How often in gyms do you here Personal Trainers yelling cues like “use your core”, or “exhale on effort”?
It concerns me, having been in a multitude of gyms and having worked with hundreds of people– including SEVERAL PT’s over the last 10 years– how little knowledge there is on something that should be considered the single most important component in any kind of weight training. I am talking about the ability to PROPERLY breathe and brace.
Unfortunately, when performing any kind of lifting under load, it isn’t enough to just “tense your abs” and hope for the best. There is a very specific way we want to be breathing and bracing if we want to be able to lift heavy load – ESPECIALLY if we don’t want to get hurt in the process.
Firstly, lets discuss breathing – particularly when to do it, and how to do it. Contrary to how many personal trainers and health professionals have been taught, we DO NOT want to be breathing in as we lower the weight, and breathing out as we lift it. We will be breathing in deeply before attempting any lifting, and will not be exhaling until the movement is complete. An example of this is in a squat. We will breathe before un-racking the bar, we will then exhale and take a second breath once we have found our stance/starting position, and then we will complete our squat – exhaling out only once we are back in the lockout position.
Now the How.
When lifting weight, we must perform what is called “Diaphragmatic breathing”. Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly/stomach breathing, is the act of breathing into your diaphragm.
How to do it
Lie on your back, with your feet resting on a bench or chair.
Place one hand on your chest, and your other hand on your belly button.
Breathe in deeply, letting your stomach fill with air. (This will be exhibited by the hand on your belly button rising up as you breathe in, and lowering as you breathe out).
Once you’ve mastered step 3, stand up and try and do the exact same process in an upright position, and then under a barbell!
Now we know how to breathe, and when to do it – it’s time to add in bracing. Once we have filled up our diaphragm with air – we want to brace our abs. Make them as hard as steel – preparing to be punched in the stomach by the Hulk. Not just in our abs, but the entire way around our torso – bracing as hard as we possibly can. Once again, we maintain this brace the entire duration of each and every rep.
DISCLAIMER : The order is relevant here; breathe first to allow a greater amount of air into the diaphragm before bracing.
Why do we do it?
The reason we breathe and brace like this to create significant intra-abdominal pressure to stabilise and protect our spine whilst lifting. Imagine our diaphragm is a big balloon holding our spine in place during a lift, and now imagine on the way up we decide to let that balloon air out…. We would instantly lose the stability we created and you can imagine what that
would look like during a 300kg+ Squat/Deadlift. This is actually why most back injuries occur during these lifts. Instead, we want to hold the air in until we are able to reset safely in the starting position of a lift where our joints are stacked and there isn’t as much pressure on us.
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