11 Breathing Exercises to Strengthen Lungs & Increase Capacity

breathwork Aug 19, 2021

Keeping our lungs healthy is so crucial to our overall quality of life. Their strength and capacity can impact the quality of our breathing and our ability to perform physical activities. Everyone’s life circumstances will have effects on their lung health, and sometimes they’re for the worse.

Luckily, there are several methods – including breathwork – that can help your lungs rebuild their strength and capacity. This article will explain how to strengthen lungs and breathing, and introduce you to breathing exercises to strengthen lungs. What’s more, you can easily do most of these exercises without training or certification. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Can You Strengthen Your Lungs?
  • How to Increase Lung Capacity Naturally
  • 11 Best Breathing Exercises to Strengthen Lungs
  • 6 Breathing Devices to Strengthen Lungs & Increase Capacity

Before we get into some breathing exercises to help lungs, let’s discuss our ability to strengthen our lungs.

Can You Strengthen Your Lungs?

If you’ve been wondering if you can strengthen your lungs, the answer is yes. Like other parts of our body, there are methods of exercise and nourishment that can help us build up the strength of our lungs and improve our respiratory health. Note that those who have experienced lung damage or struggle with chronic respiratory illnesses might not be able to fully regain their breathing strength. However, anyone can see improvement with the right daily routines and dedication.

How to Increase Lung Capacity Naturally

Now, you might be asking how to strengthen your lungs, or specifically how to increase lung capacity. Luckily, there are plenty of natural methods that can help you improve your lung health. Consider the methods below to determine how to strengthen lungs naturally in a way that best applies to you and your lifestyle.

Breathing exercises

Breathwork refers to a variety of breathing exercises and techniques that can help improve your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. One of its biggest benefits is the ability to help improve your lung health. There are actually many breathing exercises to increase lung capacity, or strengthen your lungs in general, that can easily be incorporated into your day. Practicing breathwork regularly can help correct and improve your breathing over time. Best of all, it's easy to get started whenever you’re ready.

Breathing devices

Some people might want to try breathing exercises, but would prefer to have a visual incentive as a guide. Or they may just want some additional help strengthening their lungs. Luckily, there are actually several breathing devices – including incentive spirometers – that help increase lung capacity and help you improve your breathing. Many of these devices are designed to easily help you give your respiratory muscles a workout by simply breathing into them.

Physical activity

Regularly engaging in physical activity can also help you strengthen your lungs, as your respiratory muscles will work to help you breathe throughout. Exercising around 3 times a week can help you bring in more oxygen as your heart and breathing rates increase. If you have a respiratory condition, please be sure to speak with your doctor to determine the best exercise routine for you.

Clean your home

Over time, our homes can become full of dust, pollen, fumes, and other toxins that we’re likely breathing in. Keeping your home clean and tidy will help clear the air of anything harmful that you could potentially inhale. This keeps your lungs clear and able to take in more oxygen.

Take vitamins

Taking vitamins and supplements is another easy way to help improve lung function. Vitamin D, calcium, and other vitamins have been shown to have a positive effect on symptoms experienced by patients of COPD and other conditions that impact breathing. If you think this option could be helpful for you, make sure to speak with your doctor before starting any new vitamins or supplements.

Build self-confidence

A lot of the time, we won’t see the results we want unless we have faith that we will. Remaining optimistic about your lung health will help encourage you to keep working to strengthen your lungs. Be sure to practice exercises and methods that help you feel good, and try your best to maintain a positive mindset and lift yourself up when you’re feeling down.

11 Best Breathing Exercises to Strengthen Lungs

Breathing exercises are becoming increasingly popular due to the many physical and mental health benefits they offer, one of which being how they can help improve lung health. If you want to try breathwork, these are some of the best breathing exercises to strengthen your lungs.

1. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing, is a breathing exercise that specifically makes use of the diaphragm. One of the best breathing exercises for lung capacity, it's commonly recommended to COPD patients as a way of strengthening their diaphragm. Continuing to practice this technique can help increase the amount of oxygen your body is able to take in.

The science

A 2020 study confirmed that diaphragmatic breathing helps to increase lung capacity. The study noted that previous research had already shown the technique to be helpful in improving the exercises capabilities of those with COPD. It also determined diaphragmatic breathing is helpful for treating shortness of breath. There was also early evidence that the practice can be helpful in building the strength of respiratory muscles.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Relax your shoulders as you sit back or lie down.
  2. Place a hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  3. Breathe in through your nose for 2 seconds. Pay attention to the air entering your abdomen and how your stomach moves.
  4. Press on your abdomen as you breathe out through pursed lips.
  5. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

2. Pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing is a breathing exercise for the lungs, usually done in an attempt to slow one's breathing. The slow exhale combined with the shape of your lips allows your airways to remain open longer, reducing the amount of work needed to breathe. This technique is easy to do on your own and can help improve your lung function over time.

