We do it without thought everyday — in fact — you’re doing it right now. Still, proper breathing is a skill that’s easy to overlook.

Our muscles need oxygen, so proper technique is a neccesity. That said, it can be harder to pull off than it sounds. Most of us tend to hold our breath or breathe uncontrollably, it’s an uncomfortable way of working out that can cause complications and injuries. Proper breathing will actually add a few reps to each set, thus giving you a better workout.

1. Pre-workout Breathing

I like to refer to this as breath awareness. This is great to reduce stressful and discomforting distractions. You should visualize your workout and slow your breaths, so you can learn how to control them. This style of slow deep breathing resets your autonomic nervous system and helps you connect your mind and body and also allows blood to flow through your lungs. The heart then pumps the blood throughout the systemic arteries to deliver oxygen throughout the body before you start to exercise.

2. Breathing During Your Workout 

Inspiration and expiration are very important during your workout. To put it simply: always exhale on exertion. For example, when you are pushing a bench press off your chest, you exhale on the push and inhale as you bring it slowly to your chest. When you are doing a pullup, you exhale on the pulling up motion and inhale on the way down. Breathing during exertion is important in preventing internal injury such as hernia, blood vessel strain, and high blood pressure that can cause fainting.

3. Post-workout Breathing 

Maximum oxygenation is the goal in-between sets. This leads us to the question of how long to rest in-between sets or, in other words, how long we take to catch our breath before we begin another set. The simple answer is, listen to your body. Let’s use an example. At the end of a heavy set, you’re going to be breathing heavily. Between sets, you should rest long enough to allow your breathing to normalize. Beginning the next set before your breathing is normalized sets you up for your cardiovascular capacity to give out before your target muscles are fully taxed. In a nutshell, rest long enough in-between sets to catch your breath, and then begin your next set.