When it comes to exercise, the art of inhaling and exhaling may be a little more complicated than we think.

Whether the goal is running, lifting, or warrior posing with ease, read on to discover the best breathing techniques to put optimal performance well within reach.

Whether it’s time to hit the turf, track, or squat rack, breathing isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind.

But smooth and efficient breathing is crucial for delivering the oxygen our bodies need to perform functions properly.

Proper breathing can also help athletes exercise longer with less effort, nix side stitches, and even calm the mind.

With a little extra awareness and some practice, that A game could be just a few breaths away.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

For running

While there’s no golden rule, many runners find it most comfortable to take one breath for every two foot strikes, says Alison McConnell, a breathing expert.

This means taking two steps (one left, one right) while breathing in and two steps while breathing out also known as the 2:2 rhythm. Because the diaphragm and surrounding organs are all subject to the forces of gravity, McConnell says, synchronizing the breath to running cadence will keep the organs from putting unnecessary pressure on the diaphragm, which can impede breathing, and make running more uncomfortable than it needs to be.

While there have been some studies comparing nasal and oral breathing during exercise, most have used small sample sizes with somewhat inconclusive results. “My advice is to breathe via the mouth during exercise, as this is the route of least resistance,” McConnell says. “Breathing through the nose during exercise just makes it needlessly hard.”

On the flip side, some experts say that nose breathing has its own benefits, including increased CO2 saturation in the blood, which creates a more calming effect, says Roy Sugarman, Ph.D., director of applied neuroscience for Athletes’ Performance and the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team.

Breathing in through the nose can also help warm the air entering the lungs and might minimize allergen intake, says professional triathlete and Ironwoman Terra Castro.

Bottom line: Test the airways, and see what feels right for you and your lungs.

For strength training

Using the bench press as an example, exhale slowly and continuously while pressing the bar, then inhale at the top of the lift or on the return.

Just remember that once that barbell is pressed, the weight doesn’t vanish, McConnell explains, so be sure to keep the core engaged to protect the spine, similar to preparing for impact during contact sports.

Don’t forget to breathe out! Holding the breath increases pressure inside the chest, but holding it too long can impede the return of blood to the heart and raise blood pressure.