Breathing. It’s perhaps the most essential and fundamental function of the human body. We do it all the time without sparing it much of a thought. You’re doing it right now. Yet, few of us realise just how important it is to leverage our breathing to enhance our lifting technique and virtually every other form of exercise.
Martial artists, for instance, are trained to expel all the air from their lungs when throwing a punch or kick. Runners, on the other hand, are taught to control their breathing in very different ways to conserve energy, while yogi view breathing as a fundamental part of yoga practice and an essential way to relax into poses.
Breathing is an essential component in virtually every action the human body undertakes and it’s crucial to properly harness the power of breathing to achieve your real potential in all forms of military exercise too.
Here we’ll look at the importance and relevance of incorporating breathing patterns into your training to help protect your spine and prepare the body for weightlifting, as well as aiding in the aerobic aspects of military fitness training.
The Role of Breathing in Lifting
Strength training is an essential part of any serviceman’s fitness regimen. One of the first things we learn in resistance training is the importance of exercise technique. It doesn’t matter if you’re able to pile on the plates when you bench press or deadlift, without the right form you’re bound to be putting way too much demand on a shaky foundation.
The correct technique will ensure proper muscle engagement to help to build the kind of functional strength that’s very important for you to provide an adequate level of military service. It will also help to mitigate the effects of lifting on the body and prevent damage caused to the bones and joints.
Breathing should be considered an essential part of the proper lifting technique. Not only will it aid in correct lifting, but it also forms the foundation upon which lifting strength, power and velocity are based.
In the compound lifts like barbell squats, deadlifts or bench press, the technique requires a strong and stable core to stabilise the body and protect the spine. The Valsalva manoeuvre; where you increase intra-abdominal pressure by holding your breath during heavy loading and exhaling as you complete your rep, is part of any powerlifters practice. It engages the core muscles to support the spine and thus may prevent the added weight from impinging on the wrong joints. It also increases blood pressure which potentially can boost nutrient delivery to the cells.
However, research is still ongoing to identify the risks of performing the Valsalva regularly due to the implications of the increase in blood pressure can have in people with blood pressure problems or other cardiovascular conditions. Ideally this aspect shouldn't affect anybody applying for a role in the Australian Defence Force, but it's important to understand the downsides too.
The Role of Breathing in Running and Aerobic Activity
Needless to say, military fitness training requires a significant amount of running. Why? As the song says, it’s all about that base. The better your "cardiovascular base", the more your body can do before it shifts into an anaerobic state at which it is far more limited.
However, without proper breathing and lung capacity, you’re likely to fall way behind on runs. We have discussed how improving your VO2 capacity can help with beep test results in a blog previously, but it's worth noting that once you are recruited and trained for your chosen role, a rock-solid stamina will be one of the best skills you can have.
During runs and other forms of sustained, moderate intensity aerobic exercise you’re trying to inhale more than you exhale. Without proper rhythmic and nasal breathing technique, this becomes much, much harder. As a result, your body slips into anaerobic mode faster, and your muscles start to fill with lactic acid leading to fatigue and cramps.
The proper breathing technique is as follows; try to take one deep breath through your nose for every third foot strikes. Exhale through your nose for the next two foot strikes. As you increase in speed and intensity, try to change the pattern to a 2:1 breath to foot strike ratio.
Rhythmic breathing also helps to keep the heart rate stable and can have a calming effect on the body. This will limit the risk of muscle tension impinging upon your performance which will become especially crucial in high-stress scenarios like in combat or even during your Physical Fitness Assessment...
Breathing and the PFA
The Physical Fitness Assessment is understandably a source of high tension amongst many. No matter how well you train and prepare for it, it’s perfectly natural to experience nerves on the day of the PFA. Without proper mastery of breathing, these nerves can quickly get the better of you and affect your scores.
In many instances, candidates (particularly female candidates) can come to the PFA with a significant buildup of tension in their upper bodies, specifically the chest and shoulders. This inhibits lung capacity and can lead to wasted energy. The nervous tension they bring to the beep test can actually hinder their performance. Many of them run out of energy comparatively quickly in the beep test no matter how well they do in training.
Proper diaphragmatic breathing can help to release this tension while also increase lung capacity so that performance in the beep test more closely matches personal best in training.
When you harness the power of proper breathing technique, every aspect of fitness becomes more natural to improve. Just with any exercise, the road to breathing mastery is consistent practice.
If you are not sure where your breathing game is and would like advice or have any questions on this topic, feel free to send The Barracks Gym team a message.
Michael and Carly both have walked the path you are about to take and are commited to help you get started with your training for a successful enlistment with free tips and articles.