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How to Breathe When Lifting Weights – The Proper Way

Have you ever found yourself holding your breath while pushing through a tough set at the gym? It’s a common scenario, especially for those new to weight lifting. Breathing might seem like a natural process we don’t need to think about, but when it comes to weight lifting, how you breathe can significantly impact your performance and results.


Many fitness enthusiasts, from beginners to even seasoned lifters, carry common misconceptions about the proper way to breathe during their workouts. Some say you should inhale on the lift and exhale on the release, while others suggest holding your breath to build intra-abdominal pressure. So, what’s the real deal?

In this article, we’ll guide you on how to breathe properly when lifting weights. Knowing this could be the game-changer in your weight lifting routine, bringing in a wave of benefits you might have been missing out on. Understanding the correct breathing techniques will elevate your workout to the next level.

The Basics of Proper Breathing When Lifting Weights

Mastering the art of breathing while lifting weights goes beyond simple inhales and exhales; it involves learning the concept of diaphragmatic breathing, a technique that fuels your muscles and stabilizes your core. Diaphragmatic breathing, often referred to as “belly or abdominal breathing,” is a breathing technique of drawing air deep into your lungs, allowing your diaphragm to do most of the work. 

But why is this so important? The answer lies in the relationship between your breath and intra-abdominal pressure. When you engage in diaphragmatic breathing, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward, creating more space in the chest cavity and allowing the lungs to expand. The downward movement increases the volume inside the abdominal cavity, but because it’s a closed space, the pressure inside it rises. 

The increase in intra-abdominal pressure acts like a supportive cushion for your spine, particularly during weight lifting, providing stability and reducing the risk of injury. It’s a technique that not only enhances your workout by ensuring efficient oxygen flow to your muscles but also fortifies your core, making your lifting safer and more effective.

Breathing Techniques for Different Exercises

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When lifting weights, the general rule of thumb is to exhale during the most challenging part – typically when you lift or push the weight – and inhale as you prepare for the lift or return to the starting position. This simple yet effective breathing pattern ensures you’re supplying your muscles with oxygen when they need it most, maintaining stability and maximizing your strength throughout each phase of the exercise.

  • Exhale on Exertion. When performing compound exercises, for example, the most challenging part is typically when you’re lifting the weight against gravity. For a squat, this would be when you’re rising from the bottom position. For a deadlift, it’s when you’re lifting the weight off the ground. At these points, you should exhale forcefully to engage your core muscles, providing stability and power.
  • Inhale on Release. As you lower yourself into a squat or return the weight to the ground in a deadlift, you should inhale. This part of the exercise is slightly less intense, and inhaling helps you control the movement and prepare your muscles for the next repetition. 

The same breathing principle applies to isolation exercises but with more focus on muscle isolation and control. Isolation exercises target specific muscle groups and are generally less complex than compound exercises. Although the movements are more straightforward, proper breathing remains essential. Following the correct breathing pattern aids in maintaining a controlled and focused execution of the exercise, maximizing the benefits of your isolation workouts.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Being aware of common breathing mistakes is just as important as learning the proper techniques. These pitfalls can hinder your progress and potentially compromise your safety. Holding your breath, for instance, particularly during strenuous parts of a lift, might feel like a way to gather strength, but it comes with its risks. Such practice, known as the Valsalva maneuver, can indeed increase intra-abdominal pressure, but it also spikes your blood pressure and can lead to dizziness or even fainting. While experienced lifters might use this technique in specific scenarios under controlled conditions, it’s generally safer, especially for beginners, to avoid holding your breath. 

Shallow breathing, often characterized by quick, short breaths, is another prevalent mistake that can seem harmless but has a considerable impact on your workout. This type of breathing fails to fully engage the diaphragm or fill the lungs with enough oxygen, which your muscles desperately need during intense lifting. The result? Your muscles tire more quickly, your heart rate increases unnecessarily, and your performance suffers. Instead of doing shallow breaths, focus on taking deep, controlled breaths that maximize oxygen intake and maintain the intra-abdominal pressure needed for strong and stable lifts.

Workout the Proper Way With the Best Personal Trainers in Holland, Michigan

As you master the art of breathing during your weight lifting sessions, enhance your workout experience with Flex Fitness Center, the premier weight lifting gym in Holland, Michigan. With our state-of-the-art equipment and seasoned trainers, we’re dedicated to supporting you every step of the way, ensuring that every breath and every lift takes you closer to your fitness goals.

Ready to take your lifting to the next level? We’re thrilled to offer a 7-day free trial membership to local residents. This is your chance to explore our facilities, meet our community, and see firsthand how the right environment and support can elevate your journey to becoming the best version of yourself. For more inquiries, call us at (616) 396-2901 or reach us here.