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Breathing Techniques


Posted by Jay Goodman of Jay Goodman Personal Training under Olympic Weightlifting, Weight Training (Strength Training) on 17 June 2013 at 11:00 PM

Overhead press Jay GoodmanOne of the many questions I’m asked by both novice and experienced weight lifters alike “when am I supposed to breath or should I hold my breath?”

Firstly proper breathing during any type of heavy exertion is extremely important. People are often tempted to hold their breath during heavy exertion, which is called a Valsalva Maneuver (check out the guide for reasons why this is not recommended).

Breathing effectively and efficiently during any physical activity will enable you to achieve maximal performance; it is just as important as maintaining correct form, using the correct weight and lifting tempo. Effective breathing includes pre exercise preparatory, during exercise and post exercise breathing. Breathing techniques while weight training are something a lot of people do not consider and if they do, they can get it completely wrong. Adopt the correct breathing routine during your session and you will optimise training thus achieving a greater training effect enabling you to obtain your goals more readily. 

If you are new to weight training then you will have a lot on your mind; which exercises to use, the location of the equipment, the weight to be used, what if the equipment is not free, people are looking at me and I don’t want to look daft. Golden rule – if you’re not sure ask, remember everyone had to start somewhere and you will find people are understanding and more than happy to assist. 

It is a good idea to get the basics right at the beginning.  Ensure you use a weight which is well within your comfort zone, therefore enabling you to concentrate on the correct form and breathing techniques.  Don’t worry the weight will soon increase but bad execution of form becomes habit and is harder to rectify. You will also achieve greater results getting it right from the beginning and a much reduced chance of injury or suffering from a delayed onset of muscular soreness (DOM’S).

When do I breathe?

Research has not shown or supports that there are any potential benefits facilitating a weighted lift from inhalation or exhalation during either the concentric or eccentric phases. Most though will agree that it is more natural, as a general rule to inhale on the eccentric (relax phase), and exhale forcibly but steadily on the concentric (exertion phase) of the movement. Breathing can be looked at in three separate areas: 

a. Pre exercise preparatory breathing

b. During the set - exhalation / Inhalation

c. Post exercise - recovery breathing

Pre exercise Preparatory Breathing: 

Utilising breathing techniques prior to conducting a set of weighted lifts is just as important as ensuring you breathe correctly during the exercise phase itself. By incorporating a breathing routine into you preparatory phase of the lift enables you to focus the mind and body on the task at hand. Going into your own world shutting out all distractions and beginning a slow deep breathing process will ensure musculature is fully oxygenated and will undoubtedly result in a greater performance, facilitating a greater training effect is obtained.   

During the Set - Exhalation / Inhalation:

Exhaling during the concentric (exertion) phase enables you to make room in your lungs for oxygen during the eccentric (relax) phase of the lift, thus enabling re-oxygenation of the musculature so delaying fatigue allowing the muscles to function at their maximum level during a set. As you relax you will also decrease your chances of injury  e.g., during a bench press exhale as you push the weight up and inhale as you lower the weight, or during bent over rows exhale as you lift the weight, inhaling as the weight is lowered.

Bench press breathing with arrows

Post Exercise - Recovery Breathing: 

Once you have finished the set you may find you are hyperventilating, in order to assist and speed up recovery it is good practice to learn to breathe deeply through your stomach via Diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic Breathing:

Located at the base of the lungs between the chest and abdominal cavity is the diaphragm a dome shaped muscle which is the most efficient muscle of breathing. As the diaphragm contracts, the volume of the thoracic cavity increases and air is drawn into the lungs, aided by the intercostal muscles.

Many people tend to breathe from the chest (an easy way to establish this is to lie on the floor and watch to see if your chest is moving first during each breath. If this is so then you may be breathing inefficiently. By learning to breathe deeply through your stomach, you can improve your recovery time and fully oxygenate the body. In turn performance will be optimised during the set. Whether it be high intensity exercise activities such as sprinting or a high repetition exercise such as squats or bench press.

Back squat

Check out Jay's full step-by-step for Weight Training Breathing and improve your technique

If you are new to weight training it is a good idea to get the basics right at the beginning, ensure to use a weight which is well within your comfort zone, therefore enabling you to concentrate on the correct form and breathing techniques.

Prior to each set, shut out all distraction’s and begin your breathing routine, focusing your body and mind on the exercise to be conducted, breathing slowly and deeply through your stomach ensuring Diaphragmatic breathing.