The science

A 2014 study determined that pursed lip breathing could be used to help improve exercise tolerance in COPD patients. Participants found improvement with their exercise tolerance, breathing patterns, arterial oxygenation, and level of dynamic hyperinflation. The study also noted that the technique’s ability to reduce respiratory rate and improve oxygen saturation in COPD patients had been previously supported.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Breathe in through your nose.
  2. Purse your lips as if you are about to blow air.
  3. Exhale slowly through your lips. Make sure to do this for twice the length of your inhale.
  4. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

3. Equal breathing

Equal breathing, sometimes known as coherent breathing or Sama Vritti, is one of many pranayama/yoga breathing exercises for lungs. The key is to inhale and exhale for the same amount of time. Consciously breathing in this way allows our bodies to establish a relaxed rhythm and access our full lung capacity. This exercise can easily be done anywhere at any time, and is just as helpful to our mental health as it is to our physical health.

The science

A study published in 2017 found that pranayama, the ancient breathwork practice that incorporates Sama Vritti, was effective in helping competitive swimmers improve their lung functions. The young participants found that their respiratory endurance had improved after practicing pranayama. This contributed to significant improvement in their swimming performance, especially when compared to participants who didn’t complete the same exercises.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Close your eyes and breathe as you normally would. Pay attention to how you’re breathing.
  2. Breathe in for a slow count of 4.
  3. Breathe out for the same amount of time.
  4. Continue to breathe in and out, always keeping your inhales and exhales the same length. Be mindful of how your lungs feel throughout the exercise. 

4. Humming bee breath

Humming bee breath, also known as Bhramari pranayama, is a breathing exercise that incorporates humming. One of the best breathing exercises to increase lung function, this can be used to allow more oxygen to travel throughout your body. It also has many other mental and physical benefits. To best benefit your lungs, be sure to do this technique while sitting up straight.

The science

A 2014 study found that Bhramari pranayama and OM chanting were successful in helping participants improve their pulmonary functions. Participants who practiced the breathwork showed improvement in their peak expiratory flow, forced expiratory flow, and maximal voluntary ventilation. All of this suggests that humming bee breath is effective in improving one’s breathing.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Sit up straight with your eyes closed.
  2. Pay attention to the sensations in your body, and the quietness within.
  3. Gently place your index fingers on your ears.
  4. Take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, press down on your ears while beginning to hum loudly. You can choose to press down on your ears the entire time or press in and out during your humming.
  5. Take another deep breath in. Repeat this a few more times.

5. Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, also referred to as Anulom-Vilom, is a technique with a focus on breath control. It's a popular exercise, both as part of pranayama breathwork routines and on its own. By breathing in and out of your nostrils this way, you're helping to improve your lung function and respiratory endurance.

The science

A 2020 study determined that alternate nostril breathing was effective in helping to improve respiratory function. This led to the conclusion that the exercise could be recommended for increasing respiratory efficiency. The results came from participants with varying levels of overall health, all of whom were living stressful lifestyles.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Raise your right hand, resting your index and middle fingers between your eyebrows, as you close your eyes and begin breathing in and out of your nose.
  2. Close your right nostril using your right thumb, then slowly breathe in through your left nostril. Pause for a moment.
  3. Close your left nostril using your right ring finger, then breathe out through your right nostril. Pause for a moment.
  4. Slowly breathe in through your right nostril. Pause again.
  5. Use your thumb to close the right nostril again, then proceed to breathe out of your left nostril.
  6. Pause again, then breathe in through your left nostril.
  7. Continue this cycle for a total of 10 times. Aim to spend around 40 seconds on each cycle.

If you want to see alternate nostril breathing in practice, watch this guided breathwork session.

6. Pushing out

Pushing out is an exercise that improves your lungs' ability to absorb oxygen. Practicing this 4 times daily is said to help those with chronic lung diseases. It's recommended by lung health professionals as one of many deep breathing exercises to clear lungs, treat COPD, and more.

The science

An article from Livestrong explains that there’s a link between our ability to intake oxygen and our health. Increasing your lung capacity leads to greater stamina and overall well-being. Given how it works the respiratory muscles, pushing out is one of the breathing exercises they recommend for increasing lung capacity.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Stand up straight and loosen your knees.
  2. Bend down from the waist as you exhale, then return to your upright position.
  3. Inhale as much air as possible, then hold your breath for 20 seconds (if you can) while lifting your arms over your head.
  4. Relax and lower your arms as you exhale.
  5. Repeat these steps 4 times.

