My thesis of coaching, training, and performance for all humans will always be evolving. With every passing seminar, and every social gathering post-seminar, I feel as if the question of “Will method (x) help my clients get closer towards a higher level of performance?”
One item that I find myself coaching over and over involves the concept of breathing, along with how to approach it for various exercises. Whether or not this biases me as “the breathing guy” at my facility doesn’t matter to me – if I can use and manipulate my breathing to do the task at hand, I’ll do it. Essentially the way you approach how you breathe for a 1RM deadlift will be very different than the way you approach breathing for a 2 mile run.
This necessity for owning your breathing patterns becomes even more readily apparent as you begin to understand the differences that the two different tasks will ask of the body. As far as I know, the mentality of controlling breathing to improve the outcomes of exercises or a physiological output is not new.
While for some individuals it is understood that the way you breathe during a really long set versus improving the tonic/phasic relationship of your muscles will be different, the way you approach the breathing component on each example is very subtle. Done properly, and you can get a lot out of it.
Essentially, it comes down to three different approaches:
Breathing for Awareness (and Altering Tone)
Breathing During Static Exercises
Breathing During Dynamic Exercises
Breathing for Awareness (and Altering Tone)
Sensory awareness of what occurs in your body has several research articles speaking about any individual’s ability to focus internally. With this in mind, the focus for breathing with an inward attentional focus is meant to improve sensory awareness of one’s body in space, along with understanding what muscles may be being “kicked on” in order to maintain a certain postural stance or sway.
Aaron Swanson had a great internal cueing article on what the benefits are for understanding what occurs from an internal point of view, and this is a point that I made during my most recent presentation at the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar – it will be difficult to teach a complex movement (bracing for a depth jump to a broad jump and landing on one leg) if you don’t understand some of the simpler moving parts in your body.
Static exercises have the grouping of planks, side planks, any exercise in which you are static (staying still) and require a constant stream of inhalations and exhalations without any extraneous pressure from the musculature that is statically being challenged.
Example of Static Exercises
Isometric Holds – Bottom of Squat, Push-Up, Lunge, etc.
Isolated Exercises to Improve Motor Control – Rotator Cuff exercises, hip exercises, etc.
So while the joint and thusly the muscular position may be necessary to understand and feel, this position will need to be reinforced further when looking to load or hold for a certain amount of time.
More specifically, for a lot of our athletes, clients, and even my online clients, I may utilize breaths, as in cycles of inhalation and exhalation, to regulate the duration of a specific exercise (instead of an arbitrary time such as 15, 20, or 30 seconds).
Breathing During Dynamic Exercises
In the video, I describe how to troubleshoot your breathing patterns in both supine and during an active movement such as the squat.
With this in mind, the categorizations can be subdivided further:
Breathing via Valsalva Manuevering
Breathing for Locomotive Purposes
Breathing via Valsalva Maneuver
If you have 400 or 500lbs (or more…) on your back for a back squat, there is certainly a need to maintain great amounts of intra-abdominal pressure through tensioning techniques through the musculature, along with reinforcing this tension with a gaseous form of stability – air through the diaphragm and/or pelvic floor (and closing of the epiglottis aka your throat, because that is how we prevent air from escaping).
When describing how to “hold your breathe,” I am not merely describing how to pass out as fast as possible. Hopefully, and with a little more background into the individual who is performing said technique, I am teaching lessons towards improving stability for spinal segments up and down the chain.
Note/Disclaimer: I’ve also had an older population of clientele that will be unable to perform the Valsalva maneuver due to greater increases in blood pressure that does not need to be risked due to heart conditions. Please note that I am not telling you to do the Valsalva maneuver as a way to complete heavier lifts – it is merely a method that *can* be used, it does not *have* to be used.
Breathing For Locomotive Purposes
Locomotion can refer to moving in whatever fashion you want – dancing, sprinting, and/or jumping. This is a combination of the previous approach for breathing, because the way you move for a Forward Walking Lunge may differ than a one mile run.
With this in mind, imagine how holding your breath during the first meters in a sprint will affect the outcome of the whole movement. This is opposed to slightly intra-abdominal pressure as you take a forward step during a DB Walking Lunge.
Different exercises, different goals, and different approaches.
Generally speaking, if it is an exercise in which you have a consistent and regular movement pattern – swimming, running, rowing, or anything generally that lasts longer than 60 seconds, you will need to approach your breathing a little differently.
If you will be performing an exercise that lasts under 60 seconds (or more), but still has load in your hands or on your back, bracing for intra-abdominal pressure while still gaining new air during your movement for spinal stability will be especially useful.
While this topic of breathing is certainly nuanced, I am merely describing one more method of how to improve performance within the context of breathing.
One of the perks of my current position is to work with a handful of professional baseball players during their off-season.
It’s an awesome mix of laid back chat about what kind of music is best played over the speakers during the first few ping pong matches in the morning, and chirping at each other about their respective seasons. You literally can’t find anything like it anywhere else.
A photo posted by Cressey Sports Performance (@cresseysportsperformance) on
Much like that combination, there are a few ways to combine a few seemingly random exercises into an amazing concoction of, how do I say it? “Boom.”
One combination that I’ve been using to mucho success in the past few months can be found in the warm-up and cool down aspect of the lifting session. It involves a positional breathing drill aimed at resetting the nervous system, and followed up by a static hold of the glenohumeral (or shoulder) joint to ensure range of motion is kept in line.
1. Deep Squat Belly Breathing – 2×5 Exhales (2 sets x 5 Exhales)
2. Supine ER & IR Hold – 3x5sec hold/side
Note: The order here is important.
Performing a Deep Squat Belly Breathing will reduce extensor tone, which means the latissimus dorsi will hopefully be attenuated as a stabilizing muscle group. The posterior pelvic tilt that is also encouraged will also be included to really emphasize the abdominal musculature and to hit home the idea of ribcage position and diaphragmatic contribution to improving all around movement quality of the individual.
Please Raise Your Right Hand…
Meow* for the individual aspect, brought to you by the supine external rotation and internal rotation hold. I’m of the belief that you should give the individual what they need, making sure to not be subjective with your exercise selection. If this person happens to be a right handed baseball pitcher, doesn’t have any injuries that will limit them from moving appropriately, or just happens to be an individual that needs shoulder internal rotation – this exercise may be the correct one for you.
Meow, this isn’t like the sleeper stretch. The way this combination works is this: the ribcage will be better facilitated to help reinforce anterior core stability, and now the adjacent joint of the scapula AND glenohumeral joint have a more adequate range of motion to move about.
Let’s take advantage of our reduced extensor tone, and improve the range of motion that the glenohumeral joint can meow implement – in both internal rotation and external rotation.
Meow, the real sports specific item to discuss is the lack of glenohumeral internal rotation that is often seen in the throwing hand. If you are a pitcher, constantly looking to stretch “to feel loose” – perform these two exercises INSTEAD in order to improve control, stability, and range of motion.
More importantly, if you’re in season and looking for specific help, perform this drill AFTER you’re done pitching.
Why afterwards and not before?
If you’re pitching, you NEED more layback (which requires more external rotation on the throwing arm/dominant hand).
Doing these drills afterwards will help to reduce the amount of glenohumeral external rotation that you are exhibiting – the opposite of what you need if you’re going to be pitching.
However, you want to have the ability to move into and out of specific positions in order to relax your body after a physically taxing task. Reduce the amount of neurological tone that your body is exhibiting, and reap the benefits of multiple and varied movement qualities in order to excel at your sport!