Tuesday, 01 April 2014 00:00

There are many ways to breathe. Some better some worse. Some good some bad. Some safe some dangerous. In this article we will introduce some of the common types and arrange them in order. And of course, the most typical question - “How to breathe during (weight training) exercises?”

Firstly, we've got to ask ourselves why is this so important?

Breathing properly during your exercises can make or break you. It is one of the components of proper technique (remember the 7 Key Components of Structure). Done properly, your breath can maximize your performance. Done improperly your breath can kill you.

The 5 levels of breath are summarized in the Breath Mastery Scale (adapted from Prasara Yoga by Scott Sonnon):

1) Fear Level Breath: passively (reflexively) inhale and brace on perceived effort

2) Anger or Force Level Breath: actively inhale and brace on perceived effort

3) Discipline Level Breath: actively exhale on perceived effort/discomfort; passively inhale on cessation of effort/discomfort

4) Flow Level Breath: passively exhale on compression; passively inhale on expansion

5) Mastery Level Breath: control pause after exhalation on activity


For all intents and purposes, I will only cover what is important to you, i.e the layman, and not give exhaustive explanation of the hows and whys.

The breathing techniques #2 are not to be used at any exercise.

The reason being the breath holding would increase your blood pressure. And if the pressure increases to very high, it can cause stroke or heart attacks. It can be argued that for maximal efforts such as powerlifting you need to hold your breath, but remember that we are a health first fitness system. Performance at the expense of health is not real health.

As an aside, even when you encounter fear or anger, you should not inhale and brace either. As prolonged exposure to this type of breathing would increase your overall muscle tension (read upper thoracic breathing, tight upper traps, forward head posture etc.), which would lead to poorer health and performance. You should instead exhale and do some exercises to release the tension (ala RESET).

Discipline Level Breath (#3) is the one that you should employ in most of your strength & conditioning exercises.

The exhalation causes activation of the core muscles that serves to stabilize the body and in that manner you tie the body into one unit to create linkage for force transfer from limb to limb or one part of the body to another.

Flow Level Breath (#4) is the one you should employ when the effort level is low enough that you do not need the exhale to create sufficient stiffness in your core.

An example of this is during joint mobility exercises in Intu-Flow. Another example would be in endurance efforts where energy conservation is a primary concern, like marathon running. Your breath would evolve from Discipline to Flow as you get better in a particular exercise.

The evolution from Discipline to Flow cannot be forced. It happens subconsciously as your nervous system gets more efficient in a particular skill. As you make the exercise more difficult through increased resistance, volume, sophistication etc, you may need to go down to Discipline again, going back and forth as needed.

Sounds complicated? If you can’t remember anything, just remember these:

1) Exhale on effort

2) Exhale on compression

3) Exhale on impact/contact (with the floor, punching bag, your opponent etc.)





Writer: Herman C.

A mover. In his physical practice he likes to explore all kinds of human movement, structured (ie. following a program) or unstructured. Though he likes to explore all kinds of human movement, he understands that he has not tried all yet. Learning different disciplines over time that are outside my current scope of practice is his interest. And oh, his favourite tools are bodyweight and Clubbells.

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