When we think of strength training we generally don’t usually associate breathe as a key part to the equation to being “strong.” Well I am here to tell you that the yogis got in right, breathing does in fact play one of the most important roles in being able to train safe, train efficiently, and train strong!
When obtaining proper posture (required in most strength training movements) we usually think about standing tall, trying to get those shoulders back, and not slouching over with forward head position. These are all great tips, but the one key piece here is breathing! Let us first talk about how to set yourself up to properly breath.
Set Yourself Up To Properly Breath
When we perform movement, especially in a loaded fashion (strength training), want to make sure we are in what is called a neutral “stacked” position. This thoracic spine (upper back) will have a mild kyphosis curve, the rib cage will be positioned down with the chest vertical, the lumbar spine (lower back) will have a small curve, and the pelvis will be in a neutral position. Posture is a general term used to describe your bodies best position to operate, this changes depending on the context. For the purpose of breathing and more specifically “bracing” we will used “stacked” to describe this neutral posture. When we are in a stacked position as mentioned above, we are able to now able to start the bracing process! If we are not in proper position our breathe does not have the same effectiveness as it does when we stacked, in some cases it can work against us and reinforce poor posture.
How Breathing Fits In
Now where does our breathe fit into this process!? Well team, when we learn how to breath into our diaphragm, essentially a breathing muscles that separates our chest and our abdomen, it actually increases the pressure in our “core.” For all intensive purposes this is usually what is referred to as “belly breathing” but it is actually so much more than that! When done properly you are actually breathing 360 degrees around your “stacked” torso which includes your: obliques (sides), back, abdominal wall (belly), and if you get it really really good at it all the way up into your ribs and chest. We are able to generate Intra-Abdominal Pressure (for short IAP) and this is where the true magic happens. Now because the diaphragm is a muscle as it fills up with air it actually expands and this expansion is what creates pressure in your core. It should feel almost as if you are pushing your belly out as your breathe and this is exactly what we are looking for.
Intra-abdominal Pressure, or IAP, is like our dial for the intensity of our exercise. As we fill our diaphragm in stacked position we can use our air regulate how much stability we need.
- In a max effort squat we will want to create more IAP, so we will breathe and hold our breath maximally for 1 rep.
- We are doing multiple reps of a squat so we will not be able to hold our breath for long periods of time. We then take a smaller breathe, hold a relatively strong IAP, repeat for each rep.
The great news is that these breathing technique, ability to stack, and create IAP are all trainable through a few simple drills. Once you are able to regulate your breathe and position in these drills you are able to now try them with the strength movements of your choice. The great thing is that many of our movements in life all require breathe and posture, so these are great for strength training and life!
If you’re interested in learning how to breathe and brace your way to a stronger squat, bench, and deadlift we are running a 4-week class called Breathe For Strength in March.