How to Breathe During Pushups: A Pro’s Guide to Perfect Technique


Believe it or not, your breathing technique can make a big difference in how many pushups you can do.

With haphazard breathing, you might gas out earlier than you need to and fall short of your pushup goal regardless of how strong you are.

With a pushup, you want to make sure that you inhale as you descend towards the ground and exhale to explode back up to the top of the movement. Inhale through your nose, and exhale out of your mouth. 

Breathing is not something many of us pay attention to as we perform bodyweight movements like the pushup, but it should be.

Just as some breathing techniques can calm a racing mind, others can give you the edge during exercise.

Learn all the do’s and don’ts of pushups, including the proper breathing technique, and you should set yourself up for long-term success with the movement.

Correct Form

There is much debate surrounding what constitutes the perfect form for the most common of bodyweight movements, yet not much thought is given to the breath.

This is a shame since harnessing the power of the breath can skyrocket your success with the movement and lead to more repetitions and sets.

We’ve all done pushups while holding our breath before, and the results probably weren’t what we hoped for.

When you hold your breath, your face goes red, and you cut off the oxygen supply to the muscles, which makes it very difficult to complete pushups.

Holding the breath during bodyweight moves like the pushup can also raise your blood pressure, so it’s a good idea to learn the correct way to breathe if you want to do as many pushups as possible.

As with just about any exercise, the trick is to time your breath to align with the eccentric and concentric parts of the movement.

Eccentric refers to the part of the exercise when your muscles are lengthened, while concentric is the phase when the muscles are shortened.

In the specific case of the pushup, that means inhaling before the eccentric part of the movement and exhaling during the concentric part.

If you are able to line up your breath with the eccentric and concentric phases of the exercise, whatever it is, you will be able to generate more force and power.

It’s also needless to say safer to perform exercises with the right breathing technique, which should be the most compelling reason to learn how to do it well.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to performing the perfect pushup with proper breathing technique:

  1. First, get into a plank position with your hands and feet planted firmly and your core hovering a few feet off the ground. 

Try to keep your hips and glutes raised, and watch for sagging as you perform the pushups. To know if you have nailed this position, glance at a mirror if you can and see if there is an invisible line from your head to your toes.

  1. Ensure that your hands are roughly shoulder-width apart and your feet are close together. 

For a pushup that works the triceps, you can move your hands closer together and keep the elbows in close to the body. For one that works the chest more, you can position your hands wider apart and let the elbows fall out to the sides.

  1. To perform a pushup, slowly lower yourself to the ground until your chest is just a few inches from it.  

This is the eccentric phase of the movement, so you want to inhale just before you lower your body.

  1. Now explode up with as much power as you can muster, pushing yourself back up to a plank position.

As you do the concentric phase of the movement, exhale the moment you push off the ground to generate more force.

Common Mistakes

There are several things you want to avoid when you’re doing pushups if you’re going to do them safely and effectively.

For whatever reason, it’s easy to assume that we know how to do a pushup without any experience.

However, this can lead to incorrect form in more ways than one.

Avoid doing the following, and you’ll give yourself a good chance of hitting good form with every repetition.

Holding Your Breath

One of the most common mistakes for people of all fitness levels is holding the breath during an exercise.

This isn’t limited to just pushups, but the pushup is a prime example of an exercise in which the breath is often disregarded.

The breath is usually the first thing to go out the window whenever we exert ourselves physically.

It takes time to train your breathing, whether it’s for running, rock climbing, or yoga.

Even a simple movement such as the pushup requires correct breathing technique.

The problem with holding your breath is that you essentially restrict the amount of oxygen that gets to the muscles and increase your blood pressure.

As a result, your ability to generate power is diminished, and you might end the workout more red-faced than you need to be.

Going Too Fast

A mistake that goes hand in hand with poor breathing technique is performing the pushups too quickly.

It can be very tempting when you first start out with pushups to do as many as possible to maximize the results from doing the exercise.

However, not only are you short-changing yourself of the full benefits of the move, but you’re also likely breathing in an uncontrolled way.

Instead of treating pushups like intense cardio training, slow things down and focus on breathing in as you lower yourself to the ground and breathing out as you push yourself back up.

Letting Your Hips Sag

If you let your hips sag during a pushup, you might experience lower back pain.

If you do notice that your hips are sagging, tense your core and glute muscles to straighten things out.

If this is too challenging, then you can drop to your knees to do the pushups since it might just be that you need to work on your core muscles and build more strength there first.

Frequently Asked Questions About Breathing During Pushups

What is the proper way to breathe when exercising?

When exercising, the golden rule is to breathe in for the eccentric phase of the movement and to breathe out for the concentric phase.

The eccentric phase refers to the lengthening of the muscles, while the concentric phase refers to the shortening of the muscles.

If you can remember this for lifting and bodyweight movements, then you should enjoy more success and generate more power.

What is the proper way to inhale and exhale?

On the inhalation, you should breathe in entirely through your nose to fill your chest with air.

For exhalation, you should empty out that air by breathing solely out of your mouth.

It’s a good idea to practice inhaling and exhaling this way before you jump into the exercise, as this can help you develop the right rhythm.

With the right rhythm, you can get more out of every repetition with minimal extra effort.

How do beginners improve push-ups?

As a beginner, the best way to improve push-ups is to learn the correct form.

Many people make the mistake of doing the exercise before they decide to figure out how it is meant to be done correctly.

As a result, you can pick up bad habits from the beginning which can be tricky to unlearn, so adhere to perfect form from day one – even if you can only do a couple of pushups like this.

A Final Word From Energetic Lifestyle

Pushups can be a challenging exercise, especially when you perform them with perfect form and proper breathing technique.

If you’re looking to get the most out of every pushup, it pays to pay attention to your breathing, focusing on inhaling as you go down and exhaling as you explode up.

Fail to control your breath, and you won’t be able to get enough oxygen to the muscles to maximize the amount of force you can generate with each repetition.

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Energetic Lifestyle Team

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