Learn how to breath and brace.
Breathing. Easy, right? You managed to make it this far through the day so you’re doing something right. Sure, O2 in, CO2 out is a pretty easy pattern to follow. Until you’re asked to sprint 100m to chase after the bus or complete 100 kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes. Then it gets a bit more technical.
Learning how to appropriately and effectively use our breathing to help aid our performance in the gym is job number 1. You can’t squat, deadlift, swing, or anything else for that matter, unless you understand how to first breath and brace correctly.
Posturally, if we could all breath using our diaphragm, know how to adequately brace our rib cage and spine using intra-abdominal pressure, and potentially down regulate and decrease our stress levels a little, we’d all be much better off. However, given our stationery day to day life, wedged into a cubicle of one form or another, our posture sucks and subsequently so does our performance. Cue, the breathing fix.
Take a moment to sit back in your chair, sit up straight, put one hand on your chest and the other over your belly button. Now, taking in a breath through your mouth, attempt to make your chest hand rise only by breathing into your ribcage…...ok done that? How’d it feel? Pretty ordinary right? Good. Now, take a breath in through your nose this time and make the hand on your belly rise only. How’d it feel? More worthwhile? Did you get more rise out of the belly hand? More oxygen in your lungs? Did your posture sit taller? I'm going to take a yes to all of the above because I just did it too, so I know what happened.
Breathing through your nose into your belly warms and cleans the air, then channels it into the place where there is the most room, allowing for more air to enter. This is belly/abdominal breathing. The other, shallow chest rise only breathing, we refer to as “gun fire breathing”. Running to (or from) gunfire would no doubt make you panic, hyperventilate, and render you pretty much useless because of your shallow chest breathing.
Take a look at the following video and see if you can spot the belly vs gunfire breathing.
What does posture actually mean?
Posturally, standing up as tall as you can, sticking out your chest and extending your spine is not effective (think leaning back out of the way of an oncoming punch), just as it isn't effective to round forward and flex your spine (as if you were crouching over your desk....again). Good posture then is the relationship of your body shape to how effective it is at resisting or performing a movement. Take a look at the pictures below and note which one you think has "the best/most useful posture".
The only acceptable use for a soda can.
So when teaching breathing and bracing in the gym, I like to use the “soda can” analogy. (See the video below.) Imagine your torso is a new, unopened soda can; full of liquid and pressure. This is how we want our posture/abdominal bracing to be under load. Resilient. In the video you see that the can withstood me standing on it. I weigh 190 lbs. That's more than most people will squat in practice sessions, so think about this the next time you perform literally ANY loaded movement in the gym. Take a short, sharp breath in through your nose into your belly. Pull your ribs down and tilt your hips up, “brace as if you are about to be punched in the gut”, breathing out at the top of the movement. Now imagine you are a new full soda can before performing each rep. You’ll notice you don’t crease, or leak any of your power through poor breathing or bracing. You are able to perform the movement much more effectively, simply by taking into account your breathing.
In the next installment of this series we will build on this breathing technique when moving into developing the specifics of the hip hinge and kettlebell deadlift.