How to Breathe When Lifting

Have you ever been taught how to breathe when lifting weights, or strength training in general?

If you have been taught, you’ve probably been taught wrong. If you haven’t been taught, that’s a good thing.

How to Breathe When Lifting 

If you’re going to lift a heavy object, here’s is what you will do naturally: you will brace the muscles about to lift, hold your breath, and once the lift is completed, you’ll exhale.

This is the correct way to breathe. And that’s why with most of our clients, we never coach them on how to breathe, because the natural way is the correct way.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Igor, if I lift something heavy and I hold my breath, won’t my blood pressure increase?


Original source: here.

            The answer is “yes, it will.” When you hold your breath, your diaphragm (the muscle that separates the chest from the stomach) pushes down, and contracts, which increases pressure in both the stomach and the chest (for my fellow geeks, that’s your intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure).

What’s the benefit of increasing pressure in the stomach and the chest when lifting something heavy? Stability. The breath holding stabilizes the spine, and prevents injuries to the spine, by providing air pressure, and therefore support.

See, blood pressure is meant to increase during exertion to provide stability to the joints.

Think about when you’re on the toilet straining. Do you think your blood pressure isn’t going up? You bet it is. I know you’re doing it, don’t pretend you don’t. You blushing yet?

When the advice of “never hold your breath” is given, the person giving that advice overestimates the probability of cerebrovascular accident (ie a stroke), and underestimates the probability of a back injury. In a healthy person, a back injury is much more likely than a stroke.

So yes, hold your breath on the hard part. And more importantly, don’t think about breathing at all when lifting something requiring exertion, because the correct way is automatically built into your nervous system.

The Exception 

There are certain cases when we coach our clients to not hold their breath. Those are the clients with high blood pressure.

For a healthy person, they can tolerate the blood pressure increase that comes with exertion. For the person who already has high blood pressure, pushing it up even higher by holding your breath can be dangerous. Even fatal.

That’s why not only are our clients with high blood pressure coached to not hold their breath, but also, they won’t be lifting as heavy.

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