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Breathe. Move. Repeat.

As we approached the East River Tunnel we took in big deep breaths and swallowed them. Our cheeks puffed and eyes bulged as we drove through the dim tunnel connecting West Virginia and Virginia along Interstate 77. Without fail one of the kids would spit out their breath and another would cheat by breathing silently through their nose, but holding our breath through the tunnels of I-77 as we drive to South Carolina is a tradition.

I got a question about this the other day. But not as it relates to driving through tunnels. Instead I had a client who found themselves holding their breath while they workout.

I won’t get into the reasons why this is sub-optimal. Those truths should be self-evident. Instead, lets get into how to better breathe through those high intensity intervals.

The most important thing to consider (outside of actually breathing) is finding some kind of rhythm. An intentional in-and-out pace can set the tone for smooth, consistent movement. This concept was really hard for me to grasp, mostly because this white boy has no rhythm. Let’s talk about what that looks like using the thruster.

Image Courtesy of CrossFit.com

I like using the thruster to demonstrate breathing techniques because this single movement covers a very wide range of motion. 

Let’s break this down into X parts:

  1. Standing
  2. Squatting
  3. Bottom
  4. Standing
  5. Pressing
  6. Top

When To Exhale

There are multiple schools of thought about when in the thruster you should exhale, but the best solutions allow you to produce optimal power. Consider the striking arts like boxing or martial arts. Throwing a punch is almost always associated with an exhale of some sort. 

With the concept in mind let’s apply it to the thruster (above).  You need power production primarily at points 4, 5, and 6 (squatting through pressing). When I perform my thrusters this is where I exhale most predominantly. 

A nice side-effect of an exhale is that you tend to tighten your core, even a bit, when you do it. 

when to inhale

That only leaves us with one really good option to inhale. That is between steps 6 and back through to step 2. 

The first reason being that you’re not exhaling. 

The second is that you’re at a good posture to breathe without a collapsed torso. Go ahead and hunch over. Now try taking a nice deep breath or three. 

Not so easy, is it? 

Now replicate steps 6 through 2 in slow motion while taking a nice deep breath or three. 

See the difference? 

putting it all together

Let’s put it to practice, shall we?

Without any weight lets move through the thruster with what we learned. Let’s move at a nice easy pace, giving priority to our breath, not our movement. 

Start at position 1 with a full exhale. As you move through positions 2 take a breath. 

Hold it at position 3.

Nice, controlled exhale through positions 4, 5, and 6.

And pause at the top for a moment before taking a breath on your way back to position 1. 

Repeat nice and easy until you notice the rhythm. 

The idea is a nice smooth flow. It will take time and practice, so have grace and forgiveness with yourself as you learn. 

find your own rhythm

As with almost every rule, there are occasional exceptions. As you learn and play with your breath you might discover that you have a rhythm all your own. 

That’s ok. We all march to a beat of our own drummer. I’m just here to help you find yours. 

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