Our friends at Shape have come up with three useful tips to help you safely step up your weight workouts.
It's hard to forget about your breath during yoga (have you ever taken a yoga class where you haven't heard the phrase: "focus on your breath" every third pose!?) The teacher usually guides you through class by counting breaths and telling you when, exactly, to inhale and exhale. But, you don't often hear bootcamp instructors yelling out breathing instructions during sets of push-ups — and if you're lifting on your own, you may even find that you're actually holding your breath during certain moves. Which is too bad, since breathing at the right times can not only make lifting feel easier, it can help you get better results, says Susan Stanley, a Tier 4 Coach (or master instructor) at Equinox in New York City. (In fact, you can actually Breathe Your Way to a Fitter Body.)
"One way to tell if the exercise is beyond the scope of the exerciser is whether they feel like they need to hold their breath," says Stanley. If you do find you're holding your breath while executing a move, use lighter weights or scale the exercise down so it's easier. As you get stronger — and breathe easier — you can pick up the heavier weights again. (Try this Heavy Weight Workout.) But there's more to it than simply not holding your breath. You can use each inhale and exhale to help you get more out of every exercise you do so you get fitter, faster! Here are three ways to maximize every breath you take:
- Exhale during the "work" portion of the move (so, the "up" movement of a biceps curl, for example) and inhale when you're lowering the weights back down. "Generally, exhaling during the work means you are engaging the transversus abdominus, a critical spinal stabilizer in the core, as well as other stabilizers," explains Stanley. "This is necessary for form, safety, and maximizing strength and range of motion."
- When exhaling, think about blowing the air out forcefully and purposefully. "You don't want to 'deflate,' you want to exhale like you're trying to blow up a balloon," says Stanley's fellow T4 Coach Jane Lee. (Try Yoga Breathing to Fall Asleep Fast.)
- Watch yourself in the mirror when possible. Make sure your belly is rising when you inhale. This is diaphragmatic breathing, and it's important to stabilizing your core and keeping you injury-free. "If only your chest moves when you breathe, that means you are taking in some oxygen, but probably not expelling enough CO2, which is equally important," says Stanley.