Are you getting tired for no reason? Are you running out of air during fights? Or do you just stress out behind your guard and get beat up until the bell rings?
Breathing is an essential function of life. It comes before strategy, before technique, before ANY complicated fighting movements. It’s easy to forget how to breathe because you never learned it in the first place. Breathing was always natural until you got in the ring and got distracted by all the fighting.
…but how do you expect to fight when you can’t even breathe?
Learning how to breathe allows you to rest, think, and attack powerfully!
Fighter’s Breathing Technique
Watch my video to see how I breathe.
Different breathing for different movements
Breathing gives energy to all movements. Slow and deep movements will need slow and deep breaths. Fast and bursting type movements will need fast burst breaths. Just as the character of your movements change, the character of your breath must change with it. Learning how to breathe during a fight requires learning how to breathe in different ways, not just one way.
It’s awkward to breathe slow while moving quickly and as well as breathing fast while moving slowly. Try throwing punches as you exhale a deep breath slowly…notice how your punches seem to force the air out of you? That’s because your muscle contractions and your breathing rate naturally works together.
Breathe differently for different movements.
Slow Breathing Technique for Slow Movements
Slow breathing is great for revitalizing you. It calms the mind, allowing you to rest, to strategize, and to save up more energy. You should breathe slow anytime you’re moving around the ring, in between rounds, or out of your opponent’s range. (Pretty much any time that you’re not throwing punches or slipping quickly.)
How to breathe slow
- Inhale slowly through the nose
- Exhale slowly through the nose
Breathing through the nose is the deepest and most effective way to breathe. It pulls the air deep into the stomach and gives the body more oxygen than shallow mouth breathing which often only goes to your chest.
Breathe slow to relax
Slow breathing is not supposed to be a game of holding your breath or taking forever to inhale/exhale. Breathe as slow as you need to be more relaxed; nothing more. The best (and most relaxed) fighters have incredibly calm breathing. They’re able to breathe slow even while dancing around the ring, even while blocking and slipping punches. That allows them to save their air for those sudden bursts of energy when they throw punches. If you’re a beginner: you probably won’t be able to breathe slow while on defense, at least not for a while.
The most relaxed fighters
have the most relaxed breathing,
even during intense fighting.
Fast Breathing Technique for Fast Movements
Fast breathing is perfect for fast explosive movements like punching, defending, slipping, fast footwork. Fast breathing gives your body that fast jolt of energy needed to send out sudden bursts of energy. When done excessively or incorrectly (VERY COMMON), fast breathing leaves you tired and out of breath.
How to breathe fast
- Inhale slowly through the nose (MOST PREFERABLE), or quickly through the nose (OK), or through the mouth (LEAST PREFERABLE)
- Exhale quickly through the mouth in short bursts (one burst for every fast movement—punch, slip, dash, etc)
Inhaling slowly is best for gathering more air and staying relaxed but there will always be times when you need to inhale through the mouth for quick air (such as during exchanges). Try to inhale without opening your mouth (risk of broken jaw if punched) and try to inhale deeper into your stomach instead of into your chest (too shallow and not much oxygen absorption). Air exhaled from the stomach will give you more power than air exhaled from the chest.
The difference between fast breathing and slow breathing
The biggest breathing tip is to understand that fast breathing only means faster exhale. Fast breathing DOES NOT MEAN faster air cycle. So many beginners get tired quickly when they move fast because they’re still using slow breathing technique except only doing it faster. Breathing faster (fast inhale, faster exhale) will only make you out of breath, hyperventilate, and tire easily.
The goal of fast breathing is still to breathe SLOWER by inhaling SLOWLY and exhaling QUICKLY. I probably confused most of you just now. *Johnny, are you crazy? How do I breathe slower while exhaling faster?!*
Here’s the trick to explosive breathing
YOU BREATHE SLOWER, while exhaling out quickly, by constantly shutting off the exhalation. You know that sound that fighters make when they throw punches? (The *psst!* sound or *psshb!* sound.) That sound is made not because they’re exhaling all their air quickly, but because they shut the air flow during their exhalation. Imagine if you were about to sneeze but covered your face as the sound was about to come out, it would be a small air explosion at your nostril/mouth.
