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It seems silly to say I don't know how to breathe, but I don't. When doing weights, I know you exhale when you do the work part of the rep. In Yoga similarly breathe out on the stretch. Rock climbing too, when you pull yourself up breathe out. The list goes on. What on earth do I do for cycling.

Is it different for riding on flats or going up hill?

I am talking here about when a reasonable amount of effort is being put in, not necessarily racing or time trial but not exactly bumbling along either. I remember when I was younger and did Cross country running at school we were taught to do two short breaths in and two out. Does that apply here or is there something else. I saw watching time trials no TV that some of the riders seem to ride with their mouth wide open. I tried this and found that on hot dry days it really hurt my throat and lungs.

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Unlike weight-lifting or yoga, but like running and swimming, cycling is mostly about aerobic capacity. However, the efforts during cycling tend to be much more variable than running or swimming (especially running on a flat track or swimming in a pool). That means your respiration rate is going to be much more variable than in running or swimming (or weight-lifting or yoga). Sports which are more steady-state allow for more steady-state rhythm in breathing. –  R. Chung Oct 16 '12 at 17:48
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are going to be dozens of opinions on this, so keep in mind that I'm only talking in generalities:

Don't get too caught up on what type of terrain you're on, flat, uphill, downhill, etc. As long as you're exerting yourself on your bike, try to take deep, steady breaths, breaths that seem to go clear to your stomach. Try to focus on keeping your breath steady whenever you can. Try a few different rhythms and see if you can pick one that comes most naturally. Even better, see if you can find a riding buddy so that you two can exchange notes and learn from each other.

There are people who make their career out of training people how to breathe, so, this is just to get you started.

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For novice riders I've proposed that you target your cadence to be about twice your respiration rate. This is more to encourage higher cadence, without being too "clinical" about specific RPM numbers, but it also discourages rapid, shallow breathing. (And rapid breathing actually reduces your ability to absorb oxygen.)

Most forms of cycling involve exercise over a prolonged period -- tens of minutes or even tens of hours -- whereas most other sports, even when they are stretched over a period of a few hours, involve mostly brief spurts of exercise. Endurance is what counts in cycling, not (for the most part) peak output.

Also, with sports of extreme short-term exertion such as weightlifting a big concern with breathing is to avoid "weight-lifter's hypertension" -- the increase in blood pressure that occurs if you hold your breath while lifting. With cycling the body is in more of a "steady state" with exertion (except maybe if you're climbing a steep hill with an extremely low cadence), so weight-lifter's hypertension is not a major concern.

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On the flat and downhill, I just breathe normally. Going up steep hills, I find it helpfull to exhale in the cadence rythm, or even on each pedal stroke (twice cadence). By the time I get to this stage, the cadence has dropped so it is important to keep breathing regularly.

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