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Breathing New Life Into Your Lifts

Reminder:  CFF's 8th Anniversary is Tuesday, August 9th.  Prizes will be awarded once per hour at each class.  There will be no specialty classes this day; every hour will be the WOD only.  Bring your friends to increase your chances of winning.  Don't miss this one!  Come on out and celebrate our anniversary with us!


by Geoff Rand


Today I’m going to teach you about sports bras

That was what Lieutenant Titus said to our group of ROTC cadets on my fourth day at Valley Forge Military College as we sat in front of him in the shooting range.  Amid the giggles and quizzical stares, I sat there thinking two years at this all-male school might not be that bad after all.  You have my attention, LT Titus.  Proceed.

Unfortunately, no fitness models walked out to assist him with his class, and he quickly crushed any fantasies we may have had moments later by wheeling out a large chalkboard with the following acronyms explained:

Slap the magazine

Pull the charging handle

Observe the chamber

Release the charging handle

Tap the forward assist

Squeeze the trigger





Squeeze the trigger

I learned three things that day.  First, there is an acronym for everything in the Army.  Second, SPORTS is an immediate action drill to remedy a malfunction with the M16 rifle.  Third, BRAS is a breathing technique essential to accurate shooting.

For long distance shooting, the way you breathe can be the difference between a hit and a miss.  The Army teaches us to fire during the natural pause between breaths.  This is the most stable position in our breathing cycle, and it minimizes excess movement of the rifle, helping to keep the round on target.

Still with me, and wondering where I’m going with all this?  What I’m getting to is just like proper breathing while shooting can help you hit your target, proper breathing in weightlifting can help you make your lifts.


A simplified approach to breathing when lifting would be to inhale while lowering the weight and exhale while lifting it, as you might envision doing during a bench press or squat.

However, this method does not set you up for optimal performance, especially under heavy load.

If you really want to get into the technical nuts and bolts of these concepts, Google Partial Valsalva, Intra-Abdominal Pressure, and Spinal Stability as they pertain to weightlifting.  To save you some clicks, I’ll summarize the concepts here.

The Valsalva maneuver is described as exhaling against a closed airway.  I use this method frequently to equalize my ears to the pressure when scuba diving.

Intra-Abdominal Pressure is the deep breath into your belly, as opposed to your chest, used to create a stabilizing force for your spine.  You should feel the air being drawn in by your diaphragm, creating pressure in your core.

Now think of a deadlift.  You take up a good position with your shins touching the bar, strong grip with straight arms, back straight, chest up and neutral head position.  Before you pull, you inhale into the belly and close off the airway by tightening the muscles at the back of your throat.  This forms something similar to a corset around the spine and helps to stabilize and protect the spine throughout the lift.  Once you have attained this stable platform, then you can pull the weight.  There’s one more key aspect to this breathing cycle, the exhale, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Now you might be saying, “Why don’t you just say hold your breath while lifting?”  Well, this method is more than just holding your breath.  You can easily hold your breath while doing nothing to affect spine stability.  And, if you hold your breath through the whole lift, and especially on repeated lifts, you are going to pass out.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the numerous examples of face planting lifters on Fail Army on YouTube.

You might hear lifters discuss “the sticking point” when talking about the technical aspects of lifting.  The sticking point refers to the spot in your lift where momentum is slowed and you either overcome the resistance, or you miss the lift.  In your breathing, you want to exhale as soon as you pass the sticking point.  This will keep you from getting light-headed and becoming a lawn dart.  This exhaling is the final step in your breathing sequence.

Know that you don’t want to linger for long at any of the points of the lift.  Get your position set, inhale and hold, pull, and exhale.  It should only be a brief few moments that you are holding your breath.  If you start to struggle with the sticking point, you may need to exhale before overcoming the resistance.  Just keep that core tight, inhale again and keep pulling or drop it.  You want to avoid using up all that oxygen you are holding in and passing out.

One very important word of caution.  Holding your breath while lifting can cause spikes in blood pressure.  If you suffer from high blood pressure or cardiac issues, breath hold lifting is not advised.  Talk to your doctor and consider continuous breathing, as described earlier.  Just be sure to focus even more on proper position and spine stability in your lifts.

As a side note, I’m starting to see similarities between yoga breathing and weight lifting breathing techniques.  Yoga’s movements are done at the pace of your breath and require intense focus to perform correctly.  I’m curious to see how this increased attention to my breath in yoga will carry over into my performance in lifts.

Even with a weightlifting coach standing over you, these breathing techniques will not be developed overnight.  It will take time and practice until your technique becomes more automatic.  Master it and you will see your lifts improve.



