How To Breathe While Lifting – Valsalva Maneuver

You should hold your breath and brace while you lift to increase your rigidity and prevent energy leaks for the squat, deadlift, and bench press. You do this with the Valsalva maneuver. Learn how to breathe while lifting in this video.

How to Breathe While Lifting

Breathing in the gym is often overlooked. Or, if not overlooked, bad advice such as recommendations to breathe in on the way down and breathe out on the way up abound. You should hold your breath while lifting weights.

We want to put ourselves in the best position biomechanically to lift the most weight. Our torso or core does not directly contribute to moving the weights, but it must remain rigid to prevent energy leaks. In other words, if you’re core isn’t tight and rigid, you may not be able to lift as much weight.

To breathe properly while lifting weights, you get in the correct start position, take a big breath, hold it, and then begin the lift or unrack the barbell. We call the action of holding our breath and closing our glottis the Valsalva Maneuver.

The Valsalva Maneuver: It Is Safe

Some worry that the Valsalva Maneuver for lifting is unsafe because of a misplace risk of a stroke or aneurism.

Blood pressure spikes while lifting, but the pressure within the arterial wall increases, but so does the pressure outside the arterial wall. The pressure remains equal.

Because of the equal internal and external pressure (plus both anecdotal and scientific evidence), you need not worry about the holding your breath while squatting or deadlifting, if strength training is not contraindicated.

How to Brace Your Core While Lifting

The other component of a tight core and rigid torso is bracing your core. Bracing your core is not sucking in, nor is it pushing your belly out. No.

Bracing your core is what you do if someone were to hit you in the belly or if you bear down.

What you’re doing is tightening not only your abs but the muscles that surround your spine.

The combination of the full lungs and the braced core provide the maximum rigidity for your torso.

Breathing While Squatting, Deadlifting, & Pressing

Breathing while squatting and breathing while deadlifting are a little different, though the principles of breathing and bracing, holding your breath, and executing the Valsalva Maneuver remain the same.

The squat and bench press are similar in that both begin in the top position. Breathing also occurs in the top. For both these lifts, you get set up and tight, take a breath and hold it, and unrack the bar. Typically for the bench press you do not need to breathe again before rep 1. For the squat, most people take an additional breath after they walk back and get set up.

The press begins in the bottom position, but we typically default to breathing in the top between reps. Similar to the squat and bench press, get set up, take a breath and brace your core, unrack the bar, step back, and press the bar up to the top. Following that initial rep, exhale and inhale in the top. You then bring the bar down to the bottom without pausing.

The deadlift is the hardest lift to get set up for and to breathe and brace properly. The bottom position is uncomfortable, and many people struggle to set their back properly.

In the deadlift you breathe and brace in the bottom. Some people breathe before they set their back, some breathe after. This really comes down to personal preference, as long as you can properly set your back and brace your core.

Another consideration for breathing while deadlifting is that it can become seductive to take lots of breaths between reps. Avoid this. The deadlift won’t get any easier. Limit yourself to a certain number of breaths (typically one or two).

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