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by Evan Yoak

It recently has come to my attention that many folks are breathing incorrectly in their lifting. I was going to write about something else this week, but I consider this topic very important because I like to avoid spinal injuries, and also because I like lifting more weight (plus it relates to the other topic anyway). So read on if you like those things too.

I could write a lot on this topic, but I won’t because it’s important, so I want people to actually read about it, and because it’s simple. Trainers who think balance boards are better than barbells will tell you to suck your abs in; people who actually lift heavy weights will invariably tell you to push your abs out. Yes, you look more shredded with your abs sucked in – who cares. If you expand your abdomen, however, you get better intra-abdominal pressure, meaning that you have a more “locked out” space surrounding your spine. In other words, you get better tension in your body and a more stable spine: more tension means more weight lifted, and a more stable spine means less back injuries. So the breathing process looks like this for, say, a Front Squat:

  1. Breathe in deeply. Your chest should NOT rise because you shouldn’t be breathing into your upper lungs – breathe deeply into the diaphragm in your midsection.
  2. Expand your abs, whilst tightening the abs, the glutes, and the upper back
  3. Hold your breath during the lift. If doesn’t take long to complete, you can do 2 (or sometimes 3) reps with one breath; if it’s a long rep, you can hiss, grunt, growl, scream, etc., while you rise out of the hole, as this, (a) prevents you from passing out, and (b) gives you extra tension for a brief second to break through a sticking point in the squat. At no point release all your air, as you’ll instantly get loose.
  4. Repeat at the top of every rep if they’re heavy reps, or every other rep if they’re lighter reps, as per (3)

And that’s it. By the way, when you use a belt, it’s meant to facilitate this process. It’s NOT meant to physically hold your back in place; rather, you should tighten the belt somewhat less than totally so you can breathe out against it, which, again, lets you generate more tension. It’s a physical reminder to breathe out and get tight, and if you do it right, you will indeed feel more solid (and not because some crappy plastic is strapped to your torso).

A final point. Sometimes doctors who know nothing about training or lifting weights will tell you that you’ll have a brain aneurysm if you hold your breath (which I suppose is where that whole ridiculous exaggerated-overexhalation-on-every-rep in Globo Gym comes from). So I was going to be all diligent and research this on Pubmed, but I actually think one quote suffices to sum up the problem: ” Aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage associated with weight training: three case reports.” I laughed so hard when I read that the dog got excited and thought we were going to play. Three cases?? I mean, I might get struck by lightning too, but I’m still going to keep going outside. And this is the point: I’ve seen many many people lose their backs training, and some of those got injured; I’ve never see anyone have a stroke or a cerebral hemorrhage. And I’ll reiterate, if it’s a longish rep, you do forcefully exhale via your hiss or grunt or caveman growl, which keeps you from keeling over in a pool of your own cerebral fluid just in case and lets you stand up that new PR.

On the other hand, I suspect a lot of people don’t expand their abdomens because they don’t know how – it’s not actually easy/trivial to do if you’re not aware of your breathing. So we’ll add that into the homework this week:

Tarea #4:

  1. Breath Drill (courtesy of Ani Whizz) – lying face up, put a bowl or a small change plate (2.5 or 5#) on your abdomen. Breathe in deeply whilst tightening your entire body and expanding your diaphragm, which will make the bowl/plate rise. If the implement doesn’t rise and/or your chest rises, you’re doing it wrong – keep practicing. 1 set of 10 reps, 3x week (preferably before lifting)
  2. Breathe Out When Lifting – i.e., in your Front Squats, Deadlifts, Olympic weightlifting movements, presses, etc. actually put into practice what you worked on in (1) and breathe with an outwardly expanded abdomen. Think about it before each set so it becomes habit.
  3. Quadriceps Roll with Barbell – 2 min./quad, 3x/week
  4. 3 x 1:15 Superman Hold, alternated with 3 x 20 Glute Bridges (hold the superman for a minute and fifteen, perform 20 controlled glute bridges during the rest, and repeat twice more)
  5. No sitting on couches or chairs while watching TV, with minimum *10* minutes of squatting. You can lay, you can mobilize, you can sit Indian style or in lotus (with a neutral spine!), you can and should try all sorts of different positions, but you must squat for at least 10 minutes total. Should be a relaxed squat, the back can round here in the squat since it’s not under load and will decompress in that position. 7x/week (i.e., any time you watch TV or movies or whatever).

Lots of squatting and lunges this weekend, so get those quads loose for efficient moving with the rolling and the squatting. Keep getting your back and posterior chain strong as well. And breathe for performance. Merry WODding!