We all know how important breathing is to sustain life. But what you probably didn’t realize is that there are a right and a wrong way to do it. When we aren’t breathing correctly and utilizing our breath to its fullest potential, we are causing unnecessary stress on our bodies. I hope to provide you with some breathing techniques for exercise and endurance across different forms of exercise in the post below.
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Normal Diaphragm Breathing
I tell all of my clients, this is the first place we want to start in our breathing techniques. It is very important to have a strong foundation. A great way to assess your breathing is to lay down flat. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Now take a deep breath in through your nose. Take note of whether or not your chest moves, your belly moves or both. Ideally, the only thing that should be moving is your belly if you are using good diaphragm breathing techniques.
Before any form of exercise, you should always start and end with diaphragm breathing. This helps your body get into the habit of maintaining optimum breathing techniques. Once you have mastered this, you can move on to the other forms of breathing discussed in this post.
Breathing Techniques for Exercise: Heavy Lifting
The best breathing technique for heavy lifting is the Valsalva maneuver. This is essentially when you make a forceful attempt to exhale, while actually holding your breath. This should be used for low rep cycles when their weight is extremely heavy. Basically, you are bracing yourself to lift a very heavy load.
A big question surrounding the Valsalva maneuver is does it increase your strength? There was an interesting study done in 2009 comparing the Valsalva maneuver to regular breathing in instances where a person was lifting 80 to 100% of their max PR weight. This study found that by using the Valsalva maneuver to stabilize the core, it increased strength in the shoulders, elbows, quads, and hamstrings!
How to Perform the Valsalva Maneuver
As always, you need to be checking with your physician before you start these types of exercises, especially under a very heavy load. To perform the Valsalva maneuver you are going to take a big inhale. Close your mouth and purse your lips tightly. Then you want to bear down and push your belly out. Almost like you’re creating a food baby with air. This is done in short spurts, usually about 10 to 15 seconds.
For more information regarding how to properly perform the Valsalva maneuver please check out our YouTube page.
Breathing Techniques for Exercise: HIIT, Metcons, and Cross-Training
There are a few different breathing techniques we will be discussing in this next section. These techniques include anatomical vs. biomechanical breathing, system air-breathing, and box breathing or tactical breathing. For each of the above techniques, we will discuss what they are best suited for and how to perform them.
This occurs whenever the inhale is matched with the eccentric phase of a movement and the exhale is matched with the concentric phase of a movement. Let’s describe this concept by working through a squat. You will inhale on the eccentric phase, then lowering into the squat, and you will exhale on the concentric phase, the upward phase.
This increases intra-abdominal pressure, similar to the Valsalva maneuver mentioned above. The increased abdominal pressure stabilizes the core and allows you to explode more effectively out of your squat. This breathing technique is excellent for strength training with weight less than 80% of your max and tempo work.
This is essentially the opposite of biomechanical breathing. So you are going to exhale on the eccentric phase and inhale on the concentric phase. This is used to relax into a movement. The inhale on the concentric phase of the movement allows your muscles, doing the work to be assisted by the movement of the rib cage.
This is a simple technique used by those participating in CrossFit. You breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth using the pendulum principle. You breathe in for 4 seconds, then out for 4 seconds. There is no pause or hold in between the inhale and exhale. This technique also works well for runners.
Interestingly enough, but using these techniques and breathing more efficiently, you are going to increase your endurance and speed up recovery time.
This is the last breathing technique I will be discussing, and again it is super simple. This technique is also known as tactical breathing or the Navy Seal breathing technique. This form of breathing is great for regaining control of your mind in a stressful situation, or just to help you relax or meditate.
To perform this technique, you are going to inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, leave your lungs empty for 4 seconds. One place I like to apply this technique is when I am putting my son to bed. If I control my breathing, he will match mine and calm himself down to go to sleep.
For videos of the mentioned breathing techniques please check out our Youtube page. For more information about Mobility Athletes please check out our website.