Dumb question about breathing

Do you guys know if there is any benefit to focusing on breathing early on in an effort that pays off later in the effort. For example, the ramp test begins very easy and stays that way for 15-16 minutes. Does it pay to belly breathe while it’s still easy, say in the first 5 minutes, and theoretically, that allows you to last longer on the ramp test. Or, do you need to just start focusing on the breathing once you start feeling it.

I think the answer could obviously be yes, it helps to belly breathe the entire time, but that takes quite a bit more focus that may actually have negative impact, so I guess I’m asking, is there any evidence that shows that it’s worth it to focus on breathing throughout rather than just when it gets harder.

I would just focus on the breathing once you start getting to the point where you almost need to breath through the mouth.

IME zero benefit.

For example, it might lower my HR from 120 down to 115, which really doesn’t do anything for me later down the line. In fact, it’s a waste of mental effort that I really could use later when I’m up in the 160s.

OMG, yes. Absolutely, for me focused breath work has made a giant difference in RPE. I focus on very pronounced exhaling. Nice, powerful, steady exhaling does it for me. The other side of the equation, inhaling, just comes naturally in the right doses.

If I am starting a 5+ minute block at 100%, I know that it’ll be grim towards the end. Soooooo, I really really focus on the breathing at the start of the interval and try to maintain that focus as long as possible. Toward the end of the interval, fear and loathing take over, and my breathing is less disciplined. But, I honestly believe (and feel) that solid breathing techniques at the front end of the interval allow me to complete the whole thing.

I’ve tried to review the respiration rate (bprm) data from my dual-recorded Garmin data alongside the TrainerRoad data --but it’s just a funny graph that looks like HR. What I do know is that my RPE is much much lower when I consciously work on in-interval breathing techniques.

p.s. I think its a great question to ask.

Does what?

I think you’re on to something with that sort of stoic internal in-the-moment approach to super hard intervals.

to OP: I like where your head is at. My entire life is spent asking “how can I make this better” in sport. (PhD in sport phys)

Short answer: you cannot stockpile oxygenation in your tissues, lungs, or blood, beyond exacting current demand. The only changes you might cause are respiratory alkalosis which if not offset by the tradeoffs of increase respiratory rate might confer a transient acid-buffering benefit for the higher-intensity efforts. However, the action of intentionally altering breathing rate or strategy costs oxygen at the lung muscle level and probably reduces mechanical efficiency in the legs and negates any transient buffering advantage, if it exists at all.

I often send the following text to clients. Hope it’s useful!

The primary purpose of breathing is to transport air into and out of the lungs. This transports carbon dioxide out and oxygen in. Maximizing that exchange is accomplished by maximizing how much air goes in and comes out of the lungs. If you over-breathe, your body will just stop you from doing that by slowing your breathing rate naturally. If you feel like you need to breathe more, you’ll benefit from breathing more and your body will do that naturally.

This all happens, both at rest, and during exercise, because chemoreceptors monitor the level of oxygen in your blood and fine tune your breathing rate to match your needs. These chemoreceptors act just like a thermostat in your house but instead of regulating temperature, they regulate oxygen and CO2 concentrations in your blood.

If you pre-select a breathing rate you’re mentally overriding your chemoreceptors which are highly adept at fine-tuning air exchange to match your muscles exact needs. Your exercise performance will be worse because of it.

The best arguments for breathing rhythm focus during exercise are:

  1. Intentionally restricting pace of exercise to what can be accomplished with restricted breathing as a way to limit overall exertion level. You still should not intentionally alter your breathing rate, but just pay attention to it, and if you notice it shifts to a faster rhythm than allowed for in your training programming, slow your pace very subtly until your breathing rate naturally falls back down to the prescribed rate without intentional breathing modification.
  2. Mindfulness, which is an essential skill for both pace-monitoring, and for assessing how much more you have left to give.
  3. Orthopedic rhythm. That is, it’s often more comfortable for a person to have an inhale or an exhale to fall in rhythm with their stride or pedal stroke.
    Common misconceptions:
  • “If I’m breathing fast, I’m doing something wrong.” No, you’re probably just pushing yourself, and if fitness is the goal, that’s great. If you always burn out quickly in your training sessions, then sure, go ahead and slow down for at least half your running sessions. But sometimes you should be breathing fast and heavy.
  • “In through your nose, out through your mouth.” No, your nostrils are tiny air passageways compared to your mouth. The goal of breathing is to inhale and exhale air. Doing so through your nose causes unnecessary resistance to inhalation and will hurt exercise performance, without a doubt. It can be a great calming practice when not exercising, but has no place in running.
    My recommendations for breathing during running:
  1. Breathe however you like, through both your nose and mouth.
  2. Be mindful of your breathing rate if you like, but don’t change it artificially.
  3. Settle into a breathing rhythm that feels good and natural with your strides or pedal strokes.

Lowers RPE (with the emphasis on perceived )

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An initial focus on breathing, for me at least (quite inexperienced), helps me to avoid getting myself into some weird, scrunched-up ‘aero’ position that actually ends up restricting my breathing. Outdoors; not sure about indoors.

Incidentally, I did an indoor TR workout today (Taylor -2), and Chad’s in-ride notes actually said something about focusing on full, deep breaths early on in the interval. I’m not sure what the reason is, but he seems to think it’s beneficial.

That is certainly true over longish periods so this is certainly true for something like a ramp test or a sustained effort but not necessarily over a short term effort (e.g a minute or so) or when other things may be interfering with breathing (e…g. Swimming or fighting are a prime examples where you can’t necessarily breath naturally but it can happen on the bike too).

The prime area this comes up on the bike is during sets with short recovery intervals. Your body will naturally get you back to oxygen balance eventually, but it doesn’t know it only has 30 seconds to get the job done before the next effort and that you still have 9 to go.

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There is plenty of evidence in the worlds of meditation and mindfulness regarding breathing. Not that you’d be meditating during a ramp test, but rather you’re initiating focus with intent to maintain it. Often people, self included, make the ramp test something it is not. It is not a test of your fitness, a number proving what kind of cyclist you are/aren’t or whatever negative associations the mind can conjure. Rather it’s a starting point to ensure the next training block has the applicable stimulus, and if it doesn’t making adjustments to your FTP.

Initialing these breathing techniques in the beginning of the ramp test can ensure you’re present and serve as a focus when your mind gets more and more involved as the watts go up.

You’re right.


Ventilation isn’t the bottleneck in getting back closer to homeostasis after an interval. Breathing rhythm alterations are unlikely to improve rate of recovery post-exercise. Posture choice might though.

Ironically, cycling posture with hands on hood or tops is phenomenal for maximizing efficiency of ventilation.

Chad’s a smart guy, and I suspect that he believes the tradeoff of creating a little respiratory alkalosis to maximize power production in that interval is worth any exertional tradeoffs of said breathing strategy alteration. I’d love to see a study done on this or have some strong anecdotal evidence presented by anyone here. Curious!

Another interesting consideration is, let’s say that altering breathing rhythm at interval-onset allows for a slightly lower HR at the end of each interval because of the ability to accumulate relative alkalosis and pre-expire CO2 a bit. Is that a good thing?

Maybe! Could allow higher total workloads if the workout is literally at your limit and if power is allowed to increase beyond a target watt value. (ie. not in something like erg mode)

Maybe not though. If the workout is not literally at your physical limit, you might actually reduce the relative training stimulus provided by the workout by reducing the relative intensity.

In either case, we’re talking about very negligible differences in training adaptations, but I don’t mean to say that to say that we shouldn’t discuss or that it’s not important. Just laying out the magnitude of change potentially caused by any potential reduction in relative intensity from artificially increased ventilation pre-interval.

Agree. Mindfulness and in-the-moment thinking/sensing/feeling is incredibly powerful in endurance performance. Breathing-focus could certainly assist there.