A major uncertainty among beginning and intermediate bodybuilders is how to breathe during the middle of a set.

Written by The FLEX staff

May 2, 2008


There are three main schools of thought on the subject, and most bodybuilding authorities are divided in their support of these options (only one of which we support wholeheartedly):

* Inhale on the exertion phase of each repetition, and exhale as you return the weight to the starting point.

* Exhale on the exertion cycle of each rep, and inhale as you return the weight to the starting point.

* Breathe between repetitions, and hold your breath as you execute the entire positive and negative cycle of each repetition.

Because of the absence of pneumatic ballast in the lungs at the beginning of a heavy repetition, the first option feels unnatural to most of us. Physiologically speaking, the second option (breathe out as you exert and in as you recover on each rep) is the most natural and makes the most sense.

The third option, although a modified version of the second, is the most dangerous. If you hold your breath as you exert on a heavy repetition, you might pass out as you raise the weight. Should this happen in the middle of an unsupported set of bench presses or squats, the results could be catastrophic, with the weight crashing down on your chest, shoulders or, worse, neck, in the former situation, and breaking your back or neck in the latter. Cases have been recorded of individuals who have died as a result of holding their breath and passing out while benching alone, so avoid this practice altogether.

Avoid Fainting

Fainting in such a situation is from a phenomenon called the valsalva effect or valsalva maneuver. Intrathoracic pressure mounts terrifically when you hold your breath and exert. This impedes blood flow to the brain and can cause you to pass out, almost always without warning.

An equal danger presents itself when bodybuilders get carried away with their mistaken interpretation of Intensity Training, in which they claim warrior heroism from pushing their set so far beyond failure, with help from their training partner, that they collapse to the floor when finished, and sometimes vomit or get a nosebleed. While this may impress their buddies, the “victim” is destroying his physiological gas balance, hyperventilating, raising his blood pressure to lethal levels and, to put it simply, destroying his health, all of which belie bodybuilding.

To avoid fainting during a repetition, or worse, exhale forcefully as you exert against the bar; then, inhale as you return the weight to the starting point. After a few workouts of concertedly monitoring your workout breathing patterns to make sure your respiration patterns are correct, this will become an automatic and natural process. FLEX.

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