5 Ways to Breathe Better on the Bike

Dru Ryan
by Dru Ryan
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5 Ways to Breathe Better on the Bike

Many indoor cycling classes encourage riders to pedal faster until they lose their collective breaths, recover and then repeat. While sprinting burns calories, it’s an expensive process requiring an increased amount of oxygen.

To pedal for an extended duration, you must perform within your body’s ability to produce oxygen. Beyond this (anaerobic) threshold, you encounter ‘oxygen debt,’ indicating your muscles need more oxygen than your body can produce. This transition away from the aerobic zone and into the anaerobic zone soon leads to a period of recovery.

Everyone knows how to pedal fast and breathe heavily. The goal is to pedal fast and breathe fully. Few instructors discuss the benefits of efficient breathing, but it can improve your performance. Here are some strategies to pedal harder for longer:



Syncing your breathing to your pedal stroke is like putting your body on autopilot. Try 3 revolutions for an inhale, and 5 to exhale. This intentional act focuses the body on the harmony of the two events, distracting it from the effort involved to do each individually. The goal is to find a nirvana state while pedalling called flow. Once achieved, small sacrifices, like adding resistance, become a non-event.



Nasal breathing involves breathing exclusively through your nose during high-intensity efforts. Recent research published by the International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science found breathing through your nose to be potentially more efficient at medium-to-high intensities. Nasal breathing takes advantage of the lungs’ ability to extract oxygen during exhale, resulting in 10–20% more oxygen intake.



Heart rate zones provide a scale to assess how hard your cardiovascular system is working. With max heart rate being the high point, heart-rate zones quantify the intensity of an effort. All fitness trackers monitor heart rate data and provide some analysis.

You can also upload your data to MapMyRide and view results on your mobile device or via the app. A high-intensity indoor class skews toward the right (higher) side of the scale.



Lung capacity decreases with age. Starting at age 30, about 10% of lung capacity is lost per decade. Meaning, a cyclist in their 20s has twice the lung capacity of someone in their 80s.

Learning to maximize the amount of oxygen in your lungs per breath can help slow down this process. By forcefully exhaling and emptying the lungs, it allows a greater intake of oxygen upon inhaling.



Many of the strategies discussed above originate from the ancient practice of yoga. Cyclists take yoga or pilates classes to improve their breathing techniques while improving flexibility.

U.S. Olympian and pro rider Taylor Phinney and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins are among a growing number of professional riders who practice yoga. American cycling legend Mara Abbott teaches yoga and climber Katie Hall recently taught her first Pilates class.

Focusing on mindful breathing helps performance. While breathing is typically something our body does on autopilot, try to think about breathing from time to time — it’ll make you stronger.

About the Author

Dru Ryan
Dru Ryan
Dru teaches indoor cycling at Equinox in Washington, D.C. His History of Hip-Hop classes at George Mason University and brief deejay career in the Bronx are two big reasons why his playlists are unique. Ryan‘s cycling claim to fame is having the former road world champion, Peter Sagan, comment on an Instagram photo. Follow Dru (drucyles) on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.


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