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Running Out of Breath When Singing? Expert Advice to Boost Your Breath Capacity For Public Singing

breathing technique

Do you ever feel out of breath when you are singing? It can be quite frustrating when it happens. Aside from the obvious reason of not having proper breathing technique, I will tell you about 3 other causes and how to fix those issues.

Your Breathing Mechanism

When we sing, air comes out of our lungs to vibrate our vocal folds/vocal cords at different frequencies (for different pitches). Our lungs fill up with air when our diaphragm goes down. The air in our lungs gets pushed out when the diaphragm goes up. We control our diaphragm by moving our rib cage.


Breathing Mechanism


Performance Anxiety

An overlooked reason is performance anxiety. When we get anxious, we hold our breath and tense up muscles in our core, throat and jaw. These things happen automatically without us being aware of it. It is the flight/flee/freeze response built into us to keep us physically safe from danger. When this response is triggered, it disrupts our breath flow - making us feel out of breath when singing.

Developing self awareness in the physical symptoms and thoughts that trigger performance anxiety is the first step towards managing performance anxiety. Breathing exercises like the box breathing and 478 breathing exercise work well to calm down the nervous system.

When you feel calmer, scan your thoughts and see which ones are making you anxious. Are you scared of forgetting lyrics? What do you think will happen when you forget the words? How can you reframe that thought and change it into a more helpful thought?


If you have a cold or similar illness that affects your breathing mechanism and causes inflammation in your throat, you will feel out of breath. These illnesses can be acute or chronic, such as a common cold, flu, cough, post nasal drip, hay fever, allergies and so on.

It is a good idea to rest your voice and let your body recover before you start singing again. Using your voice when you are sick will increase the risk of vocal injury.

If it is a chronic illness, make sure you are taking steps to manage the symptoms and treat the root cause.

Inefficient Breath Support

Proper breathing technique lets you sing with freedom and support without hurting your voice. That is because when you have proper breath support, your diaphragm rises more slowly - giving you bigger lung capacity and more importantly, a more balanced breath pressure/subglottic pressure.

Subglottic pressure means how hard the air pushes against your vocal folds when the air comes out of your lungs. If the pressure is too high, vocal damage can happen. This does not necessarily make you feel out of breath but still a useful tip to know.

Keeping your rib cage expanded and engaging your core muscles is how you can have proper breath support.

Your rib cage needs to be expanded when you are singing.


Rib Cage

 The air is supplied to the vocal folds by engaging the core muscles. You will feel the muscles around the waist area ‘kicking out’.


Core Muscles (Obliques)

Want to learn the complete breathing technique? Check out my Shower to Stage Academy.

Not Knowing When to Breathe in a Song

You hear a song you really like and you start singing it. You do not plan your breathing spots because you think breathing should just be a natural thing to do when you are out of breath. What happens is you go out of air in the middle of a line or when there is a long note.

Make it a habit of planning breathing spots for all the songs you sing. Print the lyrics out and draw slashes or lines where you feel you need to breathe. Here is an example:


Marking Breathing Spots With Slashes

The difference it makes to your singing is well worth the few minutes you spend marking the breathing spots.


Aside from having proper breathing technique, managing your performance anxiety, marking breathing spots and maintaining your vocal health will make running out of breath a thing of the past. If you would like to know how to develop proper breathing technique, have a look at my Shower to Stage Academy.


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