By Coach Caleb
You’ve probably noticed in this most recent strength block that we have breathing exercises paired with a lot of the squat, bench, or deadlift exercises. Or, you may have noticed your coach gives you specific breathing exercises to do in your warm up. Why are we doing this? Aren’t we at the gym to lift weights and sweat, not just sit around doing breathing exercises in weird positions? Here are 3 reasons why we recommend breathing exercises.
Full rest between sets allows us to give our best effort on each set. Research has shown that strength gains increase when you are rested before your next set (1,2). Doing another exercise between sets is a time efficient way to get more work in during the hypertrophy phase and in certain strength block settings. But for now, we want you to be well rested before you try to squat that hard set of 3 again. This is going to help you get stronger for next week! Breathing exercises are valuable here- they are a useful way to lower your heart rate and rest your muscles so you feel ready for the next set.
The breathing that we’re doing serves another purpose besides giving you time to rest before your next heavy set. Your whole body moves as a cohesive unit and works together. Your breath affects your ribcage and pelvis position, and your ribcage affects upper body movement and your pelvis affects lower body movements. So, we focus on the breath first to make sure we are getting our body in positions that allow the most movement. Movement limitations can increase pressure and strain in particular areas or make certain positions feel awkward and uncomfortable. You might notice that you struggle to get lower in a squat, or you struggle to feel your hamstrings working on a deadlift. Breathing drills can help to restore movement options! The hope is that doing so will even out the workload distribution through your bod and this can help with pain, improve limited tasks, or enhance fitness. Your whole body is involved every time you breathe in and out, and focusing on breathing is an easy way to impact how your body moves.
The breathing exercises are also practice for the bracing and breathing we do while lifting heavy weight. When your coach tells you to brace on the squat and deadlift, what they’re asking you to do is take a big breath in and think about expanding not just your belly, but also your sides and backside with air. This 360 degree expansion creates pressure against your spine, and while you hold this breath, your spine is going to have minimal movement under heavy load because the internal pressure is keeping it stable. It also helps you to create a lot of force (and lift heavy weight!). When all of our movement options are available to us and our breath is trained to expand our entire ribcage (and not just the front of our ribcage), our brace will be more effective once the weight is really heavy.
Your coaches value your time in the gym and are trying to get as many desired outcomes as possible, and so pairing a heavy, compound lift like a squat or deadlift with a breathing exercise can help you get the most out of your time in the gym by not just lifting heavy weight, but also having improved your movement options for inside (and outside) the gym.