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Out of Breath


There's a few resistance exercises that I have to stop, not because I can't muscularly do more reps, but because I lose my breath and my heart is pounding. I could definitely do more reps if I wasn't out of breath.

The exercises are: Squats, pullups, and barbell bicep curls (not the dumb bell ones).

I even tried assisted pullups (at 135 pounds) so that I was only lifting about 45 pounds and I couldn't do more than 15 reps because I was terribly out of breath. Yet when I ADDED 45 pounds to me, so I'm lifting 220 pounds, I did 7. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

Do other people have this happen to them? Any advice would be appreciated.


how is your cardio fitness / conditioning work?

i get that feeling a lot... that is why i tend to like sticking to the 1-3 rep range. will do 5 if i get to huff and puff to get out the last 2...

but i'm a smoker. when i quit things got significantly better.

can you get a doc to check you out??


I don't do any cardio at the moment. I never smoked either. Note that this ONLY happens to me in those 3 exercises. For example, I can do 50 consecutive good-form pushups in about a minute and not lose my breath as much as with 8 barbell curls with 45 pounds.

what's the 'doc' you're talking about?


That's strange! I can understand it with the squats, but not the curls.

Do you subconciously hold your breath while doing them?

The fact that 15 pull ups puff you out, yet 7 heavy ones don't, makes it seem like a time thing.

Does sound like a lack of basic fitness though.


oops, I made a mistake: didn't mean to say Squat - meant to say Deadlift. So Deadlifts, pullups, and barbell curls make me run out of breath. No other exercise does it.
So bench, squat, barbell rows, weighted abs, walking lunges, etc...no problem - even at high reps or high weight.
Could it be a lack of basic fitness, considering I do well in other areas?
I tried playing with my breathing to no avail.
Why only those 3?
Maybe I'm very fast-twitch dominant on the muscles hit by those 3 exercises?


No you've got me beat.

I can't think of any reason why it should happen on deads and not squats.

Maybe some brighter sparks will come along later and have a clue.


The only other thing I can think of is that those 3 exercises place the arms very close to my body while straining/flexing/tensing them. Maybe my arms are compressing my chest?
Any thoughts on me being fast-twitch dominant for those 3 exercises (fast twitch is supposed to use oxygen a lot more quickly)?


Your holding your breath too long. Make an effort to breathe at the top of every rep.

One of my clients breathes on Deadlifts but they're shallow breaths and all it did was maker her dizzy as hell when done. So we learned how to keep tight and still breathe correctly.


Get your breathing right, get on the staimaster or treadmill at least 2x a week.


Hi rep squats don't whack you out??? Wow, I'm impressed.

OK. DL, pullups and curls all have one thing in common . . . they're pulling exercises. DL makes you lean over and that can compress your torso. Pullups - when I do then, I have a tendency to bring up legs, which can do the same thing.

Off the top of my head, it might be that you're tightening core muscles which somehow interfere with lungs or diaphram. You mention pulling arms close to body. Could you try DL with snatch grip and see what that does?

I never heard of fast twitch tissue causing breathing issues.


High rep squats do whack me out, but my legs burn and give out before my breath does.
I think you're right about compressing my torso. Instead of barbell curls (where I lose my breath in about 8 reps), I tried dumbell curls and didn't lose my breath!
I think those exercises do compressed my chest so I can't get deep enough breaths. I'm also straining through the motions both ways so I can't relax my arms/chest enough to get a deep breath.
It's hard to bring down 250 pounds in a DL while relaxing enough to get a deep breath.


Well, yeah, squats are tough for anyone, but if you're getting lactic acid buildup (burn) before your breathing gives out, you're doing pretty damn good. doesn't sound like a conditioning issue.

How much do you weight? do you have a lot of fat around the waist?

Do you tense abs up and/or down movements, or do you not think about it? Do you pay any attention to your breathing, or just let it do what it wants?


I am 5'10", 175 pounds, 42yo.
I don't have a lot of fat around my waist (though I'd love to get rid of the amount I do have one day). I'd say I'm somewhere between 16-18% BF.
I try to breathe in and out appropriately, but I'm finding out that during those exercises it is hard to breathe deep enough because my whole body is under high strain both ways. I'm also tensing my arms close to my body so it's constraining my torso.
I do tense up my abs during those exercise - hard to imagine doing them while relaxing my abs though.


After a little more experimenting, the chest constriction seems to make it hard to breathe properly. If I squeeze my arms against my body and tense them up as hard as I can, it becomes very difficult to breathe deeply.
So I can try to hold my arms further apart on the DL and pullups. On barbell curls it's hard to hold my arms away from my body and curl with heavy weights.


You're correct to tense abs during exercise. Doesn't sound like you have stomach fat getting in the way.

Here's my 0.02, take it or leave it:

Take a deep breath and check. Is your chest swelling or your belly? If chest, you're only using half your lung power. Practice getting breathing down into your belly. Get good, deep breaths down into your abdomen.

Next. Practice tensing your abs, then breathing deep into the belly. It might seem uncomfortable, as abs and lungs will seem to fight each other. Keep abs tight, maybe suck in a little. When your lungs inflate, it's like a big balloon in your torso. tightening abs and other core muscles will keep pressure on on that and make your torso really solid. It's vital for the big lifts. Practice taking a deep breath against hard abs, hold a split second, then exhale. If you feel dizzy, ease off a bit.

When you can do this readily, go to the weights. Take weight way, way down. Deadlift, for instance, should only be warmup weight or even lighter, like empty bar. Bend down and grab bar. Grip firmly, get tension on arms. Look straight ahead. Arch back. Now tense abs and get good deep breath. Yes, I know it feels weird, bending over, just do it. When lungs are full and torso solid, get hips down and lift. Exhale when you're standing up. Lower bar and inhale. Lungs should be full by the time the bar reaches the floor. Repeat.

Would be curious to know if this helps. If you're still having problems, you might want to check with a doctor or PT to see what's going on with your arms and chest.


The only exercises that make me out of breath are bent over rows or t bar rows. so I just avoid them. Anything that makes it hard to breath, while lifting a heavy weight is never a good thing. you can work your back just as good with seated, with chest against a pad, doing rows. they work just as good as any bent over row.


Thanks so much for your input.
I tried that test you suggested (quoted above) as I was reading it, before reading the punch line, and only my chest was swelling.
It makes perfect sense. I'll try it with pullups first.


Right, because bending over can cramp the torso and if you don't concentrate on breathing right it can be really difficult.

Qsar, for pullups remember to exhale going up and inhale coming down.


Ok I think you need to do some cardio. My experience is when I let the cardio slack off other demanding exercises are harder to do due to breathing... And yes i know what you mean by curls being demanding. As for curls I usually do them last but I am talking dumbbell curls with alternating movement right and then left so if i am doing 10 reps with each arm that's a total of 20 reps, and then given that I am not resting more than a minute or so and they do become demanding.

start off with the cardio doing 20 seconds of jogging and a minute of rest. Build yourself up here. If you can get to a sprint for 20 seconds you will be doing fine. I bet you there is carry-over value in your weight training. total cardio time 30 minutes with 5 minutes to warm up and 5 minutes to cool down.