On one hand it is an autonomic function and on the other it is the one autonomic function that we can consciously manipulate. It is to the latter side of the coin that I wish to address in this short post. I wish to emphasize here that these represent my own insights on the subject based on my subjective experience.
Most forms of activity that involve the lifting of weights involve some sort of intentionally patterned breathing scheme. We are taught to do this in order to provide a mechanical assistance in the movement of said load.
The objective of scheming one’s breathing is to act as a way to reserve resources and make moving the load easier. While not overtly what most would consider to be a form of breath holding, the truth is any conscious decision to breath in a particular manner will involve some degree (or at least will lead to eventually) the Valsalva maneuver.
The Valsalva maneuver is an important instinctual mechanism that has helped many a human out of a sticky situation or two.
I don’t wish to speak negatively of it, other than to emphasize that if one wishes to efficiently and directly strengthen muscle tissue, than it should be avoided at all cost. Remember that the point of the Valsalva mechanism is to unload specific structures to distribute stress globally. The moment this mechanism is enacted in any manner, you momentarily, but significantly give the intended musculature a respite.
There is only one correct way to breathe during safe and efficient strength training. I know that is a bold statement, but it is in my opinion, a correct one.
I mentioned earlier that for the most part breathing is autonomic.
If we wish to strengthen muscle then we must leave it that way or to express it differently, we must get out of its way. Any attempt to turn breathing into a technique of some sort is merely dressing up the Valsalva maneuver in different packaging.
So how does one breathe correctly during strength training (obviously I consider Renaissance Exercise to represent proper strength training)?
Simple, go slacked jaw and forget about it.
The slacked jaw part may seem silly, but don’t write it off as it is what allows one to breathe correctly.
Jaw tension is usually the first link in the chain that leads to the Valsalva maneuver.
This is easier said than done.
When introducing this concept to a subject for the first time, an instructor will literally be shocked with how many interpretations of ‘correct breathing’ there can be. Surprisingly, this is one of the biggest difficulties that most instructors face with a new subject (and even some long term ones).
To overcome any initial difficulties a subject may have, the instructor will sometimes mimic a sort of rapid ‘pant’ to have the subject go to the other extreme.
It has been my experience that while this instructional technique has certain applications (as when teaching ‘squeeze technique’), in general it is a mistake that will lead to other problems down the road.
What should be taught and emphasized isn’t how to breathe, but how NOT to hold the breath.
This is much easier to teach and much less of a hindrance to the learning process. If the subject is taught how to maintain focus on the rate of speed/movement and continually coaxed to keep the jaw loose (not puckered or pursed), then correct breathing will happen on its own.
It really is this simple.
This much simplified approach has a few distinct advantages over the common ‘purposeful hyperventilation’ approach that is taught by most ‘slow training’ HIT instructors.
In a few days I will follow up this post with the problems associated with ‘purposefully hyperventilating’ past the beginners stage.
Until then, I hope this gives everyone something to mull over.
Leave us your comments below and we will personally reply!