Proper alignment of the feet, hips and spine are essential elements in weight training. One of the most overlooked aspects of actually having correct posture and core stabilization is how you’re breathing. The art and science of proper movement is linking breath with movement by properly engaging the diaphragm muscle. It’s your source of power, strength & flexibility all in the same moment.
The quality of the movement begins and ends with the quality of our inhale and exhale. The breath sets in motion all the moving parts of weight training behind the scenes. Not only can various breathing techniques enhance the gains and recovery of your weight training, there are different techniques to do between sets to bring your heart rate down quickly and efficiently while remaining centered and present. The breath becomes our tool for expanding our mental and physical awareness of how we approach the moment at hand, our level of expectation of ourselves and how are we creating the leverage required to move the stress load.
- Properly engaging the maximum effects of the diaphragm muscle
- The benefits of linking breath with movement
- Maximizing the time between sets
When someone says to you “engage your core,” what does that actually mean? For most of us that means engaging the muscles of the abdomen. However, try that right now.
Did you stop breathing to create the tension in your torso?
Did your shoulders collapse forward in an effort to tighten this region of your body?
You see, that’s what happens for most of us. We lose posture, we lose breath and we lose all our power.
The breath is the engine room for all our muscles and bones, and of course, what’s happening in brain. Most people I meet are dysfunctional breathers. They cannot breathe properly into their lower abdomen which means they’re not properly activating the stabilization effects of the diaphragm muscle and recovery effects of the Vagus Nerve which pierces the diaphragm and connects us to our gut. To really get the benefits, we should be engaging our core and then a complete inhale, filling the belly, ribs and chest with breath (Wang & Mcgill, 2008).
The second mistake I often see is on the exhale. We mouth exhale dumping all the power and tension we created on the inhale. Instead the inhale and exhale should be a controlled movement like a pressure cooker. We want to keep the power inside the body to maximizing effort and force with good posture and core stabilization (Bordoni & Zanier, 2013).
Linking Breath with Movement
When we link breath with movement, we’re mindful. We’re in the present moment creating a rhythmic pattern in the exercise. Movement becomes slower and deliberate; not fast and erratic. This is certainly the best way to reduce the risk of injury. However, there’s another important factor. When we’re nasal breathing and engaging the diaphragm properly, we’re efficiently and effectively balancing our autonomic nervous system, lowering heart rates and strengthening vagal tone, which are the drivers of heart rate variability. And, we’re strengthening parasympathetic activity which means we’re building resilience in high demand activity (Martarelli et al., 2011).
With breath training in your tool box, you will get more out of less without losing any quality. It’s always quality over quantity. By incorporating the breath, we can actually lift less weights yet get the same benefits. We work the body from the inside out using respiratory system first, cardiovascular system second and musculoskeletal third which is the reverse of how we do things traditionally.
To learn how to link breath with movement, try these 3 videos with 2 different breathing techniques. Train mentally and physically to get the full benefits of the movement.
The longer and slower the exhale, the more power we have to disperse to the musculoskeletal system and the more parasympathetic release from the vagus nerve. The greater the space between breaths, the greater the resilience in the body. When we create balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic response through breath and movement, the body and brain create meditation-in-motion.
Maximizing The Time Between Sets
Between sets, the goal is to bring the heart rate down efficiently and effectively. We want to stay present and not dump the energy created in the lifting
You can start with Diaphragmatic and Ocean Sounding breath between sets. Try to inhale and exhale and slowly as you can. In fact, try to exhale twice and long as your inhale to encourage recovery. Don’t rush the exhale and you’re increasing the charge from the sympathetic response.
Next, try Alternate Nostril Breathing. This is a wonderful tool in between sets to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain, lower the heart rate and encourage a parasympathetic response. When lifting the weights, we’re creating a sympathetic response even while nasal breathing. The key is creating balance by making sure parasympathetic activity is happening at all times as well. Alternate nostril breathing starts the “flow” experience in the brain’s neurochemistry cocktail of our neurotransmitters (Werntz et al., 1983).
Alternate nostril breathing is my favorite because of its’ effect on my two pre-frontal cortexes and cardiovascular system. It really gets me deep into my body so I feel everything calmly and I’m fully present for the next rep or set.
With mindful breathing, I am the CEO of my workout and my life using the whole brain rather than half which makes me twice as aware of each moments’ goals; both short and long term.
Go BE Great!
Bordoni, B., & E. Zanier. (2013, July 25). Anatomic connections of the diaphragm influence of respiration on the body system. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare JMDH, 6, 281-291. doi:10.2147/jmdh.s45443
Wang, S., & Mcgill, S. M. (2008, May). Links between the Mechanics of Ventilation and Spine Stability. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 24(2), 166-174. doi:10.1123/jab.24.2.166
Martarelli, D., Cocchioni, M., Scuri, S., & Pompei, P. (2011, February 10). Diaphragmatic Breathing Reduces Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 1-10. doi:10.1093/ecam/nep169
Werntz, D. A., Bickford, R. G., Bloom, F. E, Shannohoff-Khalsa, D. S. (1983). Alternating cerebral hemispheric activity and the lateralization of autonomic nervous function. Retrieved from http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/6874437