If you’ve ever been taught how to breath during weight lifting, you’ve probably heard this rule of thumb:
Inhale during the eccentric phase.
Exhale during the concentric phase.
Sounds super fine and dandy – but only if you know what those terms even mean!
So let’s break them down.
The ECCENTRIC PHASE of a movement is when the muscle is lengthening under load. Sometimes it’s called the negative phase.
In a bicep curl, it’s when you lower the bar back down toward the ground.
In a pull up, it’s the lowering of the body back down.
In a squat, it’s the downward movement.
The CONCENTRIC PHASE of a movement is when the muscle shortens under load. And can be called the positive phase.
It’s the curling up motion in the bicep curl.
The pulling up in the pull up.
And the standing movement in the squat.
But if that can seem confusing – you can also think in these general terms: The eccentric is resisting gravity, the concentric phase is overcoming it.
Okay got it – so how do those mesh with the breathing?
Inhale on the eccentric when we’re resisting gravity.
Exhale on the concentric when we’re overcoming gravity.
So this sounds great when you’re doing lots of reps of lighter loads.
But what about when you’re maxing out. When you’re lifting heavy?
Do those body builders deadlifting 800 pounds follow this same strategy?
Instead – many professional lifers use another breathing strategy for extra heavy loads.
It’s called the Valsalva Maneuver. It mimics holding your breath during the movement, but what is really involves is a forced exhalation against a closed glottis. If you remove the Geek Speak, that just means pretending to exhale but stopping yourself at the same time.
Now why does this work?
When the air can’t escape, it increase the pressure in you abdomen and thoracic cavities. The extra pressure acts as a brace for your mid-section and reduces the load against your spine. But that build up internal pressure also increases the power output potential on the positive phase of the rep, helping you blast through your sticky point.
Here are the steps:
- Inhale before the eccentric movement.
- When you’re about to change directions and overcome gravity, forcefully exhale against to glottis.
- Exhale after you pass the sticky point in the movement and complete the rep.
It’s easiest to picture this with a squat:
- Get in position, bar on your shoulders. Take in your breath before you lower down into the squat.
- As you’re ready to power back up to standing, forcefully exhale, but don’t let any air actually escape.
- Once you hit the sticky spot on your standing movement, exhale that breath.
Now if you’re new to fitness and still trying to master the moves, focusing on when to breathe might not be at the top of your priority list.
But even if you don’t know when to breathe – the most important part is that you do it!
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