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Restricted breathing in exercise may simply be due to lack of fitness.
When you work out, your muscles produce carbon dioxide and require lots of oxygen to keep going. The body's way of getting oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide is by breathing, so obviously your breathing speeds up when you work out. If this system is not working efficiently, you may feel that your breathing is restricted during your workout.
Asthma is a condition in which the airways in the lungs constrict abnormally and prevent adequate air from entering and leaving the lungs. Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction -- EIB -- describes what happens to many people with asthma during a workout. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says it may also occur when exercise forces you to breathe faster, thus drying out your airways and constricting them. According to the European Lung Foundation, athletes can develop asthma in this manner; inhaling irritants like chlorine in swimming pools can also be a trigger.
Other Lung Conditions
The presence of a lung infection, such as pneumonia, is a possible cause of restricted breathing during exercise. A pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot blocking blood vessels in the lungs, is another very serious cause which requires emergency medical treatment. Chronic lung conditions such as fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can also produce breathing problems, restricting respiration during exertion.
If your heart is not working properly, fluid can build up in the lungs. This can mean problems breathing and a sensation of heaviness or a smothering feeling. The fluid build-up can also cause airways to narrow, producing a type of asthmatic feeling called cardiac asthma. Shortness of breath is also a possible sign of a heart attack or of angina. Emergency medical care should be sought if you think you may be having a heart attack.
The simplest explanation of restricted breathing in a workout is that you are unfit, and your lungs are not trained enough to deliver oxygen to your muscles efficiently. This is due to weakened heart and lung muscles; the European Lung Foundation states that regular exercise strengthens these muscles, which makes them more efficient at using oxygen, so that you won't need to breathe as heavily.