How to Strengthen Intercostal Muscles

Strengthening your intercostals can improve your performance.

Strengthening your intercostals can improve your performance.

Your intercostal muscles are nestled between your ribs. They tend to go about their business with little fanfare, quietly moving air in and out of your lungs. As you pick up the pace of your workout, however, you might hear some complaining from your ribcage area; cases of extreme intercostal overload can leave you with a painful chest stitch. If you've ever cut a workout short because you felt crampy, fatigued or out-of-breath, try boosting your intercostal strength. A simple respiratory exercise, practiced regularly and conscientiously, can help you breathe easier, perform better and avoid rib muscle injury.

Find a quiet location, free of noise and other potential distractions. Breathing exercises require focus and concentration. Sit cross-legged on the floor; sit straight on a firm, comfortable chair; or lie down.

Clear both nostrils to allow for maximum air flow. Blow your nose several times, if necessary, to clear nasal passageways completely. Place one hand on your upper abdomen and the other hand just under your rib cage so you can monitor expansion and contraction as you inhale and exhale.

Breathe in deeply through your nose, filling your belly first. Your lower hand should rise as your upper abdomen expands. Continue to draw air in, actively expanding your ribcage.

Prepare to exhale. Press your top and bottom teeth together lightly, raise your tongue toward the top of your mouth and relax your lips in an open position.

Breathe out slowly through your open lips, pronouncing a long, sustained "hiss-s-s" as you contract your abs. Continue expelling the air at a steady rate, even if you begin feel a burning sensation in your stomach. Maintain the expansion in your ribcage for as long as possible to keep the intercostals engaged.

Repeat the exercise up to five times. Relax briefly and allow your breathing to return to normal before rising from the floor or chair.

Items you will need

  • Firm, comfortable chair
  • Tissues


  • If you prefer, you can breathe out through your nose.
  • For optimal lung action, keep your intercostal muscles flexibile -- as well as strong -- so your ribs are free to move. You can stretch the intercostals by draping your back over a stability ball.
  • To prevent intercostal cramping, avoid eating less than an hour before you work out.


  • Deep breathing exercises such as this one can cause you to feel light-headed.

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About the Author

Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.

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