CyclingNZ Home
Suck it In
Date: 16 Aug, 2009

Every minute of every day we breathe Ė now thatís an obvious point!  But how often do you consciously notice how you are breathing on your bike and how you can change it to make it more effective?  Cycling is unlike running or swimming where you get direct feedback if you arenít breathing properly (eg. drowning or the stitch).  In cycling we can be unaware and still get away with ineffective breathing, nonetheless, we can get through training and racing much more effectively and make it more enjoyable if we suck it in properly. 


As the intensity of our riding increases and our muscles burn, a signal is sent to our brain to increase our breathing rate.  This is a helpful mechanism as it helps to increase the rate of supplying oxygen to our muscles and clearing the by products that make our muscles hurt.  In fact our breathing can increase to such a rate that we can breathe 65+ times per minute and push over 100 litres of air into our bodies!  Line up fifty 2 litre bottles of Coca-Cola and thereís your 100 litres Ė every minute!   Essentially the more air we can suck in, the better.  Each of us have a limited lung volume, but we donít all use it effectively.  When I was testing riders at the University the highest I tested was a rider sucking in 210 litres per minute when riding at maximum effort Ė astounding! 


So we all have this set limit, but it is very easy to work at only a fraction of what we can.   Often I have seen riders with their shoulders up around their ears, and each breath drags them closer to touching their earlobes. This is how not to do it!  To effectively make use of your lung volume you need to pull air into your lungs Ė really deep, and then let it out.  In cycling it is very easy to entrain our pedalling cadence with our breathing rate, which is extremely ineffective.  When breathing at 90 breaths per minute you cannot force air deep into your lungs.  You will only be recycling the air at the top of your lungs and in your wind pipes.  So ideally you want to aim for deep belly breathing and no up/down shoulder movement.  This is especially important when you are riding up hills, or pushing at your threshold on the flat roads, as this is the time when our breathing will suddenly get more rapid.  A good exercise to practise is when off the bike, take a big long deep breath in, aiming to extend your stomach, while relaxing your shoulders.  Then take this onto the bike.


Handlebar position can make a difference.  Under pressure we tend to want to hunch down and death grip the handlebars.  Riding on the tops of the bars helps to open the shoulders and therefore the lungs, helping to get air in.  In the city it is easy to get into the habit of riding on the brake-hoods but this forward position rounds the shoulders and restricts the lungs.  The tops allow you to be up, relaxed and open.


If you have exercise induced asthma (EIA), controlled deep breathing is especially important.  EIA occurs when the muscles in the wind pipe go into spasm.  Cool, dry air is often the culprit, but an effective warm up can negate the EIA response.  Warming up effectively by easy spinning for 20-30 minutes, then riding at a moderate intensity for 5-10 minutes will allow hormones to be released that relax the wind pipe and prevent adverse breathing reactions.


Breathing effectively deep into your belly will help your climbing and riding under intense pressure, so next time you ride take note of how you are breathing and see if you can improve your riding through this simple, but highly effective process.


Amy Taylor is a cycling coach based in Auckland and is Cycling Zealandís Coach of the Year.  Author of the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge Guide recently released through Awapress, Wellington, Amy coaches cyclists of all abilities at Kinetic Edge ( and can be contacted on or 09 368 7819.

Click to enlarge...

Latest News
Featuring new construction processes to bring an even lighter helmet by using new materials and less of them but taking the protective factor to new heights the engineers at MET have produced a winner with the Trenta and Trenta 3K Carbon helmets. Enhanced for use in the peloton, the MET Trenta‚Äôs >>
fi‚Äôzi:k are to supply world-class saddles to the best of the UCI WorldTour, with Team Sky, BMC Racing Team, Movistar Team, AG2R La Mondiale and Lotto NL-Jumbo on the 2018 roster. The quality of the squads and their ambitions for the forthcoming season should make for some highly entertaining >>
fi‚Äôzi:k are delighted to announce the roster of top-level riders who will be wearing the highly praised, award-winning R1B shoes throughout the 2017 season. The hit-list of Olympic, World and National Champions includes sprinters, climbers and puncheurs from across the globe, opting for the >>
Latest Articles
The 2018 Downhill and Cross Country World Cups came to a climax this weekend with the final round of racing in France. We saw great season-ending placings for Fizik saddle riders: Loris Vergier took 4th and Luca Shaw 8th in the Downhill, while Lars Forster 4th, Stephane Tempier 6th and Titouan >>
Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas and Giro d‚ÄôItalia winner Chris Froome will ride together in the OVO Energy Tour of Britain for the first time since 2009, Team Sky have announced today. The British pair, who placed first and third in July‚Äôs Tour de France, will both be on the start >>
After only a month back on the bike after fracturing his back in a collision with a car in late January Southlander Corbin Strong won today‚Äôs elite men‚Äôs 139 kilometre race in round four of the Calder Stewart Cycling Series in Timaru. One of New Zealand's most promising young cyclists, 18 >>
LOOK 2018
Morgan Blue Cleaning
ISM Saddles
 Photo Gallery
a Waterfront Auckland TT 2-10-10
Karl Murray 2010 Tour of New Caledonia Waterfront Auckland TT 2-10-10
Home Kiwi Riders Sports Science Beginners Articles Riders Reports Tech Corner Contact
© 2019 | Login | Design by OnfireDesign