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I just bought some push-up bars to give my wrists a break and was interested to see that the leaflet in it was keen to advise me that "it is very important to breathe normally whilst exercising - do not hold your breath".

Apart from the obvious, why is this good advice? Does it affect the gain in muscle you get or is it just so you don't pass out?

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There are various ways to breath while exercising. Your question asks "why is important to breath whilst exercising", but the advice is stricter than that "... breath normally - do not hold your breath." Some breathing techniques advise holding your breath through certain portions of the lift. So is your question "why is important to breath whilst exercising?" or "why is it important to breath normally whilst exercising?" or "is it important to breath normally whilst exercising?". –  user3085 May 26 '12 at 18:32

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It's important to breath while exercising so that you don't pass out. However, the blanket advice to breath normally and to never hold your breath does not universally apply:

Depending on your goals, using a technique like the valsalva maneuver may be necessary in order to make safe, optimal progress.

In the context of push-ups, where you're only moving your body weight, the valsalva maneuver is likely not needed, so the advice that the manufacturer gives against holding breath just ensures that a novice exerciser won't accidentally pass out.

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By breathing properly you ensure good oxygen intake which means that your muscles can do more work since they aren't exhausted due to lack of oxygen. In short, you aren't going to fall short on oxygen and thus can excercise more.

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I used to hold my breathe while i was doing my few last reps on a pull-up bar//squat machine. I noticed that i felt a lot weaker to do the remaning exercises. I started developing a good breathe pattern - it improved my stamina overall. This goes with what the person said about "getting oxygen to your muscles".

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