This small explosive air exhalation allows for incredibly sharp explosive movements! The trick is not to use as much air possible but to exhale as little as possible. This is why mouth exhalations are perfect for “fast breathing” because you can keep blocking the air flow with your lips or inside of your throat so that you exhale only a little bit each time.
- So again, “fast breathing” is not: IN-OUT-IN-OUT.
- It’s more like: IN-outoutoutoutout-IN-outoutoutoutout. The “outs” are fast little exhalations.
If you’re exhaling through the nose, you’ll have to use the muscles inside your nose to stop the exhalations and even then a lot of air will still escape. Nose exhalations might only give me 10 bursts (10 explosive movements) whereas mouth exhalations can easily give me 20-30 exhalations (20-30 explosive movements) before I have to inhale again.
In case you’re wondering how to shut off air exhalations through the mouth, there are 2 options: one is by closing the lips (not as effective), the other is by closing the throat. You can find the right throat muscle by saying “AHHHHHHH” and then stopping and starting again. The muscle inside your throat that helps you start/stop that sound is the one you use to stop the exhalations. This is why you might notice some boxers go “AGHH!” or “EEESH!” when they throw punches.
The trick to fast breathing,
is to exhale as little air as possible!
How little or how much you have to exhale with each breath depends on your skill. A perfectly balanced, well-coordinated, skilled puncher can throw powerful shots with little exhalation and little energy. A beginner wild brawler will need lots of exhalation and lots of energy. Haven’t you ever noticed that the top fighters breathe sharply and move sharply? This type of quick burst breathing is what leads to snapping punches, quick defensive reflexes, and sharp footwork. I used to yell at beginners to “Breathe like a fast fighter, not like a slow weightlifter.” Being able to move faster without getting more tired all relies on breathing efficiency (via shortened exhalation) as well as movement efficiency (via skill).
Sharp explosive breathing,
for sharp explosive movements.
How to Practice Breathing
The ultimate goal of breathing practice is to relax your body and allow it to move naturally. It’s not about forcing your body to breathe slower or breathe faster; it’s about giving your body as much oxygen as it needs. You shouldn’t have to think about “the perfect breath”.
The purpose of breathing practice is to get used to fighting without letting outside influences (nervousness, opponent pressures, etc) affect your breathing. In a way, your fighting rhythm is really your breathing rhythm. If you’re fighting at your rhythm, you will feel comfortable, able to punch and defend and move whenever you want while using little energy. If you’re fighting at your opponent’s rhythm, you will feel like you’re always forced to attack or defend when you’re not ready (when you’re not able to breathe).
The fighter with control of his breathing,
gets to dictate his rhythm, his pace, and his fight!
Practicing Slow Breathing
The best way to practice slow breathing is to do fast (non-explosive) movements while slow breathing. Jumping rope is a perfect exercise. If you can get used to breathing slow on the jump rope, you will do very well in the ring. In fact, it’s part of the reason why I recommend everyone to use the jump rope. Another drill I recommend for beginners is to move around the ring while a partner throws many light tapping shots at your elbows. Beginners will quickly realize how easily they panic when they’re in with a live opponent. (This is why beginners do so well on the heavy bags but get so tired in sparring!)
Nose breathing puts that oxygen deep inside you and truly relaxes your body. Get used to slow and deep nose breathing as often as possible. Even throughout your normal day outside of boxing, nose breathe everywhere—at school, at the office, during morning runs.
Practicing Fast Breathing
Fast breathing can easily be practiced through rapid combination movements. This can be done by throwing combinations on the heavy bag or quick bursts of movement through shadowboxing. One quick breath for every single quick movement. Your goal is to get used to breathing faster by exhaling just enough air for each effective movement. It’s very easy to run out of air when you’re exhaling quickly! You know you’re doing it wrong if you keep getting tired (or maybe you have poor technique/conditioning).
The faster and more powerfully you breathe,
the easier it is to get tired!
Another great tip for practicing your breathing is to train with your mouthpiece. Many trainers tell their fighters to go running with a mouthpiece and hitting the bag with a mouthpiece so that you’re always used to breathing through the mouthpiece. At some point mouthpiece training isn’t necessarily once you know how to breathe right. After all the mouthpiece is made so that you’ll want to inhale through your nose and then exhale in sharp bursts through the mouth (and the mouthpiece is perfect for blocking exhalations).
Other articles on breathing techniques for fighters: