The One Breathing Technique For Optimal Sports Performance
How proper breathing can boost sports performance
The common rule that you might hear in the gym is “breathe in on the way down, breathe out on the way up”. This often comes from cereal box personal trainers who couldn’t tell you the difference between a kettlebell and barbell. In this article, we will talk about the one breathing technique for optimal sports performance.
If your 6-week qualified personal trainer is telling you to breathe in whilst performing a weight training movement, they’re cheating you out of your hard work. Sorry to be blunt but this one really rattles our nerves. It inhibits performance, apprehends natural instinct and can be dangerous!
It is human instinct to take in a big breath of air and hold it whilst performing strenuous efforts. Whether that is squatting a barbell or the sprint start of a 100m race. This instinct is called the Valsalva manoeuvre and we use it to create intra-abdominal pressure around our abdomen to support the thoracic spine, decrease the venous return to the heart which, increases the pressure within peripheral muscles and decreases our heart rate in turn, increasing muscular force output and power. Our bodies can withhold this pressure for around 7 seconds that is more than enough time to produce maximal force.
THE VIDEO: The BEST Breathing Technique For Optimal Sports Performance
It’s not just about holding your breath though. You do have to create abdominal pressure and eventually release the old air to replace it with oxygenated air. It’s actually the same skill as creating internal pressure when you are going to the toilet. It is likely that you do this automatically but don’t even realise it but there is a component of technique to be able to do this efficiently. Read on to discover how.
When you breathe, do you breathe into your chest or your stomach? We don’t mean your lungs, we mean where do you feel the pressure build when you take a breath in? Ideally your chest should stay relatively still and your belly expand and contract as you breathe. This happens when the diaphragm pulls air into the lungs and they inflate, your intra-abdominal pressure increases, pushing your belly outwards. Your belly isn’t actually filling with air.
Lock it in
You can now breathe into your stomach and are aware of what it feels like to increase the internal pressure enough to produce maximal force. You need to close off your air intake essentially, holding your breath. Otherwise, as soon as you move, the air will come out. It’s a bit like an air bed with a broken valve. Take a moderate breath into the stomach, enough to fill your lungs but not enough to expand your chest. Then trap that air in and clamp down with your abdominal muscles, feel the pressure build. This is the Valsalva manoeuvre. You should have a good amount of pressure around your trunk to support your spine. You may feel as though your blood pressure increases. The odd vein might appear on the skin. This is normal. Practise doing this whilst performing weight training movements in the gym.
Keep it in
Imagine you are working with a set of 10 back squats today at about 75%. It’s relatively light load but enough to make you brace hard and require a stable midsection. You aren’t going to be able to hold your breath for the entire set so you need to breathe at some point. But you also need to keep that pressure in. Take your breath in before you start the movement, lock it in and perform your squat. As you get to the top of the movement you will feel the pressure start to release. This is your moment, you need to strike fast. Forcefully blow out about a third of your air and suck some fresh air back in before performing the next squat, keep that pressure up. It’s all about maintaining that internal pressure.
It’s is often presumed that weightlifting belts are used to support your lower back. This is not strictly true. Weightlifting belts are usually made of tough leather, a synthetic webbing or generally a very strong material. This is because the belt is designed not to stretch and keep everything in. When you clamp down on your own breath, your intercostal muscles and entire core is engaged to stabilise the spine and create this internal pressure we have been talking about. The material of your weightlifting belt is stronger than your core muscles. The belt is there to brace against to maintain internal pressure which, in turn will aid the transfer of force and maintain your intra-abdominal pressure. When using a weightlifting belt, you need to breathe into the belt, filling all the space and creating a tight seal between your skin and the belt material. It should feel tight but not so tight that you can’t take a breath of air in.
It’s more than likely you already perform this breathing technique automatically but if you are actively trying to breathe out whilst performing a lift, stop. Performing this technique well and being efficient requires practice so go through the steps in this article, breathe into the stomach, cap off the air intake, brace hard and exhale forcefully when you have completed the rep. Executing this properly will allow you to produce more force and maintain the quality of your reps.