Attention everyone, winter is coming...oh wait, sorry. Ready or not, here it comes, it’s time for everyone to get their March Madness on! I certainly enjoy it, and one of my favorite parts is the free throws. Ever notice how each player has their own routine? I’ve actually been meaning to post about this for a while. No, not about my NCAA conspiracy theory (future post?), but about the one common thing they each do...breathe.
To paraphrase Dean Somersett, breathing is not just gas exchange, it’s so much more than that. Breathing is an essential to fitness & overall health, and yes, I do mean to state the obvious. When effectively controlled, breathing actually plays a role in several ways. It’s helpful for mobility, for technique, and for rhythm (for lack of a better term).
Most people are very much a chest breather or a belly breather as they call it. One or the other isn’t right, in my opinion, you need to be both. Generally speaking chest breathers end up shrugging more, usually causing some sort of shoulder or neck pain, and belly breathers get pretty locked up in their torso because they haven’t let their rib cage expand in any capacity and can experience low back or even hip pain. I will generally use 1 of 4 breathing exercises in a warm up, it’s rare someone doesn’t have one.
This one really gets people to understand how to use all the muscles to get that expansion in your rib cage.Outside of t-spine mobility, this is the most effective way to get that rib cage from being too tight. Make sure both upper and lower portion of the torso rise and fall. The exhale is usually the hardest part to get down, make sure every last bit of breath is out.
Maybe someone took a big hit in a sport or maybe they’ve just spent too many years at a desk, either way, if someone has been jacked up to heck with their spinethis is a good one to get those little spine muscles to loosen up.
90/90 Breathing w/ Hip Lift
This one I find will provide some stability and help (re)align those hips before exercise. Those with hip and back issues will definitely see this exercise pop up at some point, if not, you may want to reconsider your program. If you want a good video and an extra tidbit of information on it, check out my friend Ashley’s post on Instagram below.
Side Lying Breathing
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do nearly as often, but if I feel like it is going to help the client or provide long term benefits, I’m not against it. Typically if someone is having a noticeably harder time get their rib cage to open up on one side, this comes in to play. Every exercise has its targeted use.
Some refer to this as a Valsalva maneuver. It’s a bit more of an advanced technique, but when you start piling on those wheels, it’s something that is required to pull of those big lifts. Here’s the basics of it, with the bar on your shoulders, take a deep breath in (use that belly!). Pause. Then descend into the bottom of your squat. Control your exhale on your way up, while pushing. When I feel this will someone is ready for this, I will first program it into their warm up with a goblet squat. A similar technique can be used with the deadlifts, only instead, you brace at the bottom and then lift.
This kind of goes along with the technique thing but it’s worth mentioning in it’s own breath. The basic premise of this is to make sure people breathe through out their exercise. How many of us hold their breath or know someone that holds their breath when they do an exercise? *Everyone’s Hands Go Up* Yeah exactly, and usually this ends poorly.
Without getting super technical and trying to keep it understandable (to the best of my ability), here is what I’d recommend.
You should exhale during the exertion part of the movement aka when you’re actually lifting the weight/your body. For example, for things like Split Squats, RDLs, and Bench Press, this is when you are extending the limbs. For things like rows and leg curls, this is when you are flexing the limbs.
You should inhale, for lack of a better term, on the way down, aka when you’re coming to a point of “rest”. However, for some exercises this would not be an ideal place to actually rest, like at a bench with a bar on your chest or squats with a bar on your shoulders/back.
First XV’s Pro Tip: If you can’t tell whether or not a client is actually breathing during their movements, have them count the reps out loud.
To wrap it up, just because we do it naturally, breathing isn’t something that should be an afterthought . Forget for a moment the fact that we need to breathe to stay alive, and think about it practically. If we make sure we’re incorporating breathing techniques into our programs and lifting techniques, we can utilize it to not only improve our lives, but to help us crush it in our training as well. I hope everyone has a great day, now go work on that whole “gas exchange” thing.
Jarrod Dyke, CSCS