Breathing is a requirement for staying alive. It’s also a really useful tool when you are lifting weights. Whether you're looking to hit a new deadlift PR, or simply to prevent injury by using proper form at the gym, harnessing your breath is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal, according to Hans Pirman, owner of Global Strongman Gym. Pirman has been a Brooklyn-based strongman, powerlifting, and bodybuilding coach for 38 years. And he's got some no-nonsense advice on how to breathe while lifting weights.
- Hans Pirman, personal trainer, award-winning competition strongman, and sport bodybuilder
“Breathing isn’t just good for lifting; it’s absolutely required,” says Pirman. If you picture someone huffing and puffing and lifting something heavy, maybe a red face of concentration comes to mind. The truth is that holding your breath when you lift can lead to injuries, as well as “an increase in blood pressure, fainting, hernias, and even heart attacks, depending upon your current health status and pre-existing conditions,” as trainer Tom Holland previously told Well+Good.
So how should you breathe while lifting weights?
Sometimes fitness advice can get really long and convoluted, but Pirman keeps it short and sweet: “Breath out when you exert,” he says. This means that when you pull up for a deadlift or push your legs out for a leg press, you should be breathing out in tandem with that exertion.
That means you should be breathing in when you are winding up or gearing up to lift, says Pirman. So, inhale when you drop down for a squat and exhale when you squeeze those thighs and press the weight up.
Why should you breathe correctly while lifting weights?
When you look at it on a very basic level, breathing gives your body the oxygen that you need to function. Breathing in at the correct time and exhaling at the correct time literally lets your body utilize your breath to perform the moves you're looking to do.
The next reason Pirman explains (which is pretty cool if you ask me) is that your core and diaphragm are super important for a lot of different lifting techniques. Whether you’re deadlifting, bicep curling, or pressing all your might on that leg press, your core is involved. Part of the core is your diaphragm, which sits below your lungs and above your abs. With its contractions and extensions, it controls your exhale and inhale. It also can support the rest of your core and allow you to have more strength in your lifts.
Exhaling contracts your diaphragm and therefore engages your core, says Pirman. Timing that exhale strategically can help you lift stronger, with better form, and, most importantly, support an injury-free lifting journey.
In his training, Pirman emphasizes that core strength and support are one of the most important things to work on because you use them in everything else you do, whether that’s helping a friend move or aiming for to hit a new PR in the gym. So, cue the sappy music, folks: New shoes and a cool weightlifting belt are cool, but it’s neat to realize one of the best tools at your disposal for a better weightlifting sesh is right there *points to your chest* within you.
One way to train yourself to breathe correctly while lifting? Doing Pilates, which incorporates the breath into every move. Give it a try:
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