Breathing During Exercise – Some Research

In my last post, “The Little Known Secret to Endless Cardio” I talked about the importance of breathing to cardio and performance in MMA (or any other sport that requires the ability to make decisions instantly).

I just wanted to follow up with some research data so you see I’m not just blowing smoke out of my ass.

Check out this graph, which I totally lost the reference to. If you know the study this comes from, please enlighten me.

Click to enlarge.

What I want you to notice in this graph is that there is a direct linear relationship between heart rate (HR) and respiratory rate (RR) during exercise, which means that they go up together as exercise intensity increases.

The other thing to notice is that at the highest exertion point in this study, where the heart rate is around 170 bpm, the respiratory rate is around 27 breaths per minute.

That’s why in the video I said that Brandon Vera was hyperventilating – because his breathing rate was around 72 breaths per minute.

Taking short, shallow breaths when exerting energy lowers the amount of oxygen you get in your system and also decreases the amount of CO2 you expel from your lungs, both bad things if you need energy.

breathing diagram

So when you’re sucking wind, focus on breathing slow and deep. Do this when recovering from and during work sets and hard intervals, between rounds when sparring or hitting the bag, and anytime your breathing gets elevated to get the diaphragm involved in your breathing and give you more energy to fight, train, or do whatever it is you’re doing that’s got you breathing hot and heavy. 🙂

Leave a Reply

4 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
5 Comment authors
Andrew ThomasDominickSteveEricAlan Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted

Researching I found that muscles need oxygen but we breathe air. Air is only 20.93% oxygen,79.04% nitrogen and exhale a fraction of oxygen carbon dioxide. So rapid breathing during exercise is required for more oxygen to muscles.

So wouldn’t working out with a potable oxygen generator should bring greater results?


Not necessarily.

If the person is at sea level and breathing deeply without hyperventilating, the lungs are absorbing oxygen at max capacity… SaO2 is the short form for this concept.

At altitude this will help, but rarely is oxygen deprivation at sea level an issue, unless of course the person is hyperventilating.

Plus, let’s keep things simple, you’re not going to train everytime with a portable oxygen generator, are you?


Found this simple explanation: Linear Relationship At rest, the body’s tissues require little oxygen because very little work is being done. As the body increases its workload by moving, the body tissues require more oxygen. In order to deliver the extra oxygen, the heart speeds it rate to transfer the oxygen through the blood. As the heart increases, more oxygen is needed to satisfy the new demand. To answer the need of more oxygen, the breathing rate increases in order to supply the extra oxygen to the lungs, then the heart, and throughout the body. As the workload decreases, the oxygen demand from the body decreases. The heart and breathing rates both decline until more work is done or until the body has returned to it’s resting state. Is there a realistic achievable number of breaths per min per heart rate to achieve endurance? Meaning if HR is 165pm how… Read more »


The fewer breaths the better – you don’t want to try and count your breathing rate while you’re exercising, too much to think about.

Just focus on deep breaths, breathing in through the nose as much as possible, doing your best to keep your breathing rate slow and deep.

Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be!

Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas

I’ve got some insight to share about breathing from my days in drum & bugles corps(a highly obscure but elite competition, NOT like that stuff from the movie Drumline). In drum corps, we become hardcore on cardio because we are playing wind instruments while doing something akin to running. Every time we take a breath, we’ve got to control how we release it while managing the oxygen demands of our bodies. Since we’re holding brass instruments(some of which are very heavy), it is more or less a full-body activity, including heavy mental demands. We’ve got to do this difficult physical and mental thing with one gulp of air to last us for more than 5 seconds at a time while our heart rates are close to 200. The insight I’d like to share is that staying calm and relaxed and taking deeper and slower breaths can keep a person capable,… Read more »


To add to that statement, i believe it is the actual technique that should create the “exhale” ,so as to increase to force applied, so it is not so much part of the breathing as is part of the tehnique.
Eric, have used your ideas and was impressed how my shoulders seemed to relax and melt away the tight feeling i usually have.. might just be that i’m concentrating on something other than trying to relax all the time, got a sparring sessio on thurs night, let ya know!


Related to this, I think that it’s wrong to exhale on every punch or kick because you will just make yourself breathe irregularly or hyperventilate. I think it’s better to breathe at a regular rhythm independent of your arm or leg movements.

I think exhaling on punches came about as a way to prevent holding your breath while exerting but if you can just keep breathing normally, it is better.


I FULLY agree with that assertion with the exception of a 100% maximally thrown strike to encourage a little extra core stiffness.