Recently a member asked me, "Hey Coach, when should I breathe?". It was during a lifting session. I was asked this same question for part of a metcon (wod) later in the week.
So I thought I would send you all a few pointers on breathing. Remember, there are ALL kinds of breathing techniques, breathing gurus, experts, exercise physiologists, etc. I am NONE of these...I am your CrossFit coach, and an avid CrossFitter, but if I know anything, I know how to breathe when I lift and when I do a metcon.
Knowing when to breathe during a heavy lift is important. Not only do you require the right amount of oxygen, but you also need to know how to brace yourself correctly. And this is done with the correct breathing technique while also bracing your glutes and your abdominal muscles/core. There are fancy words for this, and Dr. Jaime Gold can share those with you if you are interested, but for now, let me just throw it at you like I normally do. ;)
Specifically, I am speaking of breathing before executing a heavy squat, or an overhead lift. We need to take a diaphragm breath, not a belly breath, before dropping down into the squat. Try the difference while you read this. Take a belly breath, where your belly fills up and sticks out. Now concentrate and take a diaphragm breath, while you tighten your abs simultaneously, and your belly gets hard and doesn't stick out. Now tighten the glutes at least halfway. That is what you should do before you drop into the squat with a heavy loaded barbell. You are taking this breath before you drop. You then hold it, and then either release as you stand up from the bottom, or release at the top as the lift is ending. You are breathing in before the eccentric movement (going down), and breathing out during the concentric movement (going up).
Doing a jerk or a heavy push press is similar. You take that deep breath and turn on the core and the glutes, then execute the lift with explosion, and exhale at lockout. This is a faster lift, and a faster exhale than the squat for sure. Your eccentric part of the lift is the small dip down, and you are holding your breath here. The concentric part of the lift is the explosion up. Again, we are exhaling during or at the very end of the concentric move. This is normally the case in weightlifting. We breath in before or during the eccentric moves. And we breathe out either during or at the end of our concentric moves. There are exceptions, but this is normally the rule to follow.
Deadlifts, cleans, and snatches from the floor are a bit tricky. Do we breathe while standing, or while we bend over to grab the bar and get into our set up? For the best deadlifters in the world, I have seen them take that big breath while standing before they go down to execute the lift. For olympic cleans and snatches, most will take that big breath during set-up just before they pull the bar off the floor.
Breathing during wods is a whole different story. Breathing goes with pace. How can we control our heart rate, so that we can not gas out? Well, that's the trick. We need to be able to keep our heart rate at a rate that allows us to breathe well. We all know what it feels like when that doesn't happen, and we are bent over, staring at the floor, wondering how the heck are we going to continue. So the trick is to come out a bit cautiously on wods that are over 7 minutes long. I find that is the secret number. For wods 7 minutes and shorter, we can go HARD. For wods longer than that, we need to keep our heart rate, and ego, in check for a bit longer.
But other than pacing, I have found a few little tricks for breathing during certain exercises. I breathe twice for every one burpee. I breathe once for every stroke on the rower at an easy pace, and twice for every stroke at a hard pace. I breathe once for every unbroken toes to bar and butterfly pullup. I breathe in on the kipping swing on a ring MU, I breathe out on the catch and dip, and then take another huge breath on the way down for the next one. I breathe out on every push on the handstand pushup, and out for every lowering of the HSPU (concentric vs. eccentric). For barbell cycling, I am doing the same breathing as I would for heavy lifting, just faster breathing and not holding that breath as I am cycling the barbell at a lighter weight. I am trying to breathe in my nose and out my mouth while running, and I am trying to do the same when I do dubs. Wallballs are little different...I breathe in on the squat, out on the standing to throw and I also take a quick breath while the ball is in the air and hitting it's target, so two breaths for every rep. I breathe in before I box jump, and breathe out at the top while opening the hips. I could probably account for every way that I breathe for every movement we do, but I think you are getting the picture. And as for the assault bike? HA! I basically gasp for air. But I will say it helps to NOT be hunched over on it and to try and stay as upright as possible so that you can fill up the lungs with oxygen. It helps putting the seat just a little bit more forward than usual, causing you to sit a bit more upright.
So, oxygen is kind of a big deal! The more we get, the more we can do. So take a moment and practice breathing. Think about it when you are executing lifts especially. I get that it's hard to concentrate in wods, but the heavy lifting is where you can improve your breathing immediately. Not only will you lift more, but you will brace yourself better, and prevent injury.
Till next time, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and enjoy that oxygen. See you at the box!