Push-ups as Breathing Exercises – Part 2

In our last article on breathing exercises, here, we introduced the concept of using the basic push-up form as a vehicle for training the breath.  Today we will continue with the push-up as the outward expression, but take a look at different types of breathing patterns to increase the depth and complexity of the the exercise.

4 Phases of Breathing

The breath cycle can be broken down into 4 distinct phases of breathing:

  1. Inhale
  2. Pause after inhale (full hold)
  3. Exhale
  4. Pause after exhale (empty hold)

Each of these phases can be manipulated within the framework of our exercise to create variation and change the focus of the exercise.  Previously we had discussed how to use the inhale and exhale phases of breathing to increase capacity by fitting more movement into each breath.  Today we will focus on the other 2 phases, pause after inhale and pause after exhale.  These breath holds will allow us to teach the body how to utilize the oxygen it already has more effciently by working longer in a state of oxygen deprivation.

As a side note, please be aware of your body’s physiological response to breathing exercises.  In general, inhalation causes a slight increase in tension and blood pressure, while exhalation causes a relaxation response and an accompanying lowering of blood pressure.  These effects can be magnified by holding the breath after inhalation and holding the breath after exhalation.  Therefore, please proceed with caution. 

Inhale and Hold

In this exercise we will be working with the pause after inhalation.  Assume the push-up position.  Inhale deeply by expanding the belly.  Don’t force it.  Just inhale as much as comfortable for you.  Pause.  Do not exhale.  Perform 1 push-up.  Exhale at the top and inhale again.  Perform 2 push-ups on the full hold.  Exhale at the top portion and then inhale and hold.  Perform 3 push-ups on the full hold.  How does it feel?  Can you do 4?  5?  Make sure you are not trying to move faster just because you’re holding the breath.  Perform the push-ups smoothly and in a relaxed manner.  A side benefit of this type of work is that it helps you to work under stress.  When you can’t breathe, the body begins to  panic.  Even though your mind knows it’s just an exercise and you can breathe at any time, your body is responding to the lack of air and begins to sound the alarm.  Understand this and work with it to teach yourself to remain calm in difficult situations.

Exhale and Hold

Now let’s look at the pause after exhale, or empty hold.  You know the drill by now – assume the position!  Inhale and exhale in the top portion of the push-up.  Hold on the exhale and do 1 push-up.  Inhale and exhale.  Do 2 push-ups.  Inhale at the top, exhale.  Do 3 push-ups.  What do you notice about holding on the exhale versus holding on the inhale?  Much more difficult, right?  Again, note the reaction your body is having to the exercise.  Are you speeding up to get through it?  Are you using more muscle tension than necessary?  How does the increased muscle tension affect your body’s oxygen usage?  Relax and slow down.  You’ll be able to handle more.

Hip to be Square Breathing

Okay.  Time to put it all together.  Square breathing means that each of the 4 segments or phases of the breath cycle will be of equal length.  For example, inhale to a count of 5, hold on the inhale for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 5, then hold on exhale for a count of 5.  The count itself doesn’t matter as long as each part is equal.  Obvioudly, the difficultly level can be increased with a higher count and decreased with a lower count.  For our purposes, let’s stick with the 5 count for one push-up.  Begin in the up portion of the push-up.  Don’t move yet, but inhale for a count of 5.  Now hold the breath and slowly lower down to a count of 5.  At the bottom portion of the push-up, exhale in position for a count of 5.  Hold on the exhale and raise yourself back up slowly to a count of 5.  Make sense?

Let me know how you make out with the above exercises and if there are any questions you have.



Jon Haas is a certified Underground Strength Coach and has been involved in the martial arts for over 30 years. He has been training in the Budō Taijutsu arts of the Bujinkan for more than 22 years and is currently ranked as a Kudan (9th degree black belt) under Jack Hoban Shidōshi.
Jon is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for VX Global and is a certified VX Sport Coach.

He is the owner and founder of Warrior Fitness Training Systems and author of the book, Warrior Fitness: Conditioning for Martial Arts.

Jon Haas is also a certified conflict resolutions specialist through Resolution Group International (RGI)

More PostsWebsite


  1. [...] tuned for Part 2 of this article where we’ll discuss breath [...]

Speak Your Mind