Beep Test Training – Breathing Technique


Breathing is an important part of exercising in any format and it is an area I’m often asked about. Having said that, I also believe it’s an area that people focus on too much and often complicate unnecessarily.

A regular comment I get from people is “I just have trouble breathing and get so puffed I can’t keep going”. Doesn’t everyone sooner or later!

Increased breathing is a consequence of increased workload. What I will say on breathing though is that there is an opportunity, like every other aspect of your beep test performance, to improve efficiency and trim some ‘fat’.

There are four stages of a full cycle of breath:

  1. The breath in
  2. A momentary pause
  3. The breath out
  4. A momentary pause

Of course as the intensity of exercise increases so does the demand for fuel (blood and oxygen). This is a normal part of an exercise. It is the same as your car’s engine needing more petrol as you drive faster. As the workload increases the body responds by increasing blood flow to the working muscles (the heart rate increases). The body also responds by increasing the flow of oxygen to working muscles (the breathing rate increases).

If your beep test training program is structured correctly, your body will adapt to the training and become more efficient at responding to the demands of the beep test. But, in relation to the breathing, I don’t believe there is any ‘secret technique!’

Controlling your breathing during the beep test starts at the first beep. Like every other aspect of your overall
strategy to be efficient, you need to breathe efficiently. This is done by creating a smooth rhythmical pattern.

Let Me Give You A Quick Tip At This Point

I do not want you to get distracted by breathing. You will only be able to maintain an even in/out ratio in the very early stages of the beep test because of the low demand for oxygen. Once the pace picks up so will the demand for oxygen and therefore the rate of breathing. You will not be able to maintain a set time for individual breaths or any set ratio to any great degree. The body will take what oxygen it needs. If you interfere with the process too much, oxygen debt will occur and you will have to stop. Stopping is your body’s way of reducing the workload which in turn reduces the demand for oxygen which in turn allows the body to return to a normal resting level.

When you’re exercising at a low intensity there may be a small benefit in breathing through the nose as some may suggest, however, it is simply not practical to breathe in through your nose alone during intense activity. Let me ask you this, how much oxygen could you get into the lungs quickly by breathing through your nose when compared with breathing through your mouth and nose? Breathing through your nose alone during intense exercise in an attempt to slow the breathing rate down will simply cause oxygen debt and you will stop. You must provide the fuel or the engine will stop, end of story.

If you attempt to slow the rate at which the breath comes in you risk ‘running out of petrol’ by not getting the oxygen to the working muscles quickly enough.

There are only 2 points I want you to be conscious of in relation to breathing:

  1. Be conscious of breathing smoothly and with rhythm from the first beep (not just when your breathing rate starts to climb)
  2. Let the oxygen come in of its own accord but try to control the breath out to some extent.

Approximately a 3 in to 4 out ratio.

This is the best you can do in relation to breathing and I would encourage you not to make more of an issue of it than that. Breathing gets easier as you get fitter!

Just remember that an increase in your breathing rate is normal when the workload increases. It is normal! remain relaxed and focused on running and turning technique and don’t make breathing too complicated.

Enjoy your beep test training!

About the Author

Russell Kempster

Russell Kempster

Russ spent 12 years as a police officer with Victoria Police. The last four years of that time was spent at the Victoria Police Academy as an instructor, where he taught everything from fitness to firearms. He has trained police applicants, as well as recruits undergoing their initial training, experienced serving police officers and was even called on by Victoria Police to help train other would-be police academy instructors.

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