To Breathe or Not to Breathe, That Is the Question
Breathing is important.
I know-- I just totally blew your minds with that opening statement. Groundbreaking stuff, right?
I’m pretty sure that 99.99% of us already understand that breathing is an essential part of living, but did you know it is also an essential part of training?
Correct, concentrated breathing is often an overlooked training technique. Obviously you’re breathing while you’re training, but taking the time to think about your breathing is actually a technique that is just as important as taking time to think about your form!
Why? Because breathing supplies hard-working muscles with the oxygen necessary to continue their hard work! If you are not breathing properly, you risk reducing your strength and experiencing all-too-sudden fatigue.
As well, a sudden oxygen deficiency (caused by insufficient breathing and/or holding your breath while strength training) can cause dizziness and elevated blood pressure-- all of which will likely hold you back from achieving the results you want (an in extreme cases could lead to heart-attack, hernia, or stroke)!
While strength training, many people make the mistake of holding their breath, either because they think it will make them stronger, or because they simply forget to breathe.
In regards to making them stronger, they aren’t completely off-target here. Momentarily holding your breath when lifting extreme loads can be both safe and effective depending on the situation. A study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that this technique allows subjects to direct their power optimally when lifting at their one-rep maxes and only produced minor rises in blood pressure in these situations.
The key words here? “One-rep maxes” and “extreme loads” --this technique (known as the Valsalva maneuver) is only for short duration, high-exertion lifts! Something that many of us are not doing every time we step into the gym… *and because of this, I STRONGLY recommend you DO NOT try this strategy unless you are already a well-experienced powerlifter!*
So, for your typical, run-of-the-mill strength training workouts, proper, concentrated breathing (inhaling and exhaling more naturally-- not holding it in) is the route you should be taking.
What is the “proper” way to breathe? Well, obviously exhaling and inhaling, but more specifically:
exhaling as you exert energy/push weight away from you, and inhale as you pull it towards you.
In addition, taking a few, slow, deep breathes immediately prior to an exercise helps deliver a big hit of oxygen to the muscles that are about to put in work (and about to be seriously requiring that oxygen!).
More oxygen means less muscle constriction, and not having tense/tight/constricted muscles going into an exercise is definitely important in having a successful lift! As well, taking these slow, concentrated breathes before lifting can set the stage for controlled breathing during your workout as it makes you more conscious of your breathing.
If you’re just beginning with strength/weight training, it may seem a little more difficult to focus on your breathing mid-exercise along with everything else (the movements, form, reps, sets…).
In this case, still be sure to take deep breathes before the movements and just try to be extra aware of not holding your breath during them-- it is okay to focus less on the breathing pattern, and more on just breathing.
Also, be sure you are starting with light weight lifting until correct breathing becomes second nature. Since heavier weights call for more concentration and strength, it becomes easy to forget to breathe correctly if you are not already accustomed to it.
The take-away from all of this? Breathe, breathe, and keep breathing. Following the right breathing pattern will ensure that your working muscles and connective tissues get enough oxygen, and your joints stay lubricated.
Avoid the common mistakes (holding your breath, taking shallow breaths, breathing too quickly, inhaling/exhaling at the incorrect time…) by making a conscious effort to monitor each breath.
Keep oxygen flowing to the muscles, and keep your strength up!