While lifters of all levels can always improve, one of the way for beginners to see nearly instant improvement with their lifts is by understanding how to better breath and brace during their big lifts. There are quite a few things to consider when covering the topic, so today we’ll be talking about why bracing matters, what you might be doing wrong (when it comes to breathing and bracing), and the components to properly bracing.
WHY BRACING MATTERS
One of the most common areas for improvement in beginner and advanced progressions can be addressed by utilizing proper breathing and bracing techniques or optimizing current habits. Roughly, the average human breathes 23,000 times per day, and the strength athlete even more. During heavy resistance movements, proper bracing achieves an increase of rigidity of the torso, making it easier to support heavy loads and support the vertebral column, which in turn reduces the associated compressive forces on the disks during lifting.
Outside of exercise or resistance training, improper breathing can result in spinal extension, unnecessary movement in the chest, pec, traps, neck that can result in postural deficiency.
Breathing techniques for lifters not only help keep the athlete safe during training and competition, but also can assist in proper organization and support of the skeleton.
Since stabilization requirements differ between exercises and tasks, it’s important the understand that the intensity of the brace is dependent on the duration and intensity of the task. For example, the breathing and bracing techniques for a 20 rep squat set, will be far lower intensity than that of a 1 rep max.
WHAT YOU’RE DOING WRONG
Chances are, you’re doing a thing or two improperly. But don’t sweat it, we’re going to cover what those could be, and then talk about how you can improve!
Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your stomach and breathe normally. Notice any movement in either hand for three breaths, and on the fourth, breathe in as if you are about to brace for a squat, hold the breath for 1-2 seconds, and breathe out.
During this exercise, some lifters will feel their chest rise into their right hand and little movement from their abdomen. While proper bracing does involve some slight chest movement as a result of the lungs filling, the abdomen expansion should be more noticeable in this test. Taking a deep breath into the chest will often create spinal extension, when the goal with breath in resistance training is to create a stable, neutral spine.
Belly breathing is typically the way lifters breathe to correct any chest breathing habits. By focusing on limiting the breath into the chest, lifters sometimes focus so much in filling the abdomen, and neglect proper airflow and tightness in the thoracic spine.
Without a proper exhale, the lifter does not allow further opportunity to continue breathing correctly. Be sure you’re fully expiring air after bracing properly.
THE COMPONENTS OF A PROPER BRACE
Don’t get overwhelmed with the fancy words below… We promise, once you understand what they mean, it’s easy to start incorporating them into your lifting. Once you’ve got the basic understanding, to really grasp it, give one of the breathing exercises a go!
Instead of simply breathing in air and holding it, the valsalva maneuver is forcefully expiring against a closed glottis (the opening between vocal folds), or throat. Closing the glottis keeps air from escaping the lungs, that way, we keep in the air, but are contracting to keep a rigid trunk and upper back.
DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING TECHNIQUE:
Also known as abdominal breathing, belly breathing, or deep breathing, this type of breathing is when the air enters the lungs and the belly expands. Diaphragmatic breathing is done correctly when the trunk expands 360 degrees. While belly breathing is a definite upgrade from chest breathing in regards to lifting, full stabilization will be achieved when the abdominal, obliques, and erectors push out and expand to brace the core.
The combination of a successful valsalva maneuver and the diaphragmatic breathing technique will result in intra-abdominal pressure. To further increase stability in the trunk, contract the abdomen, lower back, and obliques. The combination of proper breathing and trunk contraction redistributes tension in the body and redirects force and power created through the kinetic chain while lifting.
90/90 BREATHING EXERCISE:
1. Lie on the floor next to a wall, with feet placed on the wall and hips and knees bent 90 degrees.
2. Practice the proper bracing and focus on expanding the low back into the floor
ALL FOURS BREATHING EXERCISE:
1. Get into a quadraped position, and break at the elbows, folding down onto the forearms
2. Take a deep breath into the nose, and push air into the stomach, getting feedback from the thighs to insure abdominal expansion
3. During the exhale, actively push the forearms into the floor and drive the sternum toward the ceiling.
4. Focus the breath into the spine while
maintaining activation in the forearms
We hope to you found this helpful, and if you want to check out a video of Meg explaining it, give this quick five minute video a watch: