Strategies for Strength: Synchronized Breathing

I started experimenting more with breathing technique after adding yoga to my training about ten years ago. We all know breathing is important, but I was unaware of the hidden benefits of developing breathing technique until I experienced it firsthand on the bike.

Our team had the leader’s jersey on day two of the four-day Green Mountain Stage Race. We had just blown through a hotly contested intermediate sprint when I looked up and saw four riders attacking on the climb that immediately followed. They had used the sprint as a springboard for their attack. I looked down at the stem on my bike (where I had a list of race numbers of riders that were close to us in leader points) and realized at least two of the attacking riders were dangerous to us. Even though I was not remotely recovered from the sprint effort, I needed to chase these riders and see if I could squash their attack. Somehow I was able to bridge up to the riders but it cost me dearly, and I remember that my breathing was out of control.

Desperate, I tried the breathing technique I had recently learned in yoga class—breathing in through my nose and out of my mouth. I also started counting how many pedal strokes it took me to breathe in and then exhale. It worked! My breathing was slowly restored to sanity and my heart rate decreased from 186 to 164 bpm within 2 minutes (my T2 is 164 bpm). After this incredible experience, I started to emphasize and experiment with various breathing techniques. Let’s apply this concept to climbing and our indoor cycling classes.

How to Apply Synchronized Breathing in Your Classes

Be sure to check out our other strategies:

Strategies for Strength: Counting Pedal Strokes

Strategies for Strength: Benchmarks and Rewards, Pt. 1

Strategies for Strength: Benchmarks and Rewards, Pt. 2

Strategies for Strength: A Sprinter’s Take on Climbing Strategies

Strategies for Strength: Climbing at Tempo

Strategies for Strength: What’s Your Mantra?

Strategies for Strength: The Cheek to Cheek Technique

Strategies for Strength: The Wisdom of Yoda

Strategies for Strength: Activate Those Hip Flexors

Strategies for Strength: Projection into the Future


  1. Thank you Tom. This approach will help the team have a focus to improve their technique and not think so much about the effort in a climb.

  2. One last observation – I am introducing this in very small parts in the beginning, starting with counting, then working in the breath, and just trying to get a few breath cycles in, then taking a break from it, and then trying it again. Today, for example, I would estimate that we spent less than five minutes of class focusing on this (during a climb at 70 rpm’s). Do you think I am being too tentative?

  3. Hi Tom, I’ve read that syncing breath to pedal stroke is a great technique, and I’ve been wanting to explore it for years, so I’m glad you posted this. I’ve been working on it with my people (and me!) for the past week, and here are the challenges that I’ve noticed: (1) It feels very foreign at first, and I think until we get used to it, it will feel like a distraction. So, I am coaching them (and myself) to be patient with it, and persist until we have internalized it and made it part of our routine. I’ve asked them to think about the first time they were asked to focus on the form of pedal stroke and how foreign that felt, until they got used to it. I’m hoping that I’m right, and that with persistance it will begin to feel natural. (2) It’s best to practice this technique while holding a constant cadence – too many switches are distracting and prevent you from getting “into the zone”. So I have been trying to use longer tracks when we do this. (3) I agree with your approach of using cadences around 70 – faster cadences are too distracting for beginners (my students and me) (4) I definitely am not using it for any efforts over Z4 – not only are those shorter in duration, but right now I would not be able to focus on the new skill and the intense effort. If you can think of any other tips to help beginners “wean” themselves into this technique, that would be great. Thanks again!

  4. Thanks Tom, you’ve given me something new for my classes to work on. Great job!

  5. Thanks Kathy, yes that monstrous climb nearly destroyed me…. 😉

  6. Thanks Pat, it is always good to hear from you!

    Lisa, let me know how it works and if you come up with other variations!


  7. What a wonderful technique to try out with my students! I can see this working very well with Jen’s earlier post. Thanks Tom!

  8. Great suggestions, Tom. I’ll be incorporating them soon. (Hey- are you certain you didn’t “Break Your Legs” on the Brown’s Berry Patch Ride at the highway overpass? I know that one was brutal 😉

    It’s great having you on the ICA team, Tom. -Kathy

  9. Hello,

    Nice job, Tom. Good to have you adding your knowledge to these post.


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