There’s some controversy about how to breathe while squatting. Breathing is at the very top of our bodily systems…imagine not breathing for 4 minutes. Its importance is absolutely vital so what’s the correct strategy?
That depends on your goals. And your goals will determine your load you lift, and your load determines which breathing strategy is right for you. If you’re squatting your bodyweight, your load is generally low and you can easily tolerate breathing throughout the movement (knowing when you start adding weight, this will change) we can use a breathing strategy that will build energy throughout your body by activating your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)
The PNS regulates the ‘rest and relax’ activities of your body, in contrast to the ‘fight or flight’ response that the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) regulates.
In fact fitness pioneer, Paul Chek, recommends 50 “Breathing Squats” daily to improve circulation, digestion, elimination, and mental clarity! To perform this variation; breath in as you stand up (as inhalation is coupled with extension), then breathe out on the way down (as exhalation is coupled with flexion).Your lungs will fully inflate on the way up and deflate on the way down, and coupled with the squat movement, this provides ample oxygen and little pressure to the body. This is Diaphragmatic Breathing – the same type of breathing used when meditating.
Now, in stark contrast……if your goals are to get strong, then you’ll need to move some load!
In order to optimally lift heavy loads you must effectively transfer force from the bar through your body to the ground. You need to achieve “tightness” to avoid power leaks in your lift. This requires the use of many of the body’s natural mechanisms such as Intra-abdominal pressure (IAP).Intra-abdominal pressure increases spinal stability so is vital in the management of heavy loads. High IAP is developed with the help of the Valsalva maneuver in conjunction with the use of the law of irradiation and muscular tightness. The Law of Irradiation can be defined as the ability of one muscle when it tenses strongly to recruit the tension of nearby muscles. If you squeeze the bar you will feel tension in the hand and forearm. If you squeeze the bar harder you will now feel tension in your upper arm along with the tension in your hand and forearm. If you squeeze the bar even harder you will now feel tension in your chest, shoulder and lat along with the tension in your upper arm, hand and forearm. If you squeeze even harder you will feel tension all the way to your abdominal muscles along with the tension in all the other muscles.
This contention from several muscles contracting strongly together will magnify your overall strength through achieving tightness.
Another way to put it is tense all your muscles and adjacent muscles really hard during a lift not just the primary muscle being used.
The Valsalva maneuver is performed by a moderately forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway, usually done by closing one’s mouth, and pressing out as if blowing up a balloon. This is the natural way to breathe when attempting to lift a heavy load. Tip: Try and lift your car and feel how your body automatically goes into a breathe hold. The problem is that at the same time this also increases Blood Pressure, which is a contraindication for anybody with heart conditions. So the take home message here is simple; if you want to lift heavy you need to stabilize your spine. To stabilize your spine you need to increase Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP). To achieve high levels of IAP you must master the Valsalva maneuver.
If you are precluded from performing the Valsalva maneuver… you must not lift heavy as… Cardiac health always trumps back health!
Squatting HEAVY is not for the faint hearted (literally), though also not necessary to achieve many of the benefits of the squat. Thus, think about your goals and the amount of load you need to lift to achieve them…and then choose the breathing strategy that best facilitates this technique!