Breathing Techniques & Cycling

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If you've ever ridden uphill with your lungs feeling like they're on fire, you'll already know how poor breathing technique can seriously hinder your performance. Learning how to breathe properly both on and off the bike will not only increase your endurance, but also improve your speed. Perfecting your breathing technique could be one of the key elements necessary to boost your all-around performance as a cyclist.

Breathing Benefits

When you cycle -- as with any exercise -- the harder you work, the harder the body must work to provide oxygen to the muscles. Learning techniques to breathe more efficiently can help to improve your performance both on and off the bike. When the lungs and the surrounding intercostal and diaphragm muscles are supported, the body is free to spend more energy on your muscular effort for better speed and endurance. Additionally, focusing on your breathing technique provides your mind with a positive distraction during a challenging ride.

Breathing Techniques

Before you even hop on your bike, spending some time learning how to breathe properly can help to improve your performance. Carrie Myers, of the American Council on Exercise, recommends finding a quiet spot where you can focus on your breathing habits. Pay attention to your posture and make sure your shoulders aren't hunched forward. Breathe slowly and rhythmically through your nostrils. Nostril breathing is much more effective at filtering and transporting oxygen to your lungs than mouth breathing. As you breathe in, send the breath to your belly, expanding the abdomen and exercising the diaphragm and intercostal muscles.

Performance Breathing

Performance breathing is a specific breathing technique designed to improve your cycling performance. Practicing efficient methods of breathing can improve your cycling time, endurance, utilization of oxygen and respiration of waste materials. The performance breathing technique outlined by Myers is divided into three separate actions: inhale, holding and exhale. Each action is performed in a "2, 2, 4" count, so for each breath cycle you'll breathe in for two counts, hold your breath for two counts and exhale for four counts. For some cyclists, a "2, 2, 4" count is too shallow. If this is the case for you, increase the time to "4, 4, 8" or "5, 5, 10."

Tips and Considerations

Practice any new breathing techniques before you start pedaling. Make sure that you feel comfortable performing the technique and stop immediately if you feel light-headed, anxious or weak. If you suffer from any breathing conditions, like asthma, be sure to speak to your doctor before trying out the breathing exercises listed above.