“If you find yourself down in the bottom of the squat and you’re just kinda chilling, you’re probably not squatting right.” – Greg Glassman
Ah, the ever so controversial topic of breathing during your lifts, in this case the squat. How many of us have either read or learned in some type of school setting that we are to breath out “exhale” on the concentric (up) part of the lift and inhale “breathe in” on the eccentric (down) portion of the lift? Most people tend to side with my reasoning after I explain the following scenario. John is squatting close to his 1RM. He has mentally prepared himself walks the lift out and begins his decent. As John begins to come up out of that hole with near his 1RM he exhales losing his brace and lets his air out of his stomach aka his “power source”. John begins to get folded in half by the load on his back and ends up missing his lift. Poor John. Does it really make sense to let out our air when that is exactly what is needed to stay braced, engaged and stable throughout the lift? Of course not! If we are not able to remain stable it is impossible for us to be strong, no matter what lift we are performing. I teach my clients/athletes to either hold their breath on their way up keeping their “IAP” intra-abdominal pressure (pressure within the abdominal cavity) locked in IF and ONLY IF they are experienced enough lifters who are comfortable doing so. The more common way I would inform a client to breathe while staying braced is to let out short quick burst of air out of their mouth as they begin to power out of the hole. Think “tss” “tss” tss” all the way up as you might hear a pro boxer as he delivers punch after punch to his opponent. Sometimes you may hear loud manly grunts be a result of this. Trust me it is not always controllable, we are not trying to be the alpha in the building it is just the effect of pushing through big weights. Keeping that air in your belly will ensure we keep and use our IAP, stay braced and get enough blood to the brain avoiding the “passing out” side effect of holding our breath, especially doing so under a heavy load. Not only does this help our spine and our core from wanting to break or give out but it will help aid our upper back to stay strong and hold that barbell in the same position from the time we go down till the time we stand back up and rack the weight.
Proper breathing and bracing of our core for the squat is an important factor to protecting our spinal column and avoiding injury. You cannot simply just take in a bunch of air and forget to brace. Just as you cannot flex your abs “bracing” without first gathering air into the diaphragm. To learn how to do this correctly, give this test from Squat University a try. Place one hand onto your stomach with the other on your side towards your lower ribs. From here I want you to take a big breath. If this move was done properly you should feel your stomach both rise and fall, with a little pressure towards those lower ribs expanding laterally out to the side. This is creating an increase in volume in our core. When we take that big breath our diaphragm contracts and descends down towards our stomach. Think of pushing that air down in your gut as if you were trying to give birth to a baby. If this move is done improperly, you will notice the chest rise and fall as if you were gasping for breath. Not a very effective place for one to store their air for the squat.
How to brace now that we have our breath?
Let’s take our hand back to our stomach again for another demonstration. With our hand on our stomach take a big breath. Once we have taken the breath I want you to brace your core “stomach” muscles as if you were about to get sucker punched in the gut. Another cue that always seems to work is act like you are pushing your lunch out of your back end on the toilet, graphic I know but this one works and usually gets a few chuckles, especially from the males. Combining both the actions of breathing and bracing increases the IAP mentioned before inside our abdominal cavity. No more volume can enter, we are locked and loaded! Our core is braced, the lower spine is stabilized and safe and we are ready to push some weight!
- Forget the books. Don’t let all your air out on your way up of the squat.
- You must breath AND brace to protect your spine and get all the benefits.
- Horschig, Aaron, and Kevin Sonthana. “How To Breathe When Squatting”. Squat University, 2016, https://squatuniversity.com/2016/02/12/the-squat-fix-core-stability-proper-breathing/.
Zach Kotecki, NSCA-CPT, TSAC-F, USAW-1