing


I let out a “primal scream” (as one of my coaches has named it) when I lift.

  • For Core-Training
    • Try adding in a forceful exhale with a “shh” sound to engage your core even more at the edge of dynamic movements.
    • Examples: Floor wipers, bicycle crunches, Russian twists, etc.

And if you forget all of this…

Just pay attention to your breath with you’re in the gym. Focussing on your breath will help you:

  • Perform better
  • Recover faster from EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption)
  • Prevent “Fran lung”
  • Engage your core
  • Protect your body

And, my personal favourite: focussing on your breath will keep you in the present moment. You’ll squeeze more joy out of the journey of your workout. Your mind will be with this movement instead of wandering to the next exercise or becoming obsessed with the destination of the podium.

Your happiness lies in this moment. Your peak performance rests below your best breath.

Focus on your breath in your next training session to take your happiness and performance to the next level.


Related Articles:

On Haters, Carbs, and Coaches: How to Reach your Athletic Potential

Do You Pee When You Lift?

Escape the Training Grind: Remember Your Love for Lifting

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