The topic of how to breathe when working out is a bit controversial: inhale or exhale when you lift the weight? Should you actually hold your breath? Or take short puffs? Here are the most important pointers about breathing and exercising.
Any Breathing Is Better Than None
As long as you breathe, you are doing far better than if you stopped breathing. Holding your breath causes a lack of oxygen in your brain and has your blood pressure go through the roof. Neither is a good idea, especially when weightlifting:
The technique of holding your breath under pressure that we talked about in the video actually has a name: it’s the Valsalva manoeuvre.
Named after a 17th century Italian doctor, it has you attempt to exhale while keeping your mouth shut and pinching the nose closed. Valsalva discovered this as a method to ease the pain in the middle ears that comes from closed Eustachian tubes. This is what you experience, for example, when you are aboard a plane or go diving. In the last decades its usage for this purpose has almost entirely stopped, as it can damage the middle ear. Now people are told to simply yawn or swallow, which usually has the same effect.
Another usage for the Valsalva manoeuvre directly shows why holding your breath under pressure is stress for the heart: Doctors sometimes use it to detect anomalies in heart rhythm, as it puts the heart under a lot of tension and makes heart problems more apparent.
If just doing this sitting in a chair’s in your doctor’s office is this much stress for your heart, imagine what happens when you do it during strenuous activity like weightlifting. In the study we talked about in the video, the highest recorded blood pressure under held breath was 370/360 – it doesn’t seem a good idea to subject yourself to that on a regular basis.
Picture courtesy of William Warby.