Can I tell from a person’s breathing the split second right before their attack that they are starting an attacking move? How do I tell?

  • 3
    If only it were that simple. Commented Apr 6 at 16:42

3 Answers 3


Yes and no.

Yes, because usually, an attack is linked to hightened adrenaline, which causes a dilation of the eye's pupils and an increase in heart and breathing rate. Also, there may be a slightly deeper breathing in for bracing right before they hit, ie. there might be a disruption of the regular breathing pattern.

No, because seasoned fighters and brawlers stay extremely calm up until the exact moment of them bursting into action and it does not tell you the exact moment of attack. And a deeper breath could just as well mean they try to regulate their emotions exactly to calm down and not attack.

Thus, all the breathing can tell you is if at all that their body prepares for a fight, not the exact moment of attack. It would be foolish to depend on an analysis of the opponent's breathing pattern alone. It is much safer to keep your center of vision towards their sternum so that your peripheral view (which is more sensitive towards movement) can detect any movement of the shoulders and limbs.

  • I should have added that I mean this in a self defense contract where I can already tell the attacker is not trained. How does he breathe the split second before his attack starts after he has decided to make an attack?
    – daniel
    Commented Apr 13 at 1:54
  • @daniel There is just no reliable way to tell. Some people breathe in and hold their breath when bracing, most will choose the end of the expiration phase(see mattm's answer), but people just act differently. After all, it mainly depends on accumulated action potentials in the pre-frontal cortex (executive functions) while breathing is controlled in a much older part of the brain. The connection is too loose to be reliable. Commented Apr 15 at 6:08


I agree in a large part with the answer already given by Philip but I want to throw a little bit more context in there.

Breathing - or the change in breathing - is just one of the indicators. But the reality is that you cannot use this alone - their breathing could change for a number of reasons. Additionally you will not be focused enough that you can discern their breathing in any arbitrary moment. And as mentioned seasoned or trained fighters have learned to control their breathing.

In real life the idea that you can focus on their breathing is flawed, it is the sort of idea you would see promulgated in movies.


Theoretically, the answer is yes, voluntarily taking an action is controversially scientifically detectable even before the actor is aware and related to breathing. This particular paper reports that for button presses,

We found that participants pressed the button more frequently during the expiration phase, in particular during the latest phase of expiration, just prior to inspiration onset

However, I would say no as a practical matter. The correlation is strongly statistically significant, but reported actions still occur in all breathing phases. You definitely get information from breathing, but the penalty for getting hit is too high to rely on the single information channel of breathing to defend yourself.

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