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The idea that many athletes need to learn to breathe properly might sound ridiculous at first. But many young athletes are breathing improperly during their workouts, thus failing to maximize their strength training.
Think of how many bright red faces you’ve seen at the gym. That doesn’t necessarily mean their owners are having a great workout. It could mean they’re breathing backwards, or not at all. “Breathing backwards” refers to those who take in a big gulp of air as they struggle to lift the weight, exhaling after they finally get to the top of the exercise. “Not at all” refers to the Valsalva maneuver, which is the practice of forcefully exhaling against a closed airway. Weightlifters commonly use this technique, believing the trapped air in the body helps stabilize the spine during a lift, preventing injury.
This is actually dangerously inaccurate. In fact, “a study published in the June 1986 issue of the journal Spine found that the Valsalva maneuver actually increases the pressure of the spine,” says personal trainer and Livestrong.com contributor Kimberly Wonderly. “Dr. Michael Hall, a family physician for DuBois Regional Medical Center in DuBois, Pennsylvania, states that the Valsalva maneuver increases your risk of stroke, raises the amount of pressure within your eyes and greatly elevates your blood pressure.” Breathing in this manner also risks dizziness and fatigue, either of which would probably end your workout early.
Wonderly continues, “Proper breathing brings focus to both your breath and your body, which allows your body to signal you if a lift poses a risk of injury through improper form or too much resistance.”
Let’s break down proper breathing techniques for the Bench Press as an example of when you should inhale and exhale:
- As you lower the bar to your chest, inhale deeply through the nose, expanding your diaphragm
- As you push the bar, begin comfortably exhaling through the nose and mouth until you return to the top of the exercise
- Repeat this process by inhaling once again as you lower the bar for another rep
In short, the rule is to exhale when you exert force [push the bar] and inhale as you relax [lower the bar]. This pattern of breathing will allow you to focus on your form and engage the muscles needed to complete the exercise.
Like a sport-specific skill, proper breathing can take time and practice to master. But in the end, it’s worth it, and you’ll notice benefits in your workouts. For more help in mastering your breathing technique during strength training, tweet us at @STACKMedia.