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.