How To Breath During Calisthenics Exercises

Breathing is an innate human activity.

Yet, when submerged in the world of calisthenics, particularly static skills, how to breathe becomes a puzzling challenge. The intricacies of holding a human flag or the grace of a planche suddenly become overshadowed by the mind’s pressing question: “How do I breathe through this intense muscle contraction?”

Delve into this comprehensive guide to unveil the secrets of breathing during calisthenics exercises.

The Breath: A Pillar of Strength in Calisthenics

Oxygen is to our body what fuel is to a car.

For our muscles, it’s the pivotal force driving endurance and performance. Proper breathing techniques not only improve oxygen flow but also ensure you hold positions longer, allowing for maximum gains. However, the dilemma arises when one has to juggle between maintaining a strong core and regulating breath, especially in demanding exercises like the dragon flag or the handstand.

In these exercises, breathing isn’t just about oxygenating muscles; it’s about creating and maintaining abdominal pressure, to stabilize your core and the entire movement. The lack of stability can cause your form to break, which can, in turn, lead to injuries.

This is where the magic of ‘Bodyweight Power Breathing’ steps in.

Deciphering Bodyweight Power Breathing

The essence of power breathing lies in the art of maintaining abdominal pressure while ensuring that you don’t deprive your muscles of oxygen. This technique not only guarantees optimal muscle performance but also ensures the stability of the spine throughout your routine.

While a select few might naturally possess this skill, many might compromise their form unintentionally, putting them at risk of injuries.

This is why understanding the science of breathing and practicing it is crucial.

close up photo of woman touching her abdomen

Golden Rules of Breathing During Exercise

  1. Opt for Nose Over Mouth: By design, our nose acts as a natural filter, warming and moistening incoming air, making it more optimal for the lungs.
    Though it’s permissible to resort to mouth breathing during high-intensity workouts, breathing through the nose offers quicker recovery between sets.
  2. Prioritize Belly Breathing Over Chest: To tap into the power of your diaphragm and stabilize your core, make sure your belly rises and falls with each breath. Contrastingly, chest breathing can be shallow and less effective.
    To test your breathing pattern, lay down, place an object on your stomach, and watch if it rises when you inhale. This movement indicates diaphragmatic or belly breathing.
  • Crocodile Breathing: Lie face down and place a book or a similar object on your lower back. As you inhale deeply, aim to make the object rise with your breath. This simple activity can train your diaphragm and ensure you are engaging the right muscles as you breathe.
  • 90-90 Breathing: In this technique, lie on your back with your legs raised such that your hips and knees form a 90-degree angle. You can either rest your legs on a chair or support them against a wall. As you breathe, focus on feeling the expansion of your torso. This not only reinforces belly breathing but also strengthens the diaphragm.

Progressive Steps to Master Power Breathing

  1. Wall-Back Breathing: Begin your journey with this foundational step. Stand with your back flush against a wall. There will naturally be a small gap between your lower back and the wall due to the spine’s curvature. By activating your core through a movement called posterior pelvic tilt, aim to close this gap. Hold this engagement and focus on breathing deeply for 30-60 seconds.
  2. Journeying Through the Hollow Body Hold: A quintessential gymnastic exercise, the Hollow Body Hold helps bridge the gap between core activation and breathing. Begin in a tucked position, akin to the 90-90 breathing stance, but with your upper back elevated off the ground. As your comfort grows, extend further until you can hold a full hollow body position. Target a 45-60 seconds hold.
  3. Embracing the Plank: Planking transcends just core activation, demanding synchronized engagement of various muscle groups. Key pointers include scapular depression and abduction, maintaining a tight core, and ensuring a posterior pelvic tilt. Begin with nose breathing and aim for a solid 60-second hold. For those looking to push boundaries, extending up to two or even two and a half minutes provides immense benefits.
  4. The Zen of the L-Sit: Often considered a true testament of power breathing mastery. Starting with a tuck and progressively advancing to a full L-sit, either hanging or supported, is the way forward. A consistent 15-second hold in the L-sit stance is a clear indication of having mastered power breathing.

It’s worth noting that for certain advanced static skills, like the back lever or front lever, breathing might initially seem unattainable. In such scenarios, the key lies in holding your breath for brief spans, repeating these until your body acclimatizes to the new stressors.

Breathing During Dynamic Exercises

man and woman doing push ups together

Dynamic or isotonic exercises follow a general principle: inhale during the eccentric (lengthening) phase and exhale during the concentric (shortening) phase. For instance, in a push-up, you would inhale as you lower your body and exhale as you rise, always keeping the core engaged.

Some exercises, like pull-ups, might intuitively guide you to reverse this pattern. However, the overarching goal remains: ensure both stability and comfort.


Breathing, while foundational to life, takes on a new dimension in the world of calisthenics.
It’s not just about ensuring survival but about optimizing performance, maintaining form, and preventing injuries.

As you progress in your calisthenics journey, always remember to give breathing its due focus. It’s not just a background activity; it’s the life force propelling your movements, holds, and overall progress in the art of bodyweight training.

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