"Where They Got It Wrong Chronicles" - Breathing

by Neil Anderson

I've been in the health and fitness biz, exclusively, for over 16 years now.  That is long enough to see some things come and go.  It is also long enough to EXPERIENCE where experts got it wrong and have reversed their positions.  What was once considered "law" in becoming healthy is now, not only proven wrong, but may even be bad for you.   

Breathing is one place they got it wrong.

If you were forward thinking enough to have been working out in the late 80's you'll remember:

"BREATHE OUT UPON EXERTION."  Or, "BLOW OUT WHEN YOU PUSH." 

Remember this?  Back then, in the health and fitness scene, it was bright colors, Doc Marten's, Hammer pants, and lots of HISSING.  Everyone was HISSING.  Aerobics instructors were HISSING.  Weight lifters were HISSING.  Trainers were telling their clients to HISS.  I even witnessed a water-aerobics instructor encouraging her class participants to blow bubbles under water when they did certain movements. 

This HISSING (pursing lips and teeth and blowing out while lifting) was supposed to help keep your blood pressure down.  Back then, high blood pressure was supposedly one of the biggest dangers and drawbacks to exercising. People who exercised were told by those in the know (mainly doctors and rehab specialists) that exercise was inherently dangerous.  And people who chose to exercise (not considered entirely necessary back then), had to be careful not to have an aneurysm, stroke, or heart attack while doing it.  To prevent such, they were to avoid and suppress their natural instinct to grunt and hold their breath for an instant while lifting something heavy.

This was great advice, but it only applied to a VERY small portion of the exercising population.  These were mainly heart patients.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of exercisers could be harmed by NOT taking a deep breath and holding it briefly while exerting. 

How? 

BACK INJURIES. 

It turns out that your natural instinct to grunt and hold your breath a little while lifting heavy and/or shifting your weight vigorously serves a purpose.  By holding your breath a little with each rep, you create intra-abdominal pressure.  This pressure supports and substantiates spinal integrity.   When you blow out you create an absence of intra-abdominal pressure and expose the muscles of the spine to greater strain.  This increases your chances of sustaining an injury. 

Also consider the fact that blowing out may be keeping you from health and fitness gains.  Your body is nothing if not self-preserving.  Built-in mechanisms may prevent you from making injurious mistakes.  Lack of intra-abdominal pressure for support may cause your body to naturally and subtly weaken its output during lifts.  There are many examples of this.  Weak output yields weak results.  

How did they get it so wrong back then? 

It was trickle down science from cardiac rehab

You have to remember that very little was "scientifically" known about exercise and its effects in the late 80's.  Back then you only had a couple choices for selecting an exercise method.  These came from popular culture (sports, celebrities, magazines) or the medical field.  And since FEW people trusted the dubious nature of the advice given by popular culture, the general public was more apt to seek out and obtain advice from those in the medical field (equally dubious as it turns out).  

And the advice given was..."don't hold your breath while exerting."  

This advice was quickly adopted by popular culture (sports, celebs, magazines), integrated, and perpetuated in a way that it still exists today.  And it is still as bad for you as it ever was - unless you have a blood pressure issue. 

If you are still HISSING while exercising, consider stopping.  You have taught yourself to lift in a way that is anti-nature.  Your natural urge to hold your breath briefly (DO NOT HOLD FOR LONG PERIODS - you should breathe between each rep) during each rep of heavy exercise is there for a reason.  And unless you've been specifically told by a M.D. or therapist to "blow out while you lift" you may be unintentionally exposing yourself to needless injury or shorting yourself the full benefit of your workouts.