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Breath and resistance training

Breath does more than giving you oxygen and taking away carbon dioxide. In this post, I’d like to talk about how breath affects movement.
And for that, you need to know about the muscles that are used to breath.

The prime mover of breath, should be, ideally, the diaphragm. This is a layer of muscle that separates the organs of your chest from the organs in your abdomen. It never rests. Like your heart, when it stops working, you die. However, it is possible to use it sub optimally and still continue to live (also sub optimally). The diaphragm turns rigid during exhalation and thus rigidity is made even more effective, if the abdominal and pelvic muscles provide assistance.

This is made possible by using the accessory muscles of breathing. These are smaller muscle groups, that are too numerous to name individually. Writing them all down will put me to sleep, forget about the audience. But they can be grouped under four main sub divisions for simplicity’s sake.

1. Intercostal (between ribs)
2. Humeral (muscles primarily used for moving the upper arm)
3. Cervical (muscles primary used to move the neck)
4. Abdominal (muscles used to stabilize your lumbosacral and pelvic regions)

Please note, that all these muscles work together for efficient breathing, but each of these groups have a primary function and secondary functions.

If the diaphragm isn’t used properly, all of these other secondary muscles will have to work harder, taking more of the load. If the accessory muscles of respiration take more of this load of breathing, their primary functions will start to suffer.

This will result in two groups of mechanical issues, in addition to lots of other issues which are important, but will not be discussed in this post, so that it can be kept short.

1. Poor posture
2. Poor force transmission during physical effort

The purpose of this post is to discuss how to use breathing to improve movement, specifically that last point above.

When you’re “stabilising your core”, this is what is usually done-. The diaphragm is contracted in exhalation, and the abdominal and pelvic muscles have to provide resistance against the diaphragm to prevent that pressure from leaking away. This rigid core will now provide a stable platform for the muscles of the arm to use as a foundation, when force is required. This rigid core is also what helps force production of the legs against the ground, to be transmitted up to the hands.

However, a fully rigid core will limit fluidity of movements, because the spine turns immobile. And limit breathing, because the diaphragm is now immobile.

The body answers this challenge by turning the core rigid when maximum force production is needed and going partially loose, when the force/tension required is lesser. It can also direct sections of the core to go super rigid in one area, while maintaining other areas with just enough tension to maintain enough intra abdominal pressure.

This process cannot be done properly if you’re trying to micromanage it. You’ll look and feel like a robot.

There’s 4  broad levels of breath use during resistance training.

1. Complete breath hold while exerting force
2. Exhalation while exerting force
3. Inhalation while exerting force
4. Complete dissociation of breath from force

Where level 1 is a situation where maximum force production is needed. And level 4 is where the force production and stability needs are so minimal, that the stage of breath doesn’t need any synchronisation with force production.

Usually, if you’re strength training you’ll need to be using either  level 2 or level 3 of the diaphragm/breathing assist. If you don’t have to do that, it means that the load is not enough to challenge your strength. And you’re not engaged in strength training, you’re engaged in cardio. You need to either increase the load, or increase the stability challenge, in order to make the best use of the time you’re investing in training.

If the load you’re using is very light, you can then play with your breath. Exhale during force production, inhale during force production, or reverse direction of breath (most challenging and risky) during the actual force production portion of the movement. This sort of training is useful to train the breath itself. And the techniques learnt can be used in heavier weights.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no right or wrong breathing pattern. It depends on how advanced your strength and stability is. Learn the rules, understand them, and then break them, depending on your requirements and individual risk tolerance.

If the club you’re using is heavy for you, better not to break the rules.

As the amount of stability you derive from breath drops, the risk of injury does go up. If you make yourself too rigid, you won’t be able to breathe efficiently. The trade off will depend on your strength and stability requirements.

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