Don’t hold your breath


Breathing right is a very important aspect of all your workouts. A good breathing technique will help you lift more or make that last rep in your set.Thats not all though. A bad breathing technique can actually expose you to serious health risks. Don’t worry though, we are about to prepare you so you will stay out of danger.


Staying out of danger actually is the easy part. Just follow the number one rule of breathing during exercises:


“Never hold your breath for longer than half a rep”.


When you are just starting off, you should probably hold to the simpler rule of thumb:


“Never hold your breath during an exercise”


We will look closer at the exception to the rule that for now you should simply consider advanced breathing techniques. Lets start of under the assumption that holding your breath is always a bad idea.  So what is the problem with holding your breath? Why can holding your breath be dangerous? The answer has to do with blood pressure. While there are advanced breathing techniques that have you holding your breath for extra strength and balance during some specific exercises, these these techniques should better be left to advanced athletes. They may seriously raise your blood pressure if executed incorrectly and techniques promoted by some will seriously raise your blood pressure no matter what. So it raises your blood pressure. It’s only for a few seconds, right, so what harm can it do? Well, it’s exactly the fact that we are talking about a sudden sharp increase in blood pressure that is the problem. You could actually, in the most extreme case, get a stroke as a result of holding your breath during a demanding exercise or a retinal haemorrhage. I’m not trying to scare you here, holding your breath during strength exercises while you are still a novice at weight training and breathing techniques can be quite dangerous to your health.  Remember, we are doing this to improve our health and reduce risk factors. Introducing an additional risk factor by holding your breath, just for a tiny bit of extra strength and balance simply isn’t worth it. So how do you breath?


Pre-exercise breathing

Breathing is all about getting sufficient oxygen to your muscles during and after your workout. While breathing during the exercise is very important to sustain your strength throughout the whole set, pre-exercise breathing techniques help you to saturate your bodies blood with oxygen prior to starting your set. The best way to do it is in two stages. Before you pick up the weight, make sure you are standing, sitting or lying down comfortably and ready to start. Relax. Breath deeply and slowly in a relaxed manner for at least 3 breathing cycles. Continue to breath slowly while you reach for the weight and get ready for your first rep. Now, just prior to your first power rap, take three or four quick shallow breaths. After that, take one deeper breath and immediately start your set using the breathing techniques described below.


The base technique

Basically there are two types of strength exercises. The difference can be best explained when we take the example of free weight training. We have exercises where a pressing motion is used to overcome the forces of gravity pushing on the free weights. And than we have exercises where a pulling motion is used to overcome the forces of gravity pushing on the free weights. The base breathing technique dictates that in both cases you exhale when your motion directly opposes the forces of gravity. This implies that you inhale on the way back. It is important though you correctly and slowly do your exercises. This is the base technique we shall be tuning a bit to optimize your breathing for specific exercises where needed. Exhale against gravity, inhale on the way back.


Don’t run out of breath

It is possible that the above breathing technique will have you end up out of breath. If you do, don’t be too strict in following the base breathing technique. The first resort when experiencing out of breath issues with the base technique is to add an additional breathing cycle on the way back. Stick to the exhale against gravity and breath in, out and in again on the way back. Than try to revert back to the base technique for the next rep.




Some people have issues with the above technique of adding an extra breathing cycle on the way back. If you find out you are one of those people, there is another often used breathing technique that may be suitable for you. I recommend you seriously try the above techniques first before looking into the technique of steamtraining. With this technique you don’t follow the exhale against gravity discipline but instead use continuous quick and shallow breathing throughout your exercise. Its a technique that will take away from your optimum strength but a technique that will not have you running out of breath.  

If all else fails: breath normally

In the rare case that neither the standard technique with or without additional cycles nor steamtraining agrees with you. As a last resort you may simply ignore everything so far except for the holding your breath part and breath normally. It’s far from an ideal breathing technique but its still many times better than exposing yourself to the dangers of holding your breath.


Holding your breath anyway

When you’ve been working out for a longer time, and are doing some serious weight lifting multiple times a week, you may be ready to move on to more advanced breathing techniques that include holding your breath. While this blog post will not explain these techniques to you given that they are advanced and potentially dangerous techniques that are not to be moved to frivolously. Techniques that you should NOT be learning from a blog post, book or some Youtube video. When you start lifting with the big boys though you will have people starting to advice you to start using these techniques, so I won’t totally ignore them. Before you move on to advanced breathing techniques like these there is one important piece of pressing advice that I must deliver: Check your blood pressure. If you suffer from high blood pressure you should NOT be moving on to advanced breathing techniques that have you holding your breath. If your blood pressure is fine and you are determined to move to these techniques, don’t learn it from a book or video. Don’t learn it from some guy at the gym who learned it from a book or a video. Get a trained powerlifting instructor to instruct you and have him monitor you for a couple of times. You need to learn these techniques the proper and safe way or stay the hell away from them.  A trained instructor should be able to teach you the proper way to breath for specific exercises like squat and he will be trained to properly spot if you are breathing incorrectly. These techniques can be valuable assets when you are advancing your strength training skills and if you have a healthy base blood pressure and are instructed by a professional, than these techniques should be quite safe. They aren’t for beginners though and if you have high blood pressure or can’t find a professional instructor to teach you, you should not be trying to use them.


Post-exercise breathing

Your set won’t last forever, but when you are done, your muscle will continue to need some extra oxygen for a short while. Just like the way we started, try to end your set with a few slow and deep breaths. If you were doing an exercise that had you seated or lying down, remain seated or lying down during these deep breaths. Give your body the oxygen saturation is needs to recover from the hard work it just did.

This entry was posted on 5th September 2015. Bookmark the permalink.