Just when you thought you had your lifts on point, something always comes along that makes you think you could be doing more. It might be in the changing rooms after reaching a new personal best, or maybe you skim-read something online (like this) that makes you think your workout wasn’t all that it could be.
As you should well know by now, we’re all about fuelling your ambition, and no, we’re not talking about steroids or anything illicit or that you haven’t heard of. What are we talking about? The air in your lungs.
That’s right, it’s free, it’s everywhere and sometimes after a hard workout it isn’t as easy to swallow. As Keith Richards said (being famous for bodybuilding): “Remember to breathe.”
Remember to breathe
When you exercise, your muscles go into overtime and so their need for oxygen increases. When you’re exhausted or exerting yourself in the gym you breathe faster to take in more oxygen to meet the needs of your muscles.
When you’re starting out you’ll be inclined to hold your breath when you lift. People do it every day by instinct.
How should you breathe?
You might be surprised to learn that there’s more than one way. We’re not talking about the option of your mouth or nose, but how you fill your lungs. This generally falls under chest or diaphragm breathing.
By breathing with your chest you use ancillary muscles that you didn’t intend to and that may also inhibit your lifting. Breathing to fill your chest may cause tension in your neck and shoulders. Filling your diaphragm is a technique used to calm panic attacks and is a good way to catch your breath between exercises.
Another bad habit is to take short, shallow, quick breaths as if you’ll catch the wind you need by panting. This has the opposite effect and will not allow you to fill your lungs with the oxygen it needs. Next time you’re panting after an exercise, that’s precisely when you need to take slow, deep breaths.
To ensure you’re working at full-strength, you need to lift with as much oxygen in your body as possible. If you’re depleted you’re not going to be able to lift as effectively as you’d like, will probably be struggling to concentrate and motivate you, and will reach a plateau.
So how is it done?
Using the bench press as our example, as you grasp the bar take slow breaths in, hold, and release. When you’re ready to lift, fill your lungs, pause and sip a little more air so that it’s a deeper breath than normal. Don’t overdo it, as an overfill could be just as detrimental if you feel like you’re going to pop with all that weight above you.
As you bring the bar down towards your chest, the most difficult point is around halfway. This means you should let your air out slowly through your mouth as the bar lowers.
You should time your breath in again as you return to the starting position. With practice with your timing, you’ll find that this technique gets you that ‘second wind’ when muscle failure kicks in.
With that in mind, the right breathing technique could see you through those extra reps you couldn’t meet and see you over that plateau you were stuck at before.