Breathing plays an important role not only in exercise, but in relaxation. When your respiratory muscles are strong, you are capable of taking in and processing more air per breath. As a result, you can get greater amounts of oxygen, which the body needs not only for the production of energy but to help in your recovery. The stronger your respiratory muscles are, the more effective is your cardiovascular endurance. By improving the strength of the muscles involved in breathing, you will be able to prevent not only the onset of fatigue but to recover faster. Keep in mind that respiratory fatigue occurs before cardiovascular fatigue. Thus your breathing is directly related to your endurance as well as to your lifting. When you do your strength exercises, how you breathe is very important. Because of this, you should develop proper breathing patterns from the start. This also applies to execution of your sports skills. In this book the instructions for the exercises tell you to inhale and hold your breath on exertion - that is, on the hardest part of the exercise when you are overcoming resistance. You then exhale on the return, staying in control of the movements.
But don’t be surprised if you read or hear the opposite from other sources—that you should exhale on exertion and inhale on the return. But this widely used recommendation to exhale on exertion is based on theory, not research or actual practice. In addition, it applies mainly to people with heart and circulatory system problems.
For example, if you hold your breath too long in a maximal resistance exercise (up to eight seconds) you could pass out. This is because the internal pressure in the chest and abdomen increases when you hold your breath on exertion. If it increases greatly, it squeezes down on the blood vessels shuttling blood and oxygen to and from the heart. When this happens, you may black out (but rarely, and only on maximum exertion with the breath held too long.
If you are without cardiovascular problems and you do not hold your breath for more than a few seconds as needed in the recommended exercises, the breath-holding on exertion is perfectly safe. It makes the exercises safer and more effective. If you have high blood pressure or other circulatory system or heart problems, avoid heavy resistance training and breath-holding. In fact, you probably should not participate in a strength or explosive sport which requires not only great physical exertion but intense breath holding.
Inhaling and holding the breath briefly on exertion—any exertion, in execution of a strength exercise or in sports, comes naturally. Many studies have shown that whenever athletic skills are executed properly, athletes hold their breath on the exertion—during the power phase when maximum force is generated. The breathholding is important for generating greater force, having more accuracy and control and for the prevention of injury.
For example, Inhaling and holding the breath on exertion provides up to 20 percent greater force, stabilizes the spine, and helps prevents lower back injuries. It transforms the trunk (and sometimes the whole body) into a stable unit against which your hips, shoulders, and arms can move more effectively.
Breathing exercises can also help you relax. For example, it is not uncommon to read that you should inhale and then exhale before starting a race, game or skill execution. This is a good technique to help you relax. But before starting, it is important that the muscles have some tension—not excessive tension, but sufficient tension to take-off with power. This is why you should never completely exhale before starting. Hold slightly more than your usual breath.
Thus, inhalation and breath-holding are needed immediately before and during execution of the key actions. Studies done with devices to monitor breathing patterns have proven this beyond any doubt. To execute a powerful lift or execute a powerful sports skill, you must hold your breath during execution.
In effective breathing, do not take a maximal breath and then hold it. Holding a maximal breath can make you very uncomfortable. Just take a slightly greater than usual breath and then hold it to experience the positive benefits. This is especially important for stabilizing the body, holding the spine in position, and getting greater power in execution of the skill. The breath holding time is very short. Thus, you should have no fear of holding the breath too long or of overexerting yourself.
Exhalation, especially after a deep breath, is very beneficial for relaxation. Thus, anytime you exhale during execution of a maximal lift, you are telling the muscles to relax rather than to remain under contraction to accomplish the work that has to be done. The exhalation weakens your body greatly and can lead to injury.
Some exhalation during a lift can be of benefit. For example, if you are doing a very heavy squat, or handling great weight in a squat, and you are coming up out of the down position very slowly, the amount of pressure being built up is quite great. To relieve some of this pressure, exhale slightly through pursed lips to relieve some of the pressure.
However, do not let all the air out until you have passed the sticking point, or most difficult part of the up phase. Exhaling after you have passed the most difficult part of the lift is also very important for relieving the built up thoracic and abdominal pressure. The key is to be sure that you exhale after passing the sticking point, not before.
Too often exhalation at this time is taken to indicate exhalation on exertion, but it is after the exertion, not during. Keep in mind that proper breathing is essential to successful execution of strength exercises, especially when handling heavy weights. Breath holding on exertion is a natural consequence. If no one told you how to breathe, you would automatically hold your breath when lifting a heavy weight. You also hold your breath when receiving an object coming at you, as for example when someone is throwing a medicine ball or even a punch. You need the breath-holding to stabilize the body, to better withstand the force or the blow that you are about to receive. If you still believe that you should exhale on the exertion, then you can prove to yourself that this does not happen naturally. Watch a person lifting maximal weights or what an athlete does when he catches a medicine ball thrown to him. You will see that he or she automatically inhales and holds the breath as they prepare for the lift or the catch.
Also, try to find a research study that can substantiate your belief that exhalation occurs on exertion. I assure you that you will not find any. You may see authors theorize that this should occur but they never actually prove it. When you do find literature or studies recommending exhalation on exertion, you'll see that they deal with people who have heart or circulatory problems. You will not find any dealing with healthy individuals, especially athletes.
Thus, you should not be duped by this myth that has been perpetuated in the fitness and sports fields. Be more in tune with nature and do what your body does naturally. Your workouts will be much more effective and safer.