7. Rib stretch

Rib stretch is another one of several breathing exercises that helps to clear your lungs and increase lung capacity. It's easy to learn and quick to do. Practicing this exercise 3 times a day can help with chronic lung diseases like COPD.

The science

A 2017 study confirmed that rib cage joint mobilization and chest wall stretch exercises were helpful for increasing lung capacity in stroke patients. Participants in both groups experienced a significant increase in their ability to expand their chest, as well as some improvement in respiratory muscle tone. This suggests that the rib stretch exercise is very effective at helping to increase lung capacity.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Stand up straight and exhale.
  2. Breathe in to max capacity.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds (if you can) while placing both hands on your hips, thumbs facing front, and pinkies on the small of your back.
  4. Exhale slowly.
  5. Relax and repeat 3 times.

8. Numbered breath

Numbered breath can also be used to increase your oxygen intake. It incorporates mindfulness by having you focus on a sequence of numbers throughout the exercise. This is one of the easiest breathing exercises with a focus on counting.

The science

According to Precision Medical, numbered breathing is one of several breathing exercises that can be used to increase your lung capacity. The article explains that, just like the other muscles in our body, our lungs also require exercise to remain fit and healthy. Numbered breathing is an exercise that involves controlling the movement of our lungs. This makes it effective at improving our lung capacity, especially for treating conditions like COPD.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Close your eyes as you take a deep breath in.
  2. Breathe out until your lungs feel empty.
  3. Breathe in again while thinking of the number 1.
  4. Hold your breath for 2 seconds, then breathe out.
  5. Breathe in again while thinking of the number 2.
  6. Hold your breath for 3 seconds, then breathe out.
  7. Continue this exercise up to the number 8.

9. Complete Breath

Complete Breath is similar to other techniques for improving lung capacity, but is one of the easiest to learn. It involves completely filling your lungs, making full use of your respiratory system. It’s great for helping to soothe the respiratory system while also building up your immune system. It can also lower stress and anxiety levels.

The science

According to a 2020 article from Chopra, practicing the Complete Breath technique for 5 minutes, twice a day, can help improve your lung health (among other benefits). Incorporating this technique into regular practice will help train your lungs to breathe properly and allow more air into your body. It’s also effective at improving your breathing at times when it feels constricted.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Lie down or sit up straight in a comfortable position.
  2. Allow your abdomen to relax as you place a hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  3. Breathe in deeply, drawing the air into your lower abdomen while pushing out your belly against your hand.
  4. As you continue to breathe in, draw the air into the midsection of your torso while allowing your rib cage to expand.
  5. Continue to inhale, drawing the air into your upper chest as you feel it rise against your other hand.
  6. Pause for a moment before breathing out in reverse order, starting with the air in your chest, then the air in your torso, and finally the air in your lower abdomen. Contract your abdominal muscles to release the remaining air if needed.
  7. Repeat these steps as many times as desired, paying attention to how it makes you feel.

10. Buteyko Breathing

Buteyko Breathing refers specifically to exercises that were created by Dr. Konstantin Buteyko for the purposes of improving one's health. These exercises are recommended for those struggling with asthma or other breathing problems who want to improve lung function. This method of breathwork can help reduce the occurrence of gasping for air, and even help improve breathing while under stress.

The science

A 2012 study published in the Egyptian Journal of Chest Diseases and Tuberculosis found that Buteyko Breathing techniques helped decrease the daily symptoms associated with bronchial asthma. Participants who practiced the exercises saw improvement in their peak expiratory flow rates and ability to hold their breath. Asthma symptoms such as limited activity tolerance, shortness of breath, and wheezing were also significantly reduced. 

Here’s how to do it

Preparation

  1. Sit up straight, either in a chair or on the floor.
  2. Try to relax your respiratory muscles.
  3. Spend a few minutes breathing as you normally would.
  4. Follow the steps for either the Control Pause or Maximum Pause exercises.

Control Pause

  1. After your last relaxed exhale, hold your breath.
  2. Plug your nose using your thumb and index finger.
  3. Continue to hold your breath until you feel the urge to breathe, then inhale through your nose.
  4. Spend 10 or more seconds breathing normally.
  5. Repeat as much as desired.

Maximum Pause

  1. After your last relaxed exhale, hold your breath.
  2. Plug your nose using your thumb and index finger.
  3. Continue to hold your breath until you begin to experience moderate discomfort, then inhale through your nose.
  4. Spend 10 or more seconds breathing normally.
  5. Repeat as much as desired.

While these two exercises are great for beginners, the Buteyko Method consists of a variety of other exercises – offered through workshops and training – that can help you correct your breathing. To see an example of what another Buteyko Breath exercise might look like, watch this guided breathwork for controlled relaxation.

11. Straw breathing

Straw breathing is a technique that works similarly to pursed lip breathing, but uses drinking straws to assist with the exercise. It was first developed as a tool to help divers use snorkels and scuba gear, but is still recognized today as a helpful exercise for strengthening lungs. It also requires the use of your diaphragm to do it properly, giving you the same benefits as diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

The science

An article from West London Physiotherapy explains that straw breathing is effective at increasing lung capacity and relieving stress. Breathing through a straw requires more effort, which forces your diaphragm to give your lungs more power to assist with your exhale. This gives your lungs a workout that ultimately helps them take in more oxygen over time. 

Here’s how to do it

  1. Use a straw with a small diameter.
  2. Facing straight ahead, place the straw between your lips. Hold the straw with your fingers to keep it from pointing downward.
  3. Breathe in normally through your nose.
  4. Breathe out naturally through the straw. Try to keep your lips and face relaxed.
  5. When your exhale is almost complete, take the straw out and close your mouth, completing the exhale through your nose as naturally as possible.
  6. Breathe normally 2 or 3 times without the straw.
  7. When you’re ready, return the straw to your mouth and repeat.
  8. Do this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your experience and comfort level.

6 Breathing Devices to Strengthen Lungs & Increase Capacity

If you need some assistance with strengthening their lungs, you can also use a breathing device to help you improve your breathing. Here are some breathing devices to strengthen the lungs.

1. The Breather

(Image credit: Amazon.com)

The Breather is an easy-to-use device that can be used to strengthen respiratory muscles and reduce shortness of breath. It's designed to be used as a method of RMT that can help those struggling with COPD and other chronic illnesses that impact breathing. It's drug-free and even has an accompanying app full of helpful content.

How to use it: Once you've selected your inhale and exhale counts using the side dials, simply hold the mouthpiece to your lips and begin breathing. Aim to do 2 sets of 10 breaths, twice a day for 6 days a week.

Cost: $49.95

2. POWERbreathe Plus - Medium Resistance

(Image credit: Amazon.com)

For those interested in inspiratory muscle training, the POWERbreathe Plus is a great option. This easy-to-use device has 11 levels of resistance to help you increase your stamina over time. Continual use will help strengthen your breathing muscles, and can help improve your physical health and overall wellness as well.

How to use it: Place your mouth over the mouthpiece and slowly breathe in and out. Use for 30 breaths, twice per day.

Cost: $69.90

3. Expand-A-Lung Inspiratory/Expiratory Breathing Resistance Trainer

(Image credit: Amazon.com)

The Expand-A-Lung is an incredibly popular breathing fitness exerciser, used by US Navy SEALs, athletes, and COPD patients alike. It helps to significantly improve one's breathing through a breathing exercise. The device is made with a comfortable mouthpiece and an easily-adjustable valve to create a preferable experience.

How to use it: Twist the valve to select your resistance level, then breathe in and out using the mouthpiece. Use for 10 breaths, twice per day.

Cost: $29.95

4. Voldyne 5000 Volumetric Incentive Spirometer Exerciser

(Image credit: Amazon.com)

Those looking for an incentive spirometer can opt for the Voldyne 5000. This device allows for volume measurement up to 5000 mL, which is ideal for those with larger inspired breathing volumes. It's compact, easy to hold, and includes a Good-Better-Best flow window to help users see the quality of their breathing.

How to use it: While sitting up, place your mouth around the mouthpiece and breathe in and out slowly. Watch the markers to ensure you're meeting your goals.

Cost: $9.15

5. Ultrabreathe Breathing Exerciser

(Image credit: Amazon.com)

The Ultrabreathe is an easy and convenient device for strengthening your respiratory muscles. It's as easy as adjusting the valve to your preferred level of resistance, and then breathing in and out. Increasing the resistance over time will allow your respiratory muscles to become stronger and more durable.

How to use it: Twist the dial to select the level of resistance. Place your mouth around the mouthpiece and breathe in and out of your mouth 20-25 times, twice per day.

Cost: $19.99

6. FIGERM Breath Trainer

(Image credit: Amazon.com)

The FIGERM Breath Trainer is a compact, portable device that can help you exercise your lungs anytime and anywhere. This inspiratory and expiratory muscle trainer has 10 different levels of resistance to choose from to help enhance your breathing muscles over time. It's drug-free and can be used by anyone from athletes to smokers.

How to use it: Twist the valve to select a level of resistance. Place your mouth around the mouthpiece and breathe in and out of your mouth.

Cost: $39.99


If you’re ready to start practicing breathing techniques to strengthen lungs, sign up for a free 3-day breathwork journey with Inward Breathwork.

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