Breathing is one THE most often overlooked pieces of the
puzzle when it comes to weight training...and it can have a
tremendous impact on the results you get from your training!
Here's the thing that a lot of
people don't know about breathing...different exercises
require different breathing strategies. How you breathe in a
heavy squat is not even close to how you should breathe
while doing a pulldown.
So here's a rundown of how
to breathe while doing some of the more popular exercises (I
will assume your form is generally good - going in depth
into proper form for each exercise would make this a book
instead of an article!).
** Please note, if you have
blood pressure or any issues with holding your breath
(e.g. you easily get light-headed), you'll need to adjust
these breathing recommendations accordingly. These
instructions (for a few of the exercises, at least) are
intended for those who don't have issues with short periods
of breath holding.
1. How to Breathe When Doing Squats
start the descent, inhale deeply so that you complete
the inhalation by the time you're about halfway down. Hold
your breath from this point on, all the way to the bottom
and then about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way as you come back up.
Then exhale until you come all the way to the top. The
reason you want to hold your breath like this is to maximize
the stability of your abdominal region.
Breathing in or breathing
out (especially out as you come up out of the very bottom),
will destabilize the core area. To maximize strength and
power, your muscles need a stable platform to work from.
Keeping that solid core will also save your lower back from
strain because more tension will held in the abs rather than
being forced onto the lower back.
One of the key things I've
found in my own squat is that core strength (in the frontal
abdominal wall) is a HUGE part of successfully coming out of
the bottom. If I breathe out at the bottom, I'm done. But if
I save that exhalation until after I get past that point
where I need maximum core stability, I'll hit the lift and
power through that sticking point.
2. How to Breathe When
Doing Bench Press
Improper breathing on the
bench press is one of THE biggest reasons people are weak on
this lift. If you breath wrong, you lose that stability
(just like in the squat) and don't provide your body with a
solid platform from which to move the weight.
This technique applies to
heavier to moderate-weight benching - it's not as critical
on the lighter, higher-rep training to follow it as is
because the load is a lot less.
Picture yourself at the top
of the movement with the barbell locked out. Now lower the
bar, inhaling a deep breath as you come down. Here's the
key...you should finish taking in that breath by the time
you're halfway down (around your sticking point). This is
important for torso stability.
Hold your breath during the
bottom phase of the movement, just like in the squat. If you
start breathing out right at the bottom, you will not only
destabilize your torso, which will change the leverage in
your shoulders, it'll also sink down your chest and flatten
your shoulder blades out (which should be held in tight
behind you during the whole movement to maximize leverage).
Once you hit your sticking
point THEN start to exhale forcefully through pursed lips.
At this point, it's actually good to change the leverage in
your shoulders. When the bar is on your chest, it's not
good, but when the bar is halfway up, it can give you a
little extra leverage to get past that sticking point.
Keep blowing out all the way
to lockout. Then you can go right into your next rep or, if
you need it, hold that lockout and take in a breath or two
before starting the next rep.
3. How to Breathe When Doing
All Versions of Rows, Pulldowns and
Breathing during back
training is, to be honest, completely misunderstood by most
trainers...if you have trouble feeling your back while
training your back, it's generally your breathing pattern
that is messing you up.
You have to breathe
BACKWARDS when training back or your lats will never be in a
proper biomechanical position to fully engage. I'll
Generally speaking, you're
told to exhale on the exertion and inhale on the lowering
phase of an exercise. But here's the thing and
where people get confused...in back training, the exertion
LOOKS like the lowering phase of the exercise so THAT is
when people tend to exhale! Instead, you actually want to
INHALE as you perform the exertion. I'll use the pulldown as
When you perform a pulldown,
you want to puff your chest to meet the bar and have an arch
in your lower back to fully activate the lats. You don't
want a flat chest and a vertical torso position.
So when you pull the bar
down, that's the exertion. If you exhale (which you normally
would do) this actually caves in the chest and straightens
out your lower back. The moment this happens, it reduces lat
involvement and puts more stress onto other muscles. Switch things up and INHALE
as you're pulling down.
Now as you pull down, your
chest is expanding and rising up to meet the bar, which
instantly puts the lats in their best possible position to
activate. The difference is
instantaneous and HUGE. If you've always had trouble feeling
your back work, this will be a big eye-opener for you.
As you let the bar come back
on the negative, THAT is when you exhale. It's a bit of a
mind-bender the first time you do it...I can promise you
it'll make a big difference in your back training.
You'll now just apply that
same principle to the rest of your back exercises (except
the deadlift, which is a whole different animal...more akin
to the squat in terms of breathing). When you row, inhale as
you pull the handles or bar into your abdomen. When you
chin, inhale as you pull yourself up.
4. How to Breathe When Doing
Another very popular
exercise is the barbell curl...you may have heard of it :) One of the main problems
people have in the barbell curl is they are entirely too
loose. When doing ANY exercise with moderately-heavy to
heavy weight, you should basically "solidify" your body,
tightening everything up so that you're operating from a
strong, stable base. Even a barbell curl should
be done with a rock-solid body.
So at the bottom of the
movement, start by taking in a deep breath, puff your chest
up high and get your shoulders back. In my experience, I've
found it best to keep your breath held until just after you
get past the half-way point of the curl. To get past that
sticking point, you need the most stability possible for
your levers to operate maximally.
Once you get past that
mid-way point, THEN exhale forcefully but not completely.
You still need to keep some torso stability for holding the
weight at the top of the exercise.
Hold at the top for a
moment. At this point you have a choice...you can
immediately start lowering the bar and inhale on the way
down or you can hold at the top and take a quick breath in
and out then inhale on the way down after that.
5. How to Breathe When Doing Deadlifts
Proper breathing for the
deadlift is very similar to breathing for the squat...you
want to have the most stable core at the bottom of the
movement. In the case of the deadlift, this is the START of
So get yourself set up in
front of the bar and get ready to lift. It's important to
note with the deadlift (and I will include a technique point
here because I think it's an important one), don't try and
pop the bar off the floor, especially when using heavy
weight. You want to SQUEEZE the bar off the floor. A heavy
bar has to bend and if you pop it off the floor, the weight
will bounce up then down and pull you back down. So get the
bend into the bar with your initial lift THEN pull the
weight off the floor.
When you first start the
lift, you'll want to hold your breath during the first part
until around the point where the bar has cleared your knees.
I say "around" because if you're using really heavy weight,
it may take you a bit of time to get to that point and you
may need to start to exhale a bit sooner in the range of
motion, i.e. below your knees.
This bottom range is the
most vulnerable time for your lower back and you want to
keep the greatest stability in your core during that time.
So do hold your breath a bit at the bottom...don't start the
exhale (through pursed lips, like you're blowing up a
balloon) until you get that bar at least a few inches off
the ground and moving up. Keep going to the top, then
take a quick breath then lower the weight.
Personally, I prefer to hold
my breath on the way DOWN as well, simply because lowering
the weight is also a vulnerable time for your lower back,
especially as you get near the bottom. So inhale at the top
then hold as you get down to the halfway point.
Breathing plays a BIG role
in proper lifting and in achieving maximum strength. It'll
also make your lifting safer and overall, more effective.
Give these breathing tips a try in your training and you'll
feel the difference immediately!