The first step in building a stronger midsection is not to do more crunches, more situps, etc. That’s right! The first step in building a stronger midsection is to learn proper breathing for stronger abs. Breathing helps to keep your midsection strong and supportive for other lifts, such as the squat, deadlift, pull-ups, etc. As a coach/trainer one question I am always asked by men and women, athlete and non-athlete is how can I get a nice 6 pack. I always answer respond with two things:
- You have to develop them first.
- Then you have to reveal them through proper diet
Of those two responses, this article will focus on how to develop the abs. THE FOUNDATION TO ALL ABDOMINAL TRAINING STARTS WITH BREATHING! Sure, there are plenty of exercises out there to “work” your abs. However, the foundation is built on proper breathing. Unless proper breathing is understood, your abs are built on a foundation of sand. Now lets look at how this works.
Whats Wrong With Our Breathing?
When we breathe in today’s hectic world, we usually don’t pay much attention to the way we breathe. There are so many things going on around us that it doesn’t even come to mind. This results in smaller quicker breaths. These quicker breaths result in elevated blood pressure, stress levels and overall fatigue. But how? How can something so seemingly insignificant as breathing cause so much trouble? The answer is simple, it’s because breathing is not at all insignificant, it is very significant.
When we take a look at this from a mechanical standpoint, when we take those shallow breaths, we are breathing into our ribcage, or our chest. This is not always a bad thing, especially if your smoked from a workout. However, when talking about gaining strength, it is important to remember that the one of the keys to success is to maintain tension in your muscles. Contracted tense muscles are like strong cables that transmute energy to the appropriate places in the body under heavy load. When breathing into the chest, we have a much more difficult time maintaining that tension, especially in our abs.
How Breathing Can Make You Stronger
So now lets ask the question how does this have anything to do with your abs. Well, the abs are, in a way, the crossroads of the body. They are where upper body meets lower body. Lets use the deadlift as an example. The deadlift is primarily a lower body exercise, working the hamstrings, glutes, etc. However, unlike the squat, the bar is held with the arms. The arms provide the link from that weighted bar on the floor all the way to the hips. The energy to lift that bar must be transferred from the hips through to the arms to get that bar off the ground. The abs provide much of the framework for transmitting that energy; but, they have to maintain tension. Now if the lifter does not know how to breathe properly, then his/her abs will not be able to maintain tension, resulting in either a missed lift or bad form. All this could be prevented with proper breathing.
Breathing For Stronger Abs
Now that you understand what not to do and why breathing is so important, lets address how to breathe for stronger abs. To breathe properly, we want to draw air into our abdomen, not our chest. This is a little awkward at first so lets walk through some steps in order to help you understand how to do this.
- Sit down in a comfortable, or relaxing position and close your eyes
- Inhale through your nose
- While inhaling, concentrate on sending the air into your belly
- If your doing it correctly, you will feel your belly get tight
- DO NOT let the rib cage expand
- Once you’ve taken in as much air as possible, exhale THROUGH YOUR NOSE
- As you are exhaling, try to move your belly button towards your back
If you followed all the steps listed above, congratulations, you just breathed correctly! After the last step you probably noticed how tight your abs get as you are trying to move your belly button towards your back. This tightness is what we are trying to achieve during our big lifts (i.e. Squats, Deadlifts, Pull-ups, etc.). Before we can apply this to the lifts, we have to make this style of breathing routine. Therefore, I recommend practicing all of the above steps for at least 20 minutes a day for as many days as possible.
Once this is mastered, you just apply this to your lifts. Draw in air into your abdomen during the eccentric (negative) phase of the exercise and exhale the air during the concentric (positive) phase of the exercise. Just remember to squeeze the abs hard while exhaling. Proper breathing has many other benefits as well, such as lowering stress levels. This can help you recover from workouts faster.
It is remarkable just how one small little change in one’s daily habits can make such a difference. Sometimes in life, in order to progress you first have to regress and find out where you went wrong. I do this all the time because the past hides all the clues for what is wrong in the present. We were never taught how to breathe correctly when we were younger and as a result we have lost touch with how to correctly use our abs and lift more weight. I wish I had found an article like this years ago. It probably would have helped when I was attempting to squat 405 lbs back in college.