There is a breathing technique when doing heavy lifts of 80% of your max or more. In order to successfully use your body’s full potential on these lifts you cannot rely on muscular strength alone. You also have to know when and how to breathe in order to properly brace your spine and protect it. Here are the simple steps:
1. Upon approaching the bar make sure you have the requisite set up position for the type of lift that you are doing. Your stance, grip positioning and spinal alignment must be set.
2. Next, “brace” your spine- take a large breath from the bottom of your lungs, hold it and tighten your core. You breathe from the bottom of your lungs when your abdomen rises, not when your chest rises. To make your core tight, brace it and contract your abdominal muscles as if you are about to take a strong punch to the stomach. Lifting belts are useful for this. The belt should be worn around the abdomen so that it is snug but loose enough to slip a hand inside it. When you do this bracing technique the belt becomes tight and gives you tactile confirmation of a properly braced spine.
3. Execute the lift. When doing so keep your breath held. You can also slowly release it. This is when you hear a short grunt or hissing sound. This is natural and actually good for the technique. In the Back Squat, for example, hold your breath on the way down and on the ascent slowly release your breath making the hissing sound on the way up. But do not release your breath completely during the lift as your spine will not be properly braced.
Take a breath after finishing the lift, especially if you are performing multiple reps. You need to breathe during sets of 3’s or 5’s. Do so in between the lifts.
If you want to try a fun experiment, try doing a Back Squat with an unloaded bar without using this bracing technique. Then do it again using the technique. You will notice a big difference in how heavy the bar feels.
This technique of holding your breath and bracing is meant for heavy lifts of 80% or more of your one rep max. For workouts cycling many lighter reps you have to breathe in and out rhythmically. Also, holding your breath for more than a few seconds during a heavy lift can be dangerous and cause you to black out. This is especially true for older athletes and those with a higher risk of heart problems. Be smart, keep good form and know your limits. It’s better to be safe and call it a day when you know you’ve reached a safe limit than to take a risk, hurt yourself and not be able to work out again for weeks.