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Just Breathe

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

Has a coach ever said “Don’t hold your breath,” “keep breathing,” or “exhale on exertion”? Why are we saying these things?

Do you ever notice that you do hold your breath while doing some exercises or parts of exercises? Do you hold your breath when you’re doing a deadlift or when you’re holding a plank? Is breath holding all that bad during weight training or exercise in general?

Today we’re talking about about “Forced Exhalation.” The technical term of breath holding in weight training is called the Valsava maneuver. The Valsava maneuver is when one takes a very deep breath and holds that breath while performing a heavy lift. The breath is exhaled when the lift is complete. Think of a deadlift. Holding your breath as you lift the weight from the ground and exhaling when you release the weight back to the ground. This breath holding does an interesting thing.

When you take that deep belly breath (think super deep breath) you force your core into a rigid state. It’s called IAP “intra abdominal pressure.” This stiffness in your core better supports your spine. It also improves stability and power. That power and stability help you lift heavier loads.

Now this all sounds great but there are some concerns about extreme breath holding during weight training. The Valsalva maneuver can spike your heart rate quickly and also spike your blood pressure. So this type of breath holding is not the safest way to go. But what is a safer way to create abdominal rigidity without the potential health dangers is Forced Exhalation.

To do this, take a deep belly breath at the beginning of a repetition and forcefully exhale through your teeth as you power through the exertion part of the move. For example, a goblet squat. Take your deep breath at the top (standing) and on your way into the squat. At the bottom of the squat you will have forced that abdominal pressure (IAP) with your deep breath. As you stand up from the squat, force your exhale through your teeth (you should sound like a snake… see the video below). Voila!! This creates a similar result as the Valsalva maneuver without the potential cardiovascular risks. (If you’re a DF member you may have also heard this referred to as a power breath!)

Try it the next time you increase weight on a big lift, you may surprise yourself with how strong you are!!

P.S. What about the plank? Try forced exhalation while planking. You will create that rigid core and really fire up those abdominal muscles. Take your breath before getting into the plank, get in your plank and force the exhale.

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