Getting to Know Your 1 Rep Max

Scheduling Note:  While Dave and Amanda are off this week, all classes will run as normally scheduled with our awesome coaches filling in for them.  Tuesday's Mobility 101 will be a yoga session run by Gabby.  There is NO ADDITIONAL CHARGE for members for this class.  If you have a yoga mat, please bring it, if not, we will have a few extra ones to lend out.

by Geoff Rand

I don’t come from a weightlifting background.  I worked out in the weight room in college, not really knowing what I was doing with no real training plan.  Until I started doing CrossFit, I had never heard of a 1 Rep Max (1RM), and aside from having a basic idea of what my max bench press probably was (but never really attempting it), the concept was totally unknown to me.

Fast forward to 2012 and my start of doing CrossFit, and suddenly my 1RM was a pretty important number to know, but I didn’t fully understand the concept until relatively recently.

What is 1RM?

Duh, it’s the maximum weight I can lift for one repetition, right?  Almost.  A good coach is going to add something to the definition like “while under control and in proper form.”  You might be able to wrangle a heavy load to a personal record by contorting, arching, or using momentum where there shouldn’t be, but it shouldn’t be considered a true 1RM unless it’s done properly and is controlled.  You'll also hear talk of tempo and 1RM, meaning to compare apples to apples, your 1RM attempts need to be done at the same tempo as one another to be a valid comparison.

Why you need to know your 1RM

Knowing your 1RM helps you figure out a starting weight in the strength portion of a WOD.  The recommended weight is often expressed in a percentage of your 1RM, such as 70% of 1RM.  If you don’t know what your 1RM is, you are merely guessing or picking a random start point.  That approach is not going to help you get stronger.  Testing your 1RM periodically also helps evaluate your progress.  More on this later.

How do you find your 1RM and how often should you train at 1RM?

Certain strength WODs will include 1RM movements, and the coaches will guide you on how to work up to that 1RM.  They are going to warm you up and then start you at a low, or even no load to get your form down and get the right muscles working for the movement with less of a chance of injury.

1RM training should be done infrequently.  1RM is more of a test.  It should stress the body to maximum output, and you don’t want to push yourself to this level all the time.  You’ll see in our programming that true 1RM lifts don’t come up very often.

So how do you figure out your 1RM if we aren’t doing 1RM lifts often?  You can calculate them.  See this chart.

1RM Percentage Chart

# of Reps            % of 1RM

1                          100

2                           95

3                           93

4                          90

 5                           87

  6                           85

  7                           83

  8                           80

 9                           77

 10                          75

  11                           73

    12                           70   

To use this chart, find a weight and do the max reps you can do at that weight.  You then take the number of reps you did and find the percentage listed for that number of reps.  Divide the weight you lifted by the corresponding percentage expressed as a decimal.  So as an example, if you lifted 200 lbs. for 6 reps, that is theoretically 85% of your 1RM.  To find out what that theoretical 1RM weight is, you divide that weight by the percentage you found on the chart, again, percentage is expressed as a decimal.  So, 200 lbs. divided by .85 would equal 235 lbs.  235 lbs. should be close to your actual 1RM, assuming you gave all you had to lift 200 lbs. for 6 reps.

You can also find apps for your phone and other online calculators that let you simply plug in numbers and find the same answers as the calculation above.

Where this all comes into real use is when you log your lifts.  No matter what the rep scheme is, keeping a log will help you track your progression and make sure you are starting at a meaningful point, not some arbitrary number or one that feels comfortable to you.

As I log my lifts, I also note anything that may have affected them.  Maybe I tweaked my wrist punching a crackhead the night before.  I might be a little off my max number the next day.  That goes in the log.

What else should I know about 1RM?

If you’ve got tools in your gym bag, 1RM attempts are the time to use them.  Belts, wraps, chalk, etc., this is where those pieces of gear can really help.  You should also note what gear you used for these lifts in your logbook.  Ideally, as you get stronger, you should be lifting heavier weight without the aid of additional gear, and only add that gear for the last few rounds of a series of heavy lifts.

1RM attempts and the last few rounds of a series of lifts at any weight should be uncomfortable.  You’re going to wish Amanda wasn’t snapping photos that day.  When going for 1RM, the veins will be popping out of your neck and forehead, you’re going to be making that demon face and letting out that war cry.  These are all signs that you are pushing yourself.  Just remember to breathe.

Use a spotter.  To truly give your all, especially on things like squats and bench presses, you need to take away the fear of not being able to get up or even worse, crushing yourself.  Knowing that someone is there to grab you or grab the weight can give you the confidence to really push yourself.  Just communicate with your spotter and make sure to let them know if you are going to drop the bar.

When you know your 1RM it helps you in all other schemes of lifts and is essential to strength progression.  Know your 1RM and push yourself hard and you will see results.