Why Does it Burn to Breathe While Exercising?


We've all heard that we should feel the burn when exercising, but if the burning sensation is in your lungs, exercise can become a miserable endeavor. While it's common to experience burning when you breathe while working out, this sensation is not a healthy one, and is usually caused by improper breathing techniques or a medical condition.

Improper Breathing Techniques

  • If you're new to exercise, you may panic as your heart rate and respiration increase. If you hold your breath or hyperventilate while working out, you may experience a burning sensation between breaths or with each new breath. This results from a combination of factors, including insufficient oxygen intake and excessive strain on your lungs and diaphragm. If you're not breathing at a rhythmic, steady pace, it's likely you're not breathing correctly. According to personal trainer Julian Brown, improper breathing can cause your heart rate to increase and may even cause you to faint.

Air Quality, Asthma and Allergies

  • Poor air quality can make breathing painful, because if you're breathing in smog or allergens, your respiratory tract can become irritated. People with asthma may also experience burning when they breathe during exercise because the airways become inflamed. If your breathing difficulties seem to be time or location-dependent, you're probably dealing with an air quality issue or allergies. If you have difficulty breathing at other times, or have a history of asthma attacks or wheezing, the burning may be caused by asthma. Asthma is particularly likely to cause burning in the nose.

Heart Problems

  • If the burning is deep in your chest, it could signal a heart problem. Angina, pericarditis, heart attack, a pulmonary embolism and pleurisy may all cause burning in the chest. There's no need to panic, though. In most cases, there's another explanation -- particularly if you have no other symptoms of heart trouble. If the burning persists, is accompanied by heart palpitations or other heart symptoms, or if you have a family history of cardiovascular problems, contact your doctor before exercising again. If you're not sure whether your symptoms are serious or indicate a heart problem, seek immediate medical attention.

How to Breathe

  • You can minimize the burning sensation by practicing proper breathing techniques. Keep your breaths deep and steady, even as you grow more tired. Your inhalations should be slightly longer than your exhalations, following a 3:2 ratio. If you're running or walking, this typically means you inhale for three steps while exhaling for the next two. If you're doing calisthenics or weight training, exhale when you exert yourself. If you do deadlifts, for example, inhale before lifting the weight, and then exhale as you pull the weight up. Avoid holding your breath during a challenging exercise -- a common novice mistake.

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