As a 200-hour Certified Yoga Instructor, I have long preached the importance of breath, but proper breathing techniques are not just for yoga enthusiasts. Breath is a crucial component to a successful weight lifting routine.
In a yoga practice, the inhalation should correspond with the lengthening of the body and the exhalation with the movement into a pose, it is similar with lifting weights as the inhalation accompanies the eccentric portion of the exercise and the exhalation during the concentric phase. Breathing in when you lower the weight, and out as you lift will aid in muscle engagement throughout the core and total body, helping to protect the joints under stress.
Though some Olympic weightlifters use the Valsalva Maneuver, a holding of the breath while straining during the lift, the risks outweigh the benefits. The thought behind the Valsalva Maneuver is that the increased intra-abdominal pressure provides more support for the back, however, this same effect can be achieved by engaging the core abdominal muscles during the exercise. Holding your breath while straining during a workout can lead to increased blood pressure and put you at risk for dizziness, vision disturbances, fainting, or even stroke.
Taking a few moments before and after a workout to focus on your breath will also help to increase the effectiveness of the strength training session. We have a natural tendency to hold our breath when under stress. Deep breathing exercises prior to a weightlifting session will help retrain the brain and the body to maintain proper breath when under stress. Inhaling through the nostrils, allow the abdomen to expand followed by ribs and chest, taking a full, slow breath complete by exhaling through the nostrils allowing chest and ribs to relax, pushing the remainder of air out by pulling the abdomen towards the spine. Complete another few sets of this slow breathing technique after a workout to increase circulation and oxygen to the muscles for an increased recovery time.
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