Breathing techniques that can help improve your cycling

Fabio Aru

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.

“Every cell in your body needs a constant and immediate supply of oxygen. Ninety percent of the energy your body uses comes directly from the breath,” say Al Lee, author of Perfect Breathing: Transform Your Life One Breath at a Time. That’s a lot of energy, which means small positive changes in your breathing methods really do add up.

How to Breathe While Cycling

Your diaphragm (a muscle below the lungs) should move downward and help expand your lungs to bring air into them. Focus on filling the bottom 1/3 of your lungs first by using your belly to breathe rather than your chest. The result should be your tummy blowing up like a balloon first, and then the rib cage expanding second. The exhale should be similar, you should be contracting your abdomen to expel the air in your lungs.

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 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.”

Watch a Baby Breathe

If you want to see how you should be breathing, look at an infant breathe. When you watch a baby breathe you see how you should be breathing. “It’s like they have a balloon in their stomach. It just expands and falls back so naturally.” That’s what you want to get back to. “We slowly squeeze that out of people as they go into adolescence and adulthood, and we get into a really unhealthy pattern.”

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.


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