By Kim Duke, NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer
Breathing effectively and efficiently during any physical activity will enable you to achieve maximal performance; it is just as important as maintaining correct form, using the correct weight and lifting tempo.
Whether you’re lifting barbells in the gym or moving house furniture, it’s probably your natural inclination to hold your breath. Improper breathing technique can quicken fatigue, cause dizziness and increase your blood pressure, which can lead to fainting. By breathing correctly when lifting, you will likely have a higher degree of control and alertness during your exercise. Breathing correctly can help you avoid weight-room-related injuries. Never start this or any new exercise regimen without consulting your doctor first.
It is a good idea to get the basics right at the beginning. Ensure you use a weight, which is well within your comfort zone, therefore enabling you to concentrate on the correct form and breathing techniques. Don’t worry—the weight will soon increase, but bad execution of form becomes habit and is harder to rectify. You will also achieve greater results getting it right from the beginning and a much-reduced chance of injury or suffering from a delayed onset of muscular soreness (DOM’S).
Start by doing some deep breathing exercises before you start your workout session. Close your eyes and take in a deep breath through your nose, hold it for one or two seconds and let it go through your mouth. Repeat this for a few minutes. Deep breathing before you exercise sets the stage for controlled breathing during your workout. It relaxes you and makes you more conscious of your breathing.
Most trainers will agree that it is more natural, as a general rule, to inhale on the eccentric (relax phase), and exhale forcibly, but steadily, on the concentric (exertion phase) of the movement. An example of this can be demonstrated using the barbell bench press— inhale before lowering the bar to the chest, and exhale when you are pushing the weight away from you.
When in doubt, just remember to exhale during the exertion portion of your weight-lifting routine. Inhale at the top of your lift, especially if you are doing isometric exercises, where you hold the contraction for an extended period of time. Keep the muscles in your lower back and abdominals engaged throughout your weight-lifting routine to encourage healthy breathing and protect your spine.
Failing to breathe properly, such as breathing in short, quick breaths, increases your body’s production of lactic acid and speeds up your heart. It also decreases your exercise endurance, which can slow down your routine or force you to stop prematurely. Failing to exhale during the exertion part of weight lifting can lead to serious injury such as blood vessel strain, hernias and high blood pressure.