Nasal vs. Oral: How Breathing Impacts Your Workout

The act of breathing is the most automatic response of the human body. It is also the most vital function as breathing provides the body with the oxygen needed for survival. Unfortunately, most of us give little attention to our breathing on a day to day basis. One way that we are reminded of this function is through exercise because, when we are exercising, our body requires a certain amount of oxygen consumption for optimal performance. However the question becomes, “Do we generate more oxygen in our lungs by breathing through our nose or mouth during exercise?”

Nasal breathing provides a healthier means of transporting oxygen because the process provides clear air to the lungs, thereby decreasing exposure to unwanted viruses and/or pathogens. Additionally, this breathing pattern requires us to engage primary respiratory muscles such as the diaphragm. 

As babies, our normal breathing pattern consisted of breathing through our diaphragm to a point of being able to watch our belly rise and fall. Unfortunately, as we age, we somehow forget how to breathe. 

Have you ever practiced yoga or any form of meditation? If so, you were not JUST told to pay attention to your breathing, but encouraged to breathe in through your nose, filling your stomach with air. This may have seemed easier during yoga or meditation, but during strenuous exercise breathing appears to become a struggle.  

Breathing through your mouth may feel like your last resort when you are performing a difficult exercise. However, instead of gaining more oxygen, you are actually wasting oxygen as your body responds from a ‘fight or flight’ response. In this breathing pattern, your breathing becomes shallow, requiring more oxygen consumption. This is very similar to someone who is experiencing hyperventilation which can lead to altered carbon dioxide and blood content.

As a Personal Trainer, I am regularly encouraging my clients to be fully aware of their breathing patterns during the workout. Proper breathing can play a major role in your exercise routine because the more oxygen you have the more able you are to perform AND the more oxygen your muscles will receive (especially during strength training). So, the next time you find yourself struggling through a workout, take a deep breathe…through your nose.


Penny Samuels is a NASM-CPT, MSW who takes great pride in not only helping her clients reach her weight loss goals, but creating a space of education that will help her clients maintain the progress made while working with her. Penny established Chrysalid Transformations, with her partner, Sherry Samuels (Certified Life Coach), with the understanding of the importance of marrying physical fitness goals with mental health goals in order to maintain the healthy lifestyle.

NOTE:  Please check with your doctor prior to starting any workout routine.