How to Breathe When Lifting Weights – Part 1

by Jordan Syatt March 6, 2014

You know how to breathe when lifting weights.

Seriously, you do.

You may have been told it’s extremely complicated or difficult to coordinate but you’re hard-wired to breathe properly; as a high-functioning human being, you instinctively regulate this process.

Unfortunately, you’ve probably been led to believe breathing is far more complicated than it truly is.

Maybe you had a misinformed coach who told you to suck your belly in like a vacuum to “brace your core.” 

Or perhaps the half naked woman on the late-night infomercial reminded you to “never hold your breath” as that’s a “highly dangerous maneuver.

Regardless of what you’ve been taught, humans are actually very good at breathing & bracing so long as we don’t over-think the process.

For example, when you go to lift a heavy piece of luggage what do you do?

Do you suck your belly in like a vacuum? 

Of course not.

Do you think about inhaling & exhaling in coordination with your movements?

I doubt it.

Instead, you [naturally] take a quick breath in, squeeze (re: brace) your abdominals, and lift that sucker up.

This quick breathe & brace technique, also known as the valsalva maneuver (VM), is an instinctive protective mechanism designed to keep us safe and strong while lifting heavy loads. Specifically, research has consistently found the VM to increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) which helps to brace the spine and increase total body tension. 

Interestingly, performing the VM also helps us push out other types of “heavy loads” when constipated and sitting on the toilet.

valsalva meme

Cool, right!? More on that later.

Re-enforcing Proper Breathing & Bracing Patterns

Remember, you know how to breathe.

The most prevalent and related issue among coaches & trainee’s today is over-thinking the breathing process. In doing so, they initiate uncoordinated, and even dangerous, breathing patterns which often lead to debilitating injuries. 

Granted, there are ways to slightly alter your breathing which can help to improve the safety and efficiency of your lifts but, truth be told, these methods are not complicated.

In fact, they’re extraordinarily simple and are based off of our natural human instincts.

So how can you learn to re-enforce proper breathing & bracing mechanics?

Read & watch this 3-part article series.

In the video below I discuss the basics of proper breathing & bracing mechanics designed to facilitate safer, stronger, and efficient lifts.

In part 2 I’ll discuss how to implement these techniques during maximal effort lifts (i.e. anything above 85% 1RM).

And in part 3 I’ll outline how to breath & brace during light(er) accessory exercises. I’ll also include specific recommendations for those with high blood pressure and/or aren’t interested in lifting as heavy as humanly possible.

Weirdo’s, right?

Just kidding.

But seriously.

Anywho, if you enjoyed the video above and want to learn more advanced breathing & bracing techniques, make sure to sign up for your free Syatt Fitness newsletter below. Not only will you be immediately notified when these articles go live, you’ll also get instant access to my 2 free e-books and 1 free 45-minute strength training seminar.

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