If you’re like most riders, hills are a serious limiter. You do fine on the flats but on steep stuff your lungs scream, especially on group rides where the hotshots force the pace. You gasp for breath and maybe you’re forced to slow down.
Get help from the technique known as belly breathing.
If you look at profiles of pro riders on their bikes, they often seem to have big stomachs. What you’re seeing is their diaphragms expanded like bullfrogs in full voice. It looks odd, but it’s the efficient way to breathe when you’re going hard.
Here’s how to get that bullfrog lung capacity
- Practice off the bike. Lie on your back with a book on your stomach. Breathe in slowly and fully. Instead of swelling your chest, expand your diaphragm near the bottom of your rib cage. The book should move toward the ceiling. Then exhale steadily to lower it.
Most people think that breathing deep means puffing their chest like a drill sergeant. But breathing is fuller as well as more efficient if you use diaphragm muscles.
- Practice on the bike. During a ride, increase your intensity to about 85% of max. Breathe steadily and rhythmically with your diaphragm. When you do it right, your thighs will almost touch your torso at the top of each pedal stroke. If you start panting, ease off until deep breathing is possible again.
The goal is to make diaphragm breathing ingrained. Think about it, especially when climbing, until shallow, less-efficient chest breathing is a thing of the past. Make other riders wonder how someone with such an ample girth can go up hills so well.
Tip! Especially on climbs, emphasize your out-breaths. If you force air from your lungs you won’t even have to think about breathing in. Air exchange will be more complete, providing more oxygen to your muscles.
This technique will also stop you from slipping into panting mode. It helps you find a rhythm for breathing and pedaling. Try a firm exhale on one pedal stroke followed by passive inhales on the next 2 strokes. A regular breathing pattern will aid your pacing on long climbs and ensure maximum oxygen.
Some riders make a whooshing sound when they forcefully breathe out. Others grunt like a pig. It sounds funny, but auditory feedback like this helps you do it right, especially as you’re learning.
During more than 30 years in cycling journalism, Fred Matheny has written hundreds of fitness & training articles for top bike magazines and websites. Many of his best eBooks and eArticles are on sale in the RBR eBookstore. As a rider, he has raced to medals in state and national championships, plus a senior world record in the Team Race Across America. As a coach, he has worked with hundreds of riders at PAC Tour Training Camps, Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camps, and Dirt Camp.