Probably not what you would expect, huh? Think about it. Breathing is vital to life so why would it be less important in weightlifting. From proper lifting mechanics to jump-starting the recovery process after workouts (and in between sets), developing awesome breathing mechanics is a simple and effective way to simply kill it every day in your lifting routine. If you breathe right, power and better recovery will follow.
The purpose of this article is to take a step back and remind you of one of the foundational things in weightlifting. It is something that many people get wrong and the last thing you want is unnecessary pressure build up…or a hemorrhoid. I challenge all of you in your next work out to be more mindful of your breath to ensure you haven’t forgotten the fundamental importance of breathing in weightlifting.
Go ahead and channel your inner Anna Nalick and just breathe.
The basic breathing rule in weightlifting is as soon as there is any strain on your body, you should breathe out. When your body is under the least amount of stress, breathe in.
Let’s take a look at some exercise examples.
- For a pushup, you should be inhaling right before you descend into the push-up and breathe out as soon as you begin the transition into the pushing phase
- For pulling motions you should be exhaling as you pull inward toward you
- For exercises such as squats and deadlifts, exhale as you come away from the floor into the top of the movement
No shit right? But the simplest things are often the easiest to forget about.
The timing of your breath can generate tremendous power via core strength. It helps to maintain constant abdominal tension which is one of the most important sets of muscles in your body. Breathing correctly also helps to stabilize your spine which reduces the chances for injuries.
If you are not breathing correctly, the extended time under tension without breath can cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure. This pressure build up can cause headaches and dizziness as well.
What about in static exercises?
When I first started planking, I never used to think about breathing. Just hold your breath right and try to flex your abs? A better technique is to breathe constantly throughout the “bracing” of your abdominal muscles.
In any abdominal bracing/holding movement, instead of holding your breath during the exercise, try taking a specific number of full breaths and breathe in and push out by breathing through your teeth while you focus on engaging your core. You will get better stimulation which will help boost your core strength.
Relaxing and promoting recovery
Another huge benefit of breathing is to speed up the recovery after a workout. While often overlooked, the role of the nervous system in recovery is paramount and activating it can be a helpful way to boost your relaxation and recovery.
“The body’s sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) balance each other out. The SNS is catabolic and mobilizes the body’s resources to help the body “fight or flight” threatening situations. The PNS is anabolic and helps the body rest, digest, and recover. The body is designed to spend the majority of its time in the PNS.
The key to recovery, therefore, is the ability to switch as soon as possible from the catabolic state brought on by training (breakdown of energy sources, including muscle) to a more anabolic state (building muscle).The faster you can go from an excited state to a calm one, the more capable you will be to recover from your workouts.”
Deep breaths are just one of the many ways to do this.
How do you activate the PNS system?
The Vagus nerve serves an important connection to the PNS, which helps with rest, digestion and reproductive functions. This nerve serves as a primary activator of the PNS.
One simple way to activate this system is through long, deep breathing. By bringing awareness to the breath, you stimulate the vagus nerve which enables the healing process. An example of a deep breathe is a four-second inhale held for 3 seconds in between the exhale and a six-second exhale.
Some of the other ways to stimulate your vagus nerve to induce the benefits of the PNS system are:
- Immerse your face in cold water
- Chant and sing in low resonant tones (creep)
- Immerse your tongue in saliva while doing long deep breathing.
- Laugh with deep diaphragmatic laughs.
The extra benefits
The benefits of vagus nerve stimulation other than helping your recovery are
- Reduces the inflammatory response throughout our system
- Decreasing depression and anxiety and lifts our mood.
- Developing better memory
- It raises the level of endorphins, which bring about positive feelings in the body and reduce the sensation of pain.
Breathing is an essential part of life and it is one of the most powerful things we can do. A more efficient breathing pattern can lead to an increase in strength and overall performance. It is the simplest way to jump start the recovery process needed for muscle growth.
The challenge to you is to become more mindful of your breathing in your next work out (and in life). Try to focus on generating more power using properly timed breathing to channel this energy to your muscles. It is simple, but sometimes the simple things can produce the most extraordinary results.
After your workout
Instead of rushing to your workout and rushing out, take a couple moments after the workout and cool down. Close your eyes and breathe deeply as you stretch in the gym or in your car before you leave. With just 5 minutes of deep, calming breathing, you can take in the endorphins from your workout, calm your mind and jump start the recovery.
Throughout the day
Take a big breath through your nose as you try to create a “vacuum” in your diaphragm or lower stomach by tightening your abs and sucking upward and inward as you fill your lungs with air letting your chest naturally push outward. Pause for 2-3 seconds at the top.
Now, breathe outward slowly through your teeth to a count of 5 seconds focusing all of your attention creating abdominal tension outward as you reach the end of your breath.
If you aren’t buying it, then you likely haven’t heard about Wim Hof. Either way, I highly recommend checking out what he is capable of doing using breathing methods. His life has revolutionized the way scientists study breathing.
How about you? Do you have any breathing techniques?