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!