It’s an extremely common question, “Why Can’t I Breathe When Doing Push Ups?”
In fact, some people are confused as to why they are able to breathe normally during a cardio session, such as running, but they struggle when doing push ups.
Does this mean that you’re doing something wrong?
Are push ups a harder exercise to be able to control your breathing?
Is there something you can do to fix this?
In this article I’ll discuss the reasons why you can’t breathe when doing push ups and the best way to correct this.
Why Can’t I Breathe When Doing Push Ups?
There are various reasons why you can’t breathe when doing push ups. This typically comes down to a weakness in your core, upper body, or diaphragm. All these things will generally mean that you’re ultra-focused on finishing your set, as opposed to concentrating on your breathing. You should always inhale on the way down and exhale as you push up.
1. You’re Not Focused on Your Breathing
This is probably something that we’re all guilty of every now and then.
Basically, you get down and try to pump out as many push ups as you can.
In other words, you’re solely focused on getting a certain number of reps in.
In fact, you know it’s going to be difficult to finish your set, plus you’re going close to failure.
With this in mind, there is a tendency to be focused so hard on actually finishing your set that you literally forget to breathe.
Whenever you perform push ups you should inhale on the way down and exhale when you press yourself back up.
I will also say that “forgetting to breathe” also has much to do with the speed that you perform push ups.
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Okay, I’ll admit that the speed at which you’re doing push ups will mainly depend on your training goals.
So, there isn’t a perfect tempo for doing push ups.
That being said, if you’re struggling to breathe then I’d suggest that you slow things down, while really concentrating on inhaling and exhaling at the right times.
Personally, I would rather perform an exercise correctly, and with the right intensity, as opposed to using poor form just to hit a certain rep count.
2. You Lack Core Strength
We typically view push ups as an upper body exercise, which mainly works the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
However, there is a great deal of core strength required in order to perform push ups effectively.
Realistically, you have to hold yourself in the plank position, while maintaining a hollow position, and without hyperextending your lower back.
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This in itself requires a fair amount of core strength, and without this, it can affect your breathing.
Essentially, you’re almost fighting against yourself, and your lack of core strength, with every single rep.
Once more, this may lead to you becoming solely concentrated on pushing out as many reps as possible (probably with terrible form), so your breathing takes a back seat.
For me, the solution is to work on your core strength.
In fact, not only will this help you perform push ups better, but the vast majority of other exercises as well.
In truth, most exercises actually start from the core, so a weakness in this area will severely impact your abilities.
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3. You Lack Upper Body Strength
Initially, saying that your lack of upper body strength will affect your breathing probably sounds a little weird.
However, it ties in quite well with what I’ve already said.
If you don’t have the desired upper body strength to perform a good number of push ups then you’ll always be concentrating on trying to finish your set as soon as possible.
In other words, you won’t be focused on your breathing once again.
In fact, a person could be quite capable of running a 5-minute mile without ever feeling out of breath.
However, that same person may struggle to breathe when performing push ups, simply because they don’t have the strength to perform them.
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Plus, as I’ve mentioned, this could be made even worse by lacking core strength.
So, I would take this opportunity to work on your upper body strength.
In truth, you can also continue to do push ups, but I would focus on perfect technique, while breathing correctly.
Therefore, if you can only manage a few reps while maintaining ideal body positioning and breathing, then so be it.
Furthermore, you should also train both pushing and pulling muscles, vertically and horizontally.
The best exercises to achieve this will include, bench press, overhead press, bent-over rows, and pull ups.
Additionally, a focus on weighted strength training will help you learn to breathe more effectively.
Trust me when I say that you’ll almost be forced to breathe correctly when you have a heavy loaded barbell on your back, as opposed to pumping out a few reps of a bodyweight exercise.
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4. You Lack Diaphragm Strength
I would hazard a guess that this sounds somewhat strange too.
However, many people can lack diaphragm strength.
Plus, even more people probably never use their diaphragm to breathe.
In fact, going back to the 5-minute mile again, a person could be capable of doing this, not be out of breath, and still not use their diaphragm to breathe.
If this is the case, they may get away with this for a while, but they’ll eventually get caught out.
I will say that a lack of diaphragm strength, and not using your diaphragm to breathe, is extremely common.
To be honest, most of us are “belly breathers”, which isn’t particularly great.
In fact, not only will belly breathing impact your push ups, it’s also likely to affect just about every physical activity you do.
That being said, you can actually strengthen your diaphragm, while learning to breathe correctly at the same time.
Once you learn proper diaphragmatic breathing you should find that this provides a huge number of benefits.
When it comes to push ups and exercise in general, a few of these benefits include, being able to use less energy and effort to breathe, reduce your body’s oxygen demand, and of course, increased diaphragm strength.
So, as you can see, there are a number of reasons why you can’t breathe when doing push ups.
However, in truth, these all come down to some form of weakness.
Basically, you are typically struggling to perform push ups due to these weaknesses, so you are no longer concentrating on your breathing.
Your aim is simply to finish your set as soon as possible.
The issues affecting your breathing are usually weak core muscles, weak upper body, or a weak diaphragm.
Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense to train all these individual areas in order to improve your breathing during push ups.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.