Fitness Distilled

Live and Breathe Strength

OK, I know I haven’t written a post in a while, and every time I don’t, I have an excuse. It’s usually one of the following:


A) I was out with a chick. (This doesn’t happen nearly often enough so you have to understand why I prioritize the times when it does.)


B) I’ve been overwhelmed with my day job at Men’s Fitness and Muscle&Fitness.


C) I can’t remember the password to open the CMS to my own website and physically post the post.


I’ll leave you to wonder which option it was this time. Anybody cAn mAke A mistAke. PleAse forgive me…


But enough about my sexual history and technical incompetence. I have something to say that is of value to you.


Let’s talk breathing… And immediately, I hear the sound of laptops everywhere closing.


Learn this.


“Breathing is easy. I’ve been doing it my whole life.” That’s the most common response I get. Everybody thinks they know how to breathe, but I assure you that you could be breathing better, and if you start to do so you’ll recover better and get STRONGER as a result.


One of my best friends for the past dozen years is a breathing coach, and only recently have I really opened my eyes to what she’s been saying about breathing. (In fairness to me, she hasn’t been a breathing coach for as long as I’ve known her.)


Dr. Belisa Vranich ( works with UFC fighters, SWAT team guys, and other bad asses and her methods can help you. Check out her site.


But the gist of it is this: you need to breathe with your BELLY, not your chest. On every inhale, expand your stomach 360 degrees. Your chest shouldn’t rise first. This allows you to take in more air and it helps stabilize your spine.


Duffin’s bracing allows for bigger lifts.















If you have back pain when you squat or deadlift, breathing like this may be the trick to alleviate it. Your spine won’t buckle under heavy loads as easily. Look at the powerlifters who have the biggest bellies. It’s not just fat down there. They have learned to breathe from their diaphragms to inflate their middle, which increases their leverage on lifts. Yes, simply taking in more air can make you stronger. And so can learning to clamp your core muscles down around that air to hold it in place.


There are a lot of breathing drills you should be practicing but I’ll leave that for Belisa to show you. Or Chris Duffin, a record-holding powerlifter who I’ve also consulted about breathing. They’re both great resources for how breathing can improve your lifting and recovery. I’ll bring you more of their findings in future posts and articles, but for now…


Here’s a quick tutorial on how to breathe when you’re performing a heavy lift, according to Vranich. I recently adopted this technique and it’s made my heavy squats and deadlifts feel SO much better—safer and stronger.


Let’s say you’re doing a deadlift.


1 Once you’ve set up, take a deep breath. Fill up your belly first, then your chest. If you’re wearing a belt, try to expand your waistline in every direction to press against it. This takes some practice but you can do it.


2 Now contract your pelvic floor. These are the muscles deep in your hips that support your organs, help a woman give birth, and cut off your pee stream when you need to go to the bathroom but can’t. Contracting them is as simple as pinching off your pee, or doing a kegel (ask any woman who’s taken a sex class; she knows).


3 Brace your abs like you’re about to be punched. You’ll feel so much tension throughout your body it will even travel into your face and ears. That’s what you want. You are now solid as steel, my friend.


4 Lift the weight.


You will be shocked by how much more braced and stable you are. This technique may allow you to lift more weight, and it will definitely let you lift whatever weight you are using more safely.




Vranich has a book you should read.

Taking in air and holding it in your abdomen with these muscles is critical. According to Vranich, “Just taking in air and contracting your abs [as many do] without the pelvic floor weakens the pelvic floor, and you’ll be wearing adult diapers one day as a result.


“If you don’t use the pelvic floor when you do a Valsalva [the name of the technique of breath holding to enhance stability on lifts] you miss the point. That’s why weightlifters get hernias. Lower back pain is related to the pelvic floor, and you can keep going to the chiropractor but until you learn to use your pelvic floor it won’t help.”


Go to and see THIS video by Duffin for more.

Join the Discussion

Related Content

[ssrp hide_post_type_headings="1" hide_term_headings="1" hide_title="1" term_heading_links="0" post_types="post, page" number_of_posts="4"]