Often overlooked, deliberate breathing can be an extremely useful tool when it comes to strength training. Not only does it help coordinate our movements, but it can be critical for exercise safety.
The general rule of thumb is to inhale during the eccentric/ lengthening phase of the exercise (i.e. the downward phase of a squat) and exhaling during the concentric/ shortening phase (i.e. the upward phase of a squat). When we inhale, we create rigidity in our torso and a sort of protective barrier around our spine. This “abdominal bracing” can help eliminate any excess spinal flexion or extension during a big lift and allow us to engage the proper muscle groups in a given exercise.
Now, let’s break down what a good breath really looks like. Many people are solely chest or belly breathers, but with a full breath you are looking for 360 degrees of expansion in your torso. This means that you are not only seeing movement anteriorly, but laterally and posteriorly (breathing into your sides and back as well as your front). Full expansion will lead to the most stability around your spine and will ultimately lead to more effective, safe strength training.
Timing and coordinating your breathe can also create methodical movement and give you a focus point during your working set.
Likewise, full and expansive breathing is important for aerobic exercise as well as strength training. Often times when we begin to feel short of breath, we take quick and shallow breaths to try and “catch up” to our lack of oxygen. However, it is much more efficient to take deeper, slower breaths and fill our diaphragm with each inhale. With the latter, we are getting more bang for our buck by delivering more oxygen to our bodies with each breath.
Conclusion: breathe deep and deliberately, coordinate your breath with your movement, and fully expand your torso with each breath!
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS