Are you holding your breath during weightlifting? Although it might not seem like a huge deal, proper breathing technique is a tremendously important—yet often overlooked—factor in strength training.
Referred to as the “Valsalva maneuver,” it simply means a person holds his breath while attempting to exert force (Venes 2009). (Read Improve Your Breathing Technique to Become a Better Athlete.) In weightlifting, improper breathing during weight training (like the Valsalva maneuver), or lifting above your max weight limit, has been associated with serious medical conditions, from blacking out to heart and brain injuries. (Pott et al. 2003, Kocak et al. 2003, Pierson et al. 2002, Dickerman et al. 2000, Gwan-Nulla et al. 2000, Haykowsky 1996, Schor et al. 1993, de Virgilio et al. 1990, Compton et al. 1973).
There is debate about the proper breathing form when exercising, especially when lifting weights. One guideline recommends exhaling through the most difficult point (referred to as the “sticking point”) in the repetition and inhaling during the easiest point (Baechle et al. 2008). You’ll often see Powerlifters and Olympic lifters using various breathing techniques, including a brief period of breath-holding.
However, for fitness- and sport-related weightlifting, the key is to breathe freely and not hold your breath during exercises (McGill 2007). One way to avoid holding your breath is to count softly out loud. When you are speaking, it is much harder to hold your breath. Focus on exhaling in a steady manner as you exert force—e.g., as you press a barbell up from your chest—and inhaling in a steady manner as you lower the weight.
All athletes should undergo medical checkups and use proper training techniques to minimize injury in the weight room. If in doubt about your breathing form during exercise and weight training, speak with your conditioning specialist for specific guidelines.
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