Breathing Exercises to Strengthen Your Lifts

STACK Expert Rich Thaw provides breathing exercises that can help your lifts get bigger, better, stronger and faster.

Take a deep breath in though your nose. More. More. More. Great. Now, exhale—but only about 1/3 of all that air. As far as breathing exercises go, this is pretty silly and ineffective. If you breathe that way during training, there's a good chance you will only speed the onset of fatigue. Do yourself a favor and take a deep breath in and exhale all the way out. The results may surprise you. Check out the video above to learn how to recover faster with proper breathing from strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle.

Here are some other breathing principles and drills that can improve your performance.

1. Change your positioning; change your breathing

Your body takes the path of least resistance when both breathing and moving. For example, do you have trouble breathing and swinging your arms when you run? Not a problem. Just round those shoulders forward—now you can breathe up into your neck and upper back. You've just adopted a new breathing pattern that suits your new range of motion (or lack thereof).

Conversely, the way you breathe determines the way you move. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of breaths and countless training sessions, without noticing it of course, you have created the easiest position to move and breathe for the activities you do most often.

2. Working within limited ranges cultivates unorganized breathing mechanics and unorganized movement

If you've always run with your head cocked back and your shoulders rounded and shrugged, it's going to be twice as hard to re-establish anything resembling an ideal breathing/running pattern.

Take these examples of two types of breathing: apical breathing vs. apical expansion. The former uses the accessory neck and upper trunk musculature to aid in respiration (sub-optimal); the latter uses the originally designated muscles of the trunk to expand the ribcage and chest cavity (optimal):

Breathe in. What parts of your torso do you feel filling with air? Your neck? Your left lower ribs? Right lower ribs? What you normally see, like in the video above, are the huge muscles of the anterior neck (sternocleidomastoid and scalenes) becoming way overdeveloped with apical breathing. Air fills the left lower anterior ribcage more than the right, as well as the right upper back. It may even seem as if you are side-bending or leaning back and to the right slightly because of the increased tone on the lower back, more notably on the right. This usually happens in people who are "stuck" in a faulty breathing pattern—referred to as a state of inhalation, hyperinflation or extension. They usually have poor diaphragm function and some difficulty getting their arms overhead because of their lats always being "on."

Since their lats are always on, you'd typically see their chest, or more notably their ribs, flaring out and a larger angle between the ribs and anterior pelvis. They usually take shallow breaths and never fully exhale.

According to the Postural Restoration Institute, being stuck in a state of inhalation, hyperinflation or over-extension (shown in the picture just above) cultivates:

  • Increased sympathetic "fight or flight" response
  • Increased anxiety
  • Impaired nerve conduction (a.k.a. ability to pass along signals)
  • Vasoconstricted peripheral and gastrointestinal vessels
  • Restricted circulation in the cerebral cortex (brain)
  • Shunted blood flow peripherally (to the arms and legs)
  • Impaired coronary arterial flow
  • Fatigue, weakness and irregular heart rate
  • Impaired breathing and weakened diaphragm contractility
  • Overuse of "thoracic breathing"
  • Enhanced peripheral neuropathic symptoms
  • Enhanced sympathetic adrenaline activity and hypersensitivity to lights and sounds
  • Increased phobic dysfunction, panic attacks, restless leg syndromes, heightened vigilance
  • Catastrophic thinking and hypochondria

Drills

If any of these symptoms or patterns ring true for you, you can use the following drills to correct breathing dysfunction.

These drills work together to achieve the goal of establishing a neutral and organized pelvis, thorax and cranium. They up the pelvic diaphragm (a.k.a. pelvic floor), thoracic diaphragm (the one that drives respiration), and the lesser-known cervical and cranial diaphragms (located in the jaw/neck and inner skull). They also create stability through the mid-section, effectively laying a strong, stable platform from which to build accompanying trunk musculature. The result? Your lifts become bigger, better, stronger and faster!


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock