Health & Fitness Articles

Thanks for visiting my health and fitness articles page. These articles cover a variety of topics such as workout routines, general health, fitness, nutrition, chronic disease and anti-aging strategies. These articles are published in 5 local newspapers in Georgia and are uploaded here the following Monday after each print publication.
I wish you the best in health and fitness~
Wade Yoder, Master Trainer & Fitness Nutrition Specialist
Holding Your Breath

A common expression is "don't hold your breath" especially when it comes to things that are not going to happen. This term is used a lot in the gym as well, but are there times when holding or slightly holding our breath can be a good thing? Can this help brace us or strengthen us internally for handling external forces?
Quite often when a person has chronic joint pain, "they can feel pressure changes from the weather and some can even tell if it's going to rain." When there is enough of a pressure difference in our external environment vs. our internal pressure it can be felt by pain in joints, especially if there is inflammation in these areas. So if we can figure out how to counter the pressure from the outside with that of the inside, maybe we can have a skeletal structure that is less affected by outside forces.
Protecting our back: when we breathe in deeply and slightly hold our breath during the primary exertion phase of lifting something, the air we are holding works from the inside a lot like a support belt does from the outside in supporting our spine.
Example: imagine lifting something very heavy and setting it on a top shelf. Then imagine doing this with all your air exhaled out, "it would make your back feel like it's going to cave in." At least partially holding your breath during a lift like this can really help internally stabilize your back. Smoothly exhale as you're completing the lift.
How holding your breath can make you stronger: the Vasalva maneuver is something most of us use fairly regularly at varying intensities without even thinking about what we're doing or even knowing what the Vasalva maneuver is. 
Method: the Vasalva maneuver is done by taking in a breath of air and then pushing the air up against a closed airway. In this case the closed airway is the glottis (the opening between the vocal cords). This pressure inside the chest area forces blood out of the pulmonary circulation and into the left atrium of the heart (which is where our oxygenated blood goes before being sent out to the rest of the body). This often gives us a surge of power for a short duration.
Vasalva maneuver for inner ear pressure: we can use the Vasalva maneuver as well when going through the mountains, valleys or air travel when we feel pressure building up in our head. 
Method: breathe in deep, close your mouth, hold your nose shut and then slowly push the air up from your lungs (like you're going to force it out of your nose). You will usually feel air push through the Eustachian tube of the middle ear, like a pressure release valve.
Blood pressure warning: overuse of the Vasalva maneuver (against the glottis) can cause potential high spikes of blood pressure due to the air pressure around the upper heart and lung area. Exhaling slowly during the lift can help keep blood pressure from spiking and the subsequent drop in pressure when blood returns to normal circulation. I do not recommend the Vasalva maneuver for more then 3-5 seconds at a time and if it's multiple repetitions, I would highly recommend a steady flow of breathing. The above is not something we have to overly concern ourselves with since most of the time proper breathing comes naturally without us needing to pay extra attention to it. 

When we inhale and get extra oxygen along with a slight increase in blood pressure we become more alert, energized and stronger, when we exhale, we tend to become more relaxed.
Proper breathing technique: inhale as you lower the weight and exhale slowly as you lift the weight, likewise if it's a pulling exercise, inhale as you pull, exhale as you release. Using proper breathing technique should give you an increase in strength and support your back!

Imagine it like this: during the easy part of the movement breathe in a full breath of air and as you go through the exertion part of the movement (such as pushing the bar up from the chest while bench pressing), slowly release your breath. Likewise in a squatting movement, breathe in as you're going into the squat position and exhale as you're going back into the standing position. This should give you give you the maximum benefit of spinal support and extra strength without the spike in blood pressure. 
We use this process without thinking most times, especially when we're bracing ourselves for a heavy load. Even a baby does it naturally when they are clenching their little fists and getting red in the face when they're trying to get rid of a load!
I'm not sure exactly what physiological effect that happens to cause the body to temporarily strengthen when we do this, but I do think it's pretty awesome that the same thing that gives us a temporary surge in strength, also protects our back!


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