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Full Can/Empty Can Analogy for Proper Breathing and Bracing

One thing I see people constantly doing poorly in the gym and on social media is improper breathing. You see people take a big breath in, but immediately their ribs elevate and they have messed up their lift before even starting it. Or worse someone takes a deep breath in only to let it out on the way down or in the bottom of the movement. Both of these mistakes will take weight off of every one of your lifts and can be fixed simply by working on proper breathing and bracing mechanics.

What is Proper Breathing?

When it comes to lifting heavy weights the goal by taking a big breath in is to stabilize your core and increase intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure helps keep our spine in a stable, neutral position and gives us the ability to hold massive amounts of weight. The best explanation I have ever heard is the full can/empty can analogy. You see, if you have a pop can and it is sealed and pressurized you can put a lot of weight on it before it is crushed. By simply opening that can and creating a pressure leak it can no longer withstand much weight at all and will crush easily. This is kind of how our core muscles function, by taking a big belly breath and bracing core muscles around it we are able to create a tremendous amount of pressure in our abdomen. This in turn allows us to support much more weight, just like the full can. You might ask how do I not pass out while holding my breathe? The key is to control your breathing. I like to tell my athletes you want to keep 60-70% of your air in your lungs at all times to maintain stability, but to use that top 30-40% to take your breathe in before you lift and to exhale on the way up if necessary. The main thing to remember is pressure in your abdomen is good, so we want to maintain that pressure through the sticking-points of your lifts. This means we want to be about halfway up or just past before we begin to exhale. If we exhale too early we will lose abdominal pressure and fail lifts because of poor core stability. Maintain abdominal pressure through sticking points and you will make more lifts!

How Can I Learn to Breathe into my Belly and Midsection?

First we need to figure out how you can feel if you are breathing properly. My favorite way to do this is to take one hand on each side placing light pressure with your fingers in your abdomen and thumbs in your back/obliques. I learned this technique from Aaron Horschig, the founder of Squat University. Dr. Horschig has a ton of phenomenal information on injury prevention, rehab, and movement in general. If you want to find a video demo of what I am talking about just search "Squat University Breathing" and the top 3 videos all have great descriptions of proper breathing technique. When you breathe you should push out into your hands equally and then squeeze your abdominal muscles around that breath to brace. Your collarbones should not lift and your ribs should not elevate or you are breathing improperly. Once you have figured out how to get that big belly breath and brace around it, try it on a lift. You should feel a massive increase in core stability and it should help with power production by allowing for optimal muscle recruitment. As you learn to breathe properly you will strengthen your diaphragm and will increase your capability to maintain core stability even under massive loads. Without using this breathing trick, weightlifters and powerlifters would not be able to lift the weights they lift without injuring their spine. With a little work on breathing you will be able to improve your lifts and also protect yourself from injury. Spend a few minutes working on proper breathing and bracing mechanics, it will improve lifts drastically in a small amount of time.

-Jordan Gayer

USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coach


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