Training

The Truth Behind Inhaling and Exhaling

Health and fitness experts warn against holding your breath while lifting...but are they right?

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The Truth Behind Inhaling and Exhaling
Pavel Ythjall

OPENING ARGUMENTS

DEFENSE

All authoritative bodies in health and fitness warn against holding your breath while lifting a weight. Holding your breath can raise your blood pressure because of increased intra-abdominal pressure. You should exhale during the concentric portion of the lift and inhale during the eccentric portion. The experts recommend that you count your reps out loud to make sure you are not holding your breath.

PROSECUTION

Holding your breath and “pushing” is called the Valsalva maneuver (VM). This occurs naturally or reflexively when you try to lift something heavy. It occurs involuntarily and also increases intra-abdominal pressure, adding stability to the spine and core in general.

EVIDENCE

  • Research has shown that when loads approaching or exceeding about 80% 1RM, VM is involuntary and briefly unavoidable with maximum exertion. This also holds true for lighter sets taken to failure. 
  • Evidence shows that intra-abdominal pressure increases with exertion at or above 80% 1RM whether you hold your breath or not.
  • Studies have shown that intra-abdominal pressure is actually less when VM occurs during resistance exercise than when subjects are asked to perform the VM by itself.
  • Increasing intra-abdominal pressure from involuntary VM increases stability of the spine, preparing the body for high-axial loading similar to what occurs during squats and deadlifts.
  • Individuals with a history of heart or vascular disease or hernias are high-risk participants in resistance training and are advised to avoid the VM during resistance exercise.

 VERDICT 

Some amount of breath holding during training involving maximal effort or even loads at 80% 1RM is unavoidable and serves an important role in stabilizing the spine.

SENTENCING

Breath holding during a lift should be allowed to occur naturally. But exaggerating or preventing it could cause dizziness or reduce spine stability. Because of the impact of increasing intra-abdominal pressure on blood pressure, individuals with heart or vascular disease or hernias are advised to avoid the VM during resistance exercise.

 FLEX 

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