CyclingNZ Home
Suck it In
Date: 16 Aug, 2009

Every minute of every day we breathe – now that’s 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 aren’t 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 there’s your 100 litres – every minute!   Essentially the more air we can suck in, the better.  Each of us have a limited lung volume, but we don’t 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 – 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 – 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 Zealand’s 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
Last month’s ferocious weather that wreaked havoc on the West Coast has seen many hours of effort to ensure this weekend’s double header rounds of the Calder Stewart Cycling Series in Hokitika can go ahead. “The weather gods poured more bad news on the proposed round three course in >>
As the season fast approaches, take a minute to learn about which world class athletes will be using Crankbrothers products in 2019 and beyond! New for this season, we are excited to welcome the Trek cross country superstar duo of Emily Batty and Yolanda Neff along with the rest of the Trek >>
Team Jumbo â€" Visma’s Primoz Roglic has won the 54th edition of Tirreno-Adriatico in style, with a final stage Individual Time Trial performance to remember. His near-perfect technique on the San Benedetto del Tronto 10km out-and-back course saw him overturn a 25-second deficit to his closest >>
Latest Articles
Six years ago, Christchurch mountain bike phenomenon, Anton Cooper, set a race record in the famous Gazley Å KODA Karapoti Classic that many thought would never be broken. The former world and Commonwealth champion slashed seven minutes of the previous record to clock 2hrs 07min 57secs around the >>
We are delighted to share the news with you that fizik’s 2020 sponsored teams are confirmed! Along with our strong presence at the top of road cycling, we have a full set of mountain bike teams, competing in Cross-Country, Downhill and Enduro. MOUNTAIN BIKE TEAMS In Downhill, Commencal >>
What is the first e-road by LOOK? This is a bike that is the result of our mastery of carbon, which allows us to offer a frame that is both lightweight and durable, manufactured in our own production facilities. This is also a bike that has just continued a story that has been written at the >>
LOOK 2018
Morgan Blue Cleaning
ISM Saddles
 Photo Gallery
Tour de Femme Waterfront Auckland TT 2-10-10
Tour de Femme Tour de Femme
Home Kiwi Riders Sports Science Beginners Articles Riders Reports Tech Corner Contact
© 2020 | Login | Design by OnfireDesign