Hands-Only CPR: Do You Need to Give Breaths?

We all know what CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, looks like – or at least we thought we did. About ten years ago, posters, videos, and images started popping up about a new kind of CPR. This kind is simple, just two steps, and the part with the breathing? It’s gone. Experts say it’s effective and some say that if someone is unresponsive, it’s what you should do next.

So, what’s the deal? You might be wondering what advice to follow – to give breaths, or to not give breaths. In this article, we’ll give you the full scoop on “hands-only” CPR: what it is, why it’s useful, and when you should use it.

What Is Hands-Only CPR?

In classic CPR, rescuers give alternating cycles of chest compressions and “rescue breaths”. Chest compressions, quick, deep pushes down onto a person’s chest, help the heart pump blood around the body. Rescue breaths, where the rescuer breaths air into the person’s lungs, help deliver oxygen to the body. These two steps work together to keep a person alive until they can get more advanced care.

Recently, a new kind of CPR hit the scene. Hands-only takes all the steps of CPR and cuts them down to just two:

  1. Call 911
  2. Push down on the center of the chest


Chest compressions only – no breaths at all. Hands-only is meant to be as simple as possible, easy to remember, and free from extra steps that could trip you up.

Does It Really Work?

How can CPR be effective without breaths? Does hands-only CPR really work?

It does! And here’s why.

When you stop to give breaths, you’re taking time away from vital chest compressions. That’s okay, because you’re giving the body much-needed oxygen. But giving high-quality rescue breaths takes a little bit of practice. Sometimes, without training, rescuers don’t end up giving a person very much oxygen at all.

Hands-only CPR means zero interruptions. When a rescuer isn’t giving good breaths, the benefit of ditching those interruptions outweighs the benefit of stopping to breathe. It’s also useful for people who haven’t been formally trained or haven’t taken a class in a long time – since it only has two steps, it’s much easier to remember on the spot. And it can keep a person alive!

So, Which One is Best?

Two types of CPR with different steps – you might be wondering which one is best.

The answer is – it depends! CPR with rescue breaths is always better when done correctly, but if you’re uncertain about the quality of your breaths, hands-only is the way to go. Which type of CPR you choose to do depends on whether or not you’ve been trained and what your comfort level is.


Most cardiac arrests happen outside of a hospital. That means that most of the time it’s up to bystanders to provide life-saving CPR. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t have the training or the confidence to step up – you might have never taken a CPR course or haven’t taken one for years. A sudden emergency can be intimidating, and if you don’t have recent training it can be even more scary. Hands-only CPR simplifies the steps so more people can feel empowered to step up.

For people without recent training, hands-only CPR is usually more effective, too. Remember that giving breaths takes some practice – so if you’ve never taken a class, hands only is more effective for keeping someone alive until you can get certified.


Even if you got certified an hour ago, stepping into the role of rescuer can be a big deal. Courses like a general CPR/AED certification are designed to give you the confidence to perform compressions and breaths in an emergency situation. But if you find yourself in the position of rescuer and feel uncertain about your ability to give rescue breaths – hands-only is just fine.

No matter which technique you choose, remember to give chest compressions in the center of the chest that are deep and quick – 100-120 beats per minute (the same tempo as songs like “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen or “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees).

CPR – with or without breaths – can save a life. Learn how to give effective rescue breaths – and much more – with one of our weekly CPR/AED courses!


11344 Coloma Road Suite #112
Gold River, CA 95670


Monday-Friday, 8:00am-5:00pm
Saturday, 8:30am-2:00pm
Sunday, CLOSED