The vast majority of people go to the gym to push themselves. Often, they have a fitness goal they wish to reach and are set on reaching it. When you’re in the gym lifting weights, there is so much to focus on. You want to make sure that you’re doing the correct lifts, lifting the appropriate weight, and keeping a safe form. What else might you be forgetting? Your breathing!
You may not think there is a need to emphasize your breathing, but you would be mistaken. Proper breathing is crucial to the performance of your life and, more importantly, your health. You are putting yourself at risk when you hold your breath during weightlifting.
Focusing on the rate, quality, and control of your breathing allows you to be much more efficient and safer in your lifts.
What is Breathing?
Everyone instinctually knows how to breathe. If not, we would not be able to live. Your body does it for you without you needing to tell it to.
Your muscles require oxygen to function. It is essentially their fuel. They need oxygen in order to do just about anything, including walking, talking, and exercising. When you engage in working out, your muscles require more oxygen than what they typically need.
If you are at sea level, the air you breath is roughly 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen. As you breathe in air, it passes through your larynx, also commonly referred to as “your voice box.” Next, it will go through your vocal cords, followed by the trachea. It passes through the right and left main bronchus, which are the pathways that bring air to the lungs. Smaller branches of the bronchi known as the bronchiole are what air passes through next. Finally, it reaches the alveoli, tiny air sacs in your lungs, which separate the oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Your lungs then pump oxygen to your brain, heart, and muscles while removing carbon dioxide from your body through your nose and mouth.
As we mentioned, the more effort you put into your activities, the more oxygen your body requires. If you have an adequate breathing technique, you can efficiently deliver oxygen to your muscles, improving your performance.
The Dangers of Improper Breathing
When you have a proper breathing pattern during weightlifting, you are ensuring that your body receives the oxygen it requires. It also makes sure that the blood circulating through your blood is properly oxygenated, purging your body of any waste. So, when you do hold your breath while lifting, you put yourself at risk of a dangerous rise in blood pressure.
The act of holding your breath during weightlifting is known as the Valsalva maneuver. If you pay attention to powerlifting, you may have noticed may athletes utilize this method when they attend a heavy lift. The Valsalva maneuver provides core strength and helps protect the spine.
However, it is important to note that these powerlifters are only using this technique on one extremely heavy rep. The period does cause a rise in blood pressure, but it is minor and not considered dangerous.
Unfortunately, many beginners and even those who have been lifting for some time still use this maneuver. Using the Valsalva maneuver for anything other than short-duration heavy lifts can lead to dangerous rises in blood pressure. This rise can lead to blood vessels in your head, eyes, and elsewhere to burst. You may even experience dizziness, blurred vision, and fainting. Hernias are also common outcomes when holding your breath during lifting.
Unless you plan on attempting a one-rep max, there is no reason to hold your breath while weightlifting.
Proper Breathing Techniques
It may be tempting for many gym newcomers to hold their breath, but you should be more careful. If you feel as though you can’t lift a weight without holding your breath, consider trying lighter weight. This will allow you to better focus on your form and breathing.
Far too many people do not use their diaphragm to breath. It is located between your thoracic cavity (your chest) and your abdominal cavity. It should be what powers the majority of your breathing.
Too many people take short, shallow breaths that begin and end in their chests. Your lungs won’t receive as much oxygenated air, which means your muscles won’t receive oxygen either. Diaphragmatic breathing engages your diaphragm muscles. You should slowly breathe through your nose, fill your abdominal area, and then slowly exhale. Diaphragmatic breathing helps activate your core muscles while promoting muscle recovery.
To practice this method, lay on the ground with one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. As you slowly breathe in and exhale through your nose, pay attention to your chest and stomach. With diaphragmatic breathing, only your stomach should inflate and deflate.
By mastering this method, you enable your body to perform at a much higher, more efficient level.
Breathing and Lifting Weights
As we have touched on briefly, there is a safe and healthy way to breathe when you lift weights. Only on a one-rep max should you consider using the Valsalva maneuver. Other than that, all lifters need to focus on their breathing to protect themselves and get the most out of their lift.
Here are some good tips to follow to ensure you have the most efficient and safe lift possible:
- Before you begin your work out, practice breathing. Make sure you are engaging your diaphragm, ensuring your body continues to get the most oxygenated air.
- Take a deep breath in on the eccentric portion of your lift. For the bench press, this would be when you lower the weight to the chest. For dumbbell curls, it is when you lower the dumbbell down to its original position.
- Exhale during the concentric phase of the lift. For the bench press, this will be when you explode upward. For dumbbell curls, it is when you lift the dumbbell to your shoulder.
- Avoid the Valsalva maneuver during regular sets.
The basic breathing technique for lifters should be to take a deep breath in as they lower the weight and exhale as they lift the weight or work against gravity. You will be able to properly circulate oxygen throughout your body to your muscles and protect you from harm.
There are countless things to focus on while at the gym. You need to be sure you know what workouts you have planned, you have to be sure you perform the proper form for each workout, and you have to make sure you are breathing properly. At Fitness Nation, we understand how difficult it can be to commit to a gym membership. However, our staff is here to make sure you feel confident and comfortable in our facilities. Contact us to learn more.