How To Breathe For Bigger Lifts

Powerlifter Benching

I almost fell over and blacked out yesterday after a heavy single on the overhead press. It was friggin' scary!

This has never happened to me in my 10+ years of bodybuilding and powerlifting. The lift felt really easy, like a feather, but that was the lack of oxygen and/or blood in the brain causing euphoria.

It hit me hard when I was looking down taking off my wrist wraps. My vision and hearing slipped into a very relaxed dream-like state and my thinking slowed down. My brain was telling my arm to grab something to hold onto but the signal wasn't reaching. Thankfully, the feeling faded away before I passed out and did any damage from hitting my head on a plate or the power rack.

I skipped the rest of my heavy singles because I still wasn't sure what the hell happened there. But I made sure to get in my accessory work which went fine. Afterwards, I replayed everything in my mind of what I did before and during the lift. I eventually figured out why I almost passed out. This new experience is the inspiration for this post.

You're probably thinking that this big meathead almost blacked out because he was holding his breath and lifting heavy. You're half right. It's not because I held my breath, it's because I held it in the wrong place.

How To Breathe For Bigger Lifts

To lift the most weight when doing heavy singles, doubles or triples, you have to be solid and tight in your form. A big component of achieving this is by holding your breath in your belly and pushing out on it for the whole lift. This stabilizes your core and allows you to lift more weight. Think of it this way: What can handle the most weight on top? A wobbly pencil or a solid brick? You want to be the solid brick.

So what do I mean by "in your belly"? When you take a deep breath, does your chest or belly rise? If it's your chest, practice on getting it into your belly by pushing it out as you breath in. Then hold it there with your throat closed and flex/push your ab/abs out and hold it there. If you use a weightlifting or powerlifting belt, push your belly into that. You'll notice increased stability right away which transfers more power from you to moving the bar.

Video Demo


Breathing Steps

  1. Take a deep breath and hold it.
  2. Unrack the bar and walk or lift it out.
  3. Lock out (hold) the bar at the start position of the lift and exhale. Take another deep breath into your belly and hold it.
  4. Perform the lift.
  5. Rack the bar.

For deadlifts, you can experiment to see what works for your body type. Some take their breath and then dive down and reach for the bar and rip it up all in one motion, while others set their grip then take a deep breath.

You can get even more out of this breathing technique by strengthening your core with weighted situps like with a plate on your chest, rope or band ab pulldowns, weighted hanging knee raises, basically any ab exercise that you can add weight to.

To finish the story, I almost blacked out because I held my breath in my chest instead of my belly. It was a very rare lapse in technique that could've turned out worse. The pressure it created in my already thick neck and chest really reduced the supply of blood and/or oxygen to my brain. Fun times!

If you're not already using this breathing technique, try it out! Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

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1 comment:

Josiah said...

I use this technique on a daily basis but lately as my lifts have gone up on all my percentages I've been getting throbbing headaches in the back of my eyes and bursting blood vessels in my eyes as well. Am I doing it wrong