One of the most common questions I get when showing a client a new exercise is: “How am I supposed to breathe”. Your breath gives you life, but not only that, it gives you power and keeps you safe. Proper breathing can be the difference between a PR and a failed lift, and the difference between safely lifting weights or hurting your back for the umptenth time. Here are a couple of tips to help you breathe properly during your strength training exercises.
Exhale Effort, the double E’s
Common advice on how to breathe during weight lifting is to exhale during the concentric portion of the exercise and inhale during the eccentric; where a concentric muscle contraction is the shortening of a muscle fiber usually in response to an external load, and eccentric is the lengthening of the muscle fiber. Another tip is to exhale during the lifting portion and inhale during the lowering.
But wait! During the lat pulldown I’m lowering the weight, and a bench press I’m lifting the weight, and a seated row the weight is horizontal, and what about crunches, and I’ve already forgotten what eccentric and concentric mean! Help!!
Enter “Exhale Effort”. Think of what part of the exercise requires the most effort, and exhale there. For a pushup, it’s pushing yourself up, for a row, it’s pulling the handle towards you, for a crunch, it’s when “crunching”, etc. You have a couple of options for the inhale. If you are able to, match your breathing rhythm to the exercise rhythm, so you inhale on the recovery portion and exhale on the work portion. When the set starts to get hard, take the time to stop and inhale at the beginning of each repetition. Regardless of how you inhale, exhale during the effort and you will be good to go.
Leaky tire vs. Blowout
Now that we know when to exhale it’s time to look at how. Take a deep breath, hold it, and then bear down and brace your core like you are preparing to get punched. You should feel a good amount of pressure in the midsection, and your abs well flexed. This is what’s meant by “activate your core”, and it not only gives you a boost of strength but provides a stable platform to safely perform an exercise without hurting your back.
You need that core pressure, but holding your breath during weight training, especially with heavy weights, is a great way to spike your blood pressure and get light-headed. So, during the lift (exhale effort) forcefully exhale with your tongue against the roof of your mouth, making a hissing sound. Think of a tire with a hole in it to help. If the tire pops a big hole, it’s a blowout and all pressure is lost, not good for your core. If the tire has a small leak, pressure remains while the air leaves, much more ideal.
Train safe and keep breathing!
I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is our lives are hurting our bodies. We sit too much, we stare hunched at tiny glowing screens, and we don’t move enough. All this decreases our mobility, and what’s worse is when we do start moving, we often injure ourselves because of it. To function better we need to move better.
The good news is that this can be accomplished with relatively small changes, when done daily. Even better, one of the best tools to quickly and easily improve your mobility and function is the thing you keep in the closet to sweep the floor. Below are three simple exercises that can be done with a broomstick to wake up your body, alleviate muscle stiffness and soreness, boost your energy, and improve your mobility long term.
Stand up straight and comfortable, holding the stick in front of you with hands on either end as wide as possible. With straight arms lift the stick overhead and extend as far back as possible, then reverse the motion back to front. If your shoulders are mobile enough, the stick will travel all the way over your body to reach your backside. If your shoulders are too tight for this, stop well before it becomes uncomfortable, never force your body to reach a certain position. It may take several repetitions before the stick travels all the way, it may also take several weeks, listen to your body and take your time. As your shoulders improve, continue with hands slightly closer together.
Benefits of shoulder passthrough:
Stand with your feet at squat stance, or just outside of shoulder width. Your feet should be as parallel as possible although turned slightly out is still ok. Hold the stick similar to the shoulder pass through drill and raise until it is directly overhead. While in this position squat down, breaking at the hips first, and then return up. If your knees cave in while rising, consciously push them out. Imagine the stick is very heavy, so don’t let it lean forward or backward, keep an upright torso and straight arms. The depth of your squat is to the point just before your flat back begins to round, so a mirror could be helpful at first. Prioritize a neutral spine, and keeping the stick overhead, then work on depth. Squatting to where your hips are parallel with the floor is a good goal.
Benefits of Overhead Squat:
The good morning. Amazing exercise, terrible name. Stand up straight with feet shoulder width apart. Hold the stick vertically across the middle of your back so it contacts three points: the back of the head, the upper back (thoracic spine), and tailbone. Hinge by bending at the waist and sending the hips back with a slight knee bend, as if you were closing a car door with your butt. Try to avoid simply dipping the torso forward and really focus on sending the glutes back. Once you have gone as far back as your hamstrings will allow, squeeze your glutes and return to standing. The purpose of the stick is to help maintain a neutral spine and to prevent rounding your back. If the stick stays on all three points through the movement, the spine is in position, if the stick comes off, the spine is out of position.
Benefits of Good Morning:
Aim to do these warm ups first thing in the morning. Doing each three movements as a circuit, aim to complete 3 rounds of 10-20 repetitions. All this should take a grand total of 5 minutes, maybe less. Take mental notes of how you feel and your ease of movements throughout the day and compare it to how you normally feel.