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Breathe Right, Lift Strong

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A myriad of things can preoccupy your mind during exercise, especially while strength training. From thinking about activating muscles being worked to having accurate form to preventing injury, proper breathing can easily fall to the wayside. Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Ryan Sheppard, MSEd, shares several breathing techniques to get more out of your weight training routine.

Breathing efficiencies
Whether you are a weight lifting novice or strength training pro, simply practicing proper breathing techniques can improve the quality of your workout. “Proper oxygen consumption is critical during weight training in order to prevent becoming overly fatigued,” says Sheppard. “As you contract your muscles forcefully during weight training, people tend to hold their breath, oftentimes unknowingly.”

While lifting weights, your body produces carbon dioxide which fatigues the muscles. This is why it is important to reoxygenate the muscles with consistent, proper breathing through each repetition of every exercise movement. Sheppard encourages his clients to listen to their bodies and breathe at points that feel the most natural while performing the exercise at a controlled speed. If you feel you are unable to control the speed of the movements and experience light-headedness, you might be lifting too heavy of a load. Try decreasing the amount of weight in order to control your breathing and perform the exercise more efficiently.

Breathing techniques
A general rule of thumb is to exhale while you are exerting the most force within the repetition of an exercise and inhale as you come back to your starting position.

If you are looking to progressively lift heavier loads in your workouts, the Valsalva technique might be most beneficial for you. “The Valsalva is performed by taking a deep breath in before starting a movement and holding the breath all the way through the repetition,” explains Sheppard. “Then, breathe out once you return to the starting position. Repeat this pattern for each repetition of the exercise.”

By inhaling and engaging the core before starting a movement, you are able to stabilize the spine. This keeps you in a safer position while performing the exercise to prevent injury while also giving your nervous system the green light to lift a heavier amount of weight. The Valsalva technique should only be used for exercises where your feet are in contact with the ground and when you are lifting loads heavy enough to make repetitions of less than 10 challenging.

Another beneficial breathing technique is called crocodile breathing, which is designed to reduce stress.

Crocodile breathing is a process of retraining the rib cage and respiratory muscles to help you breathe from your diaphragm rather than taking shallow breaths. Begin by lying facedown on the ground with your arms folded and your forehead resting on your hands. Try to completely relax and inhale as deeply as possible for four to six seconds, focusing on expanding your rib cage in 360˚─out to the right, to the left, down toward the floor and up toward the ceiling. Hold your breath for four to six seconds then exhale for another four to six seconds. Wait four to six seconds before the next breath and repeat for three to five minutes.

Not only is crocodile breathing a great way to start a workout, but also to relax before bedtime and promote more restful sleep. With most people bringing the stress of their day into the gym, simply taking a few minutes before a weight training session to put this technique into practice can help bring the heart rate down and improve performance levels.

Proper breathing includes expelling carbon dioxide and re-oxygenating your muscles so you can lift more weight to maximize your workout. When you incorporate these specific breathing techniques into your workout you can prevent fatigue, ensure safety and reduce stress.

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.