Proper Breathing Mechanics for Weightlifting and Metabolic Conditioning
Dcl Blog #3 - February 17, 2016You have to breathe!!!
From the day we are born, we have involuntary muscle movements. Our body is born knowing how to do certain things. It knows how to pump blood throughout the body, it knows how to digest food, and it knows how to breathe. Breathing is a basic part of life. The problem with involuntary muscle contractions is we take them for granted. We train every muscle group we can to look better or to increase our athletic potential. You will constantly see people seek a coach to work on their squat, the clean and jerk, or their gymnastic abilities but what we often forget is that, just as all these are skills that must be practiced, breathing should be worked on as well.
Practicing Breathing as a skill
Admit it, we have all done it: following a high intensity workout, we lay on our backs and we gasp for air hoping to somehow recover and get our bearings back. I know how it is, it is a miserable place to be in. This, however, is the worst thing we can do. When we lay down after a workout, it is the equivalent of a car going from 75 MPH to zero. Your body has no idea what just happened to it. Anyone who has spent a day at the lab knows, I’m the annoying guy yelling at you as you lay down and telling you to go for a walk and bring your heart rate down gradually. When you do this, it forces you to breathe. I make my athletes go outside and take nice, slow, deep breaths in through their nose and out through their mouths. By doing this, you bring your heart rate down naturally and prepare yourself for the next challenge ahead of you. By taking deep breaths through your nose and out of your mouth, you will notice considerable changes in your heart rate. I recently worked with a female athlete who is using a heart rate monitor and by controlled breathing through her nose, she was able to bring her heart beat down 20 beats per minute in 3 breaths. One of the best aspects of yoga is taking your mind out of the equation and letting your body focus on breathing. Former Navy SEAL and Founder of SEALFit, Mark Divine, is a big advocate of controlled breathing. During his SEALFit Camp he brings his athletes through yoga sessions to help teach people to take their minds out of the equation and focus on their breathing. It is such a critical aspect of sports training. If you follow UFC, you will hear Joe Rogan discuss breathing mechanics regularly when he is describing who is losing a fight. Someone who is losing will be seen inhaling and exhaling through their mouths in a sign of panic.
In the CrossFit world, one coach who has been on the forefront of breathing mechanics is Brian Mckenzie. Brian has been teaching a “Breathing and Performance seminar” and has been well received thus far in the community. Lately, I have been watching his videos and applying what I have learned to my athletes and they have seen tremendous results. One tool he uses is the Altitude Training Mask. I know this is where I might lose people, but hear me out. At the Lab, we haven’t been training with the mask on but we have been resting with it on. In between running intervals, I have made several of my competitive athletes rest for 3-5 minutes with the mask. One thing we notice immediately is how deep the athletes breathe. Before using the mask, we would see the athletes breathe in a manner i call “trap breathers”; this is using only their upper lungs and not the entire system. When you take these fast, choppy breaths you don’t use the diaphragm like it was designed to be used. Brian has a really interesting video where he has a runner on a treadmill, and the runner immediately fixes his posture when he puts the mask on, because he is forced to breathe deeper, using his diaphragm fully. Brian is doing tremendous work with this mask, and I recommend everyone check out his videos. Since using this mask in our rest intervals, I have managed to bring down athletes 400m times by 10-20 seconds, depending on the athlete. We are still experimenting with the proper work to rest ratios, but so far we have seen great results and I’m really excited to see where we can go from here.
Breathing mechanics aren’t just for performance. They should be used in our daily lives. We must constantly focus on breathing. Kelly Starrett has been preaching this for awhile. While mobilizing, you should constantly be focusing on breathing. In CrossFit, you find people mobilizing and so many people can be found in the "pain cave”, but are mobilizing so deeply into the tissue, they stop breathing. You have to learn how to breathe while you are mobilizing. In order to do this better, once a week I use Jill Miller's Corgeous ball and smash my diaphragm and abdominal area. Since starting this weekly routine, I have seen tremendous improvements in my ability to hold my breath and my ability to breathe deep in the middle of my workouts. Even my strength lifts have increased and I credit it, partially, to my ability to take in deeper breaths and hold these breaths throughout the lifts. A common error I have seen in athletes who enter my gym is their breathing mechanics during lifts. When you squat, deadlift, press, etc. many athletes will be seen breathing out as they complete the lift. A better technique is to hold your breath during the lift and only exhaling as you finish the lift. The reason for this is your body uses the air filled abdominal cavity to assist in bracing your spine. If you exhale as you are lifting, odds are, your core will collapse and with it, the lift itself. Now, I am not advocating holding your breath until you pass out. If you get tunnel vision, breathe out, but instead of letting it all out, exhale out just enough to keep conscious but not any more than that. Breathe out at the top, take another deep breath in, and complete your sets. Try this strategy and see if you feel more stable during your lifts.
Breathing is an involuntary reflex. Just because it's involuntary, doesn't mean it is a reflex that can't be trained as a skill. Proper breathing drills both during your workout, as well as during recovery, will benefit you in and out of the gym. Take this skill seriously as it will affect all aspects of your life.