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Breathing is the key to performance.

Updated: Apr 23

Strength athletes frequently talk about the importance of breathing, and therefore we assume they have a good understanding and knowledge of it. Like all adults, our strength athletes have changed the way they breathe and over the years their breathing has become ineffective.

Regarding our children, they naturally inhale horizontally, both in the stomach and their rib cages. Without thinking, their midsections dilate on inspiration and retract on expiration.

Then our children start to copy and listen to the adults when they tell them to breathe deeply. Our children thus switch from horizontal breathing to vertical breathing where they inhale by lifting their upper chest and shoulders.

Children switch from breathing primarily using the primary respiratory muscles to breathing primarily using the secondary respiratory muscles. The diaphragm "locks up" because of this misuse of the respiratory muscles, which creates a decrease in the amount of air mobilized with each breath.

We therefore need to re-learn to breathe, while making sure that the respiratory muscles become strong enough to do so again. If we do this, each breath will increase our energy reserves, decrease our state of fatigue, and eliminate metabolic waste more quickly during and after each workout.

Regain his breath.

When we engage the primary respiratory muscles and correct this breathing pattern, the diaphragm flattens and creates pressure which causes the abdomen to expand in all directions circumferentially. This horizontal breath widens not only the belly, but also the rib cage.

When we breathe out, those same areas get narrower. If we adopt horizontal breathing, we create a better balance of gas exchange, our breathing is of better quality. We also improve our posture by correctly using the secondary respiratory muscles, thus avoiding their over-use.

The first step is to feel your breath. Gently place your open hands on your stomach, at the sides of your body to create a tactile cue. Your thumbs should be at the edge of your lower ribs and your fingers should extend below. Keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed, take a deep breath. You can close your eyes to feel the air inflate your stomach and rib cage under your hands. As you exhale all the air, use your hands to feel your abdominal muscles to contract. Do this with your eyes closed a few times to really encourage that horizontal breathing. I highly recommend you read it: Breathing For Warriors.

Recovery during and between two workouts

There are two important periods regarding our recovery.

The first is the recovery period between each workout. The second period is between the series where the stress episodes. Our overall recovery is strongly influenced by our lifestyle, our diet, and the way we breathe.

After training, the way we breathe is a major contributor to the recovery and adaptation processes. If we breathe horizontally with good diaphragmatic function, then we are better able to detoxify our body, and provide the elements that our body needs to recover.

Deep breathing using certain techniques also helps reduce physiological and psychological stress. When you reduce stress, you optimize your recovery by influencing the nervous system.

From breath to performance.

The secondary respiratory muscles, when used as a priority, during vertical breathing, limit our efforts, and prevent us from doing quality work. When we lift heavy loads and create stress on our spines, we need to use breathing to create abdominal stiffness in order to strengthen our spines. Good breathing creates internal pressure that strengthens our trunk to protect our spine and thus allow a better quality of movement.

When we make an effort with maximum loads, we hold our breath, in order to stiffen our abdomen, this action is called “a Valsalva maneuver”.

When we perform a Valsalva maneuver, we use horizontal breathing to increase intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure will cause a vertical thrust in the diaphragm and pelvic floor, creating decompression of the lumbar vertebrae.

Breathing itself contributes to greater production of strength and stability, which is why the epi-center of our strength is the abdomen.

The best way to think about this co-contraction of the muscles is to pretend that you are about to receive a really hard kick in your abdomen.

When you do not use horizontal breathing on a regular basis, the primary muscles can be used and become weak. In fact, it will be difficult for you to create intra-abdominal and intrathoracic pressure.

During prolonged efforts

If we do longer sets with loads, we can't hold our breath all the time. However, we still need to keep our core rigid in order to protect our spine and transfer our power through our body. During long-term exertion, it is important to maintain efficient breathing in order to provide sufficient oxygen to the muscles involved. Maintaining horizontal breathing during prolonged exertion will help maintain intrathoracic pressure, but it is not an easy thing to accomplish.

For example, when you are doing barbell squats, and the number of reps is high. You must first, in the starting position, take a deep breath (abdominal breathing), hold your breath when you squat, and begin to breathe out when you come back to the starting position. You can repeat this pattern over an extended period of effort. If the load mobilized is greater, the respiratory block can be maintained throughout the return phase to the starting position.

During the exhalation phase, the muscles of the abdominal straps will be used to maintain intra-abdominal pressure.

During prolonged efforts, we have to catch our breath at times, the need for a deep breath of air, can contribute to switching from horizontal breathing to vertical breathing. We thus go from effective breathing to counterproductive breathing.

Breathing in a rhythmic pattern while maintaining core stiffness can be used with some rhythmic exercise. To start the exercise correctly you need to synchronize your breathing with the exercise phases. Using the kettlebell swings as an example, you can inhale as you guide the kettlebell down and exhale, to increase intra-abdominal pressure as you exert force while pulling the kettlebell up.

You can also test how fast this breathing should be paced. You can inhale for two swings and exhale as you exert force as you lift the kettlebell upward during the third swing.

To conclude

It's such a simple idea. Breathe more deeply, better, and be aware of the way you are breathing. You will be able to fight fatigue and lift more weight. You will have more energy, and your recovery capacity will be faster.

Thank you

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