Breath Work for Gainsby Katlin Arvanis, CPT, RYT 200 on November 21, 2020
The bodybuilder inside all of us is likely immediately skeptical of the headline, after all, breathing is not difficult. That is precisely part of the quiet and unnoticeable problem; breathing is the only thing your body can do both voluntary and involuntarily. When muscle growth is on the line, priorities are more likely to be adding weight to your squat and increasing your carbs,
not focusing on breathing.
What if I told you that practicing breath work can actually help you with your bodybuilding goals? Breathing is an extremely interconnected system that made to respond, much like other systems of the body, except this system you can manipulate to your advantage. Conscious breathing exercises can make you stronger, help you recover, make you leaner, more mobile, and lower your stress. You just have make time for it.
Bracing is a term and exercise that most of us are very familiar with now (if not, no big deal, read below). If you’ve been lifting for years you know the importance of bracing during your heavy lifts. You can also practice bracing without a load, which is a step most people are missing. Just like getting in your warm-up sets, practicing bracing without a load helps you engage the right muscles, in the proper range of motion, with full control and mind-body connection. A stronger diaphragm creates stronger abdominals and a more supported spine and hips. Additionally, diaphragmatic breathing increases resting metabolic rate.
Breathing techniques, breathing exercises, and breathing practices have been around for thousands of years. These are the basis for meditation and are highly involved with yoga and eastern medicine. Before we had the science to test the efficacy of these practices, they were centuries old and sworn by. For good reason! Breathing practices are shown to help re-wire the brain and reduce stress. In doing so, the autonomic nervous system is less taxed, which means it has more resources for things like recovering muscle tissue breakdown. Researchers and longtime practitioners suggest that there is a ‘memory’ in the practice which enables you to reduce stress more quickly ‘on-command’ each time you practice or meditate.
Finally, the diaphragm IS a muscle. It has attachments to the chest, ribs, and spine – and is connected to the hips via the psoas. Most of us have tight (overactive and shortened) hip flexor muscles, including the psoas, thanks to our modern behaviors. This can create problems in the trunk and low back – add in poor breathing and you’re adding icing onto the immobile and achy cake. The good news is you can use breathing to open these spaces back up, retrain the neural pathways, and create mobility where there was a lack thereof.
*Bracing: term used to describe a synergistic effort that stabilizes the spine and hips by isometrically contracting muscles of the core. As you exhale slowly, create pressure, push your ribs down and internally rotate them, bring the pelvis into a neutral position (or posterior if necessary), and squeeze the abdominal cavity.
You may choose to begin by trying out one or two of the following exercises, or if you have time, go for all of them! Practice these when you have some free time, and take mental notes on how you feel before, during, and after each exercise. Note if or when you feel physical tension, or even a mental release. This will help you decide which are appropriate for you during different times. For example, bracing is helpful to engage your core before a workout, while you might feel mental release from the spinal twist.