In today’s busy world, finding time to take a deep breath and relax has never been so important.
And it is just as important to be aware of how we breathe during exercise.
Correct breathing technique is crucial to grasp, especially during heavy lifts. For me, breathing is linked very closely to controlling the core.
Hollow or brace
There are two simple ways to monitor our breathing during exercise to control the core which is (in my opinion) the primary importance purpose before any strenuous exercise.
Hollowing– This type of core control is used to desensitize the spinal muscles after injury from time to time, depending on the practitioner (Schoenfeld and Contreras, 2014).
It is used within the bodyweight conditioning groups as it helps control the spine at a very intricate level (think about the Cat-Cow exercise).
Bracing – bracing techniques are often coached quite differently depending on the literature. I think the plank is the best teacher of this kind of breathing, as your body will naturally brace – although I would add that taking control of that brace is entirely different.
Bracing is also important during heavy lifts, and creates power – the stability of the spine is often the weakest link (your spine will not let you lift something that is way out of your league).
Taking control of our breathing is a great way to reduce our stress levels. As exercise can cause positive stress, our breathing can become erratic due to the mechanical loads placed on the body (especially when we perform exercises that restrict the diaphragm, like the plank).
There is a great TEDx talk by Max Storm which talks about reducing these stresses through breathing (Storm, 2015). The talk focuses on the reduction of stress through breathing in a calm environment, and in my view it is advisable to understand your breathing patterns in non-stressed conditions before you move on to practise during movement.
A technique I often use to get people to notice their breathing is to ask them to recognize the four parts to breathing:
2). Pause at the top
4). Pause at the bottom
I promote counting from five down to one in each element. I usually start with two to three minutes total and build up from there. Why not give it a whirl?
Mind in movement
Having practised mindfulness techniques for ten years, bringing that level of attention into my training has been a real gamechanger.
As I get older, I find it is less important to me to look great (less important, not totally unimportant!) and more important for me to consider my conditioning and movement.
Being present with every movement and mindful of every action during my training leaves nothing on the table when it comes to building strength.
That is why I love the Turkish get up so much – if you are not present when you have 32 kg above your head, it could all end in tears.
Breathing could be your weak link to progress with your training goals. More importantly, mindful breathing could be a way to deal with stressful environments (and there is plenty of science to support this).
There are other benefits to learning to breathe in a controlled manner too; a recent study by Ma et al (2017) found that diaphragmatic breathing techniques had the potential to improve cognitive performance and increase attention span.