Breathing Right: Using the Valsalva Maneuver To Improve Your Workout Routine and Protect Your Spine

When people are first learning to workout, the focus is more on form and technique. Few gyms or fitness centers discuss breathing because it is a natural skill. However, while people do know how to breathe in a typical setting, the inhale and exhale are not the same while working out.

If you are not taking a breath at the right time and in the correct way, you can injure yourself. Breathing comes naturally, but when you learn how to breathe with the Valsalva maneuver correctly, you can see an immediate improvement in your endurance and ability.

How You Breathe Matters

Consider the squat. Most people tell you to exhale on the way up and inhale on the way down, but if you adhere to this advice, you can injure your back, especially when doing weighted squats. In truth, inhaling before you go down and holding your breath protects the spine and ensures you have enough follow-through to push up. You begin the exhale during the most challenging part of the lift through pursed lips.

Inhaling deeply and holding creates intra-abdominal pressure, engaging several parts of the abdominal cavity, from the diaphragm to the pelvic floor. The pressure provides support and stability to your spine as you move through the exercise. You should reset this intra-abdominal pressure before every rep.

The Valsalva Maneuver

While breathing is the crucial part of the Valsalva maneuver, it is not the only part. The maneuver also requires engaging your obliques, abs, and back muscles, keeping them stiff during the rep. Going back to the squat as an example, when standing, breath in deep, filling your abdomen. Engage your core and back muscles, keeping them tight and stiff. Squat down into position, and return to your standing position. Exhale completely. Repeat the process for however many reps you are doing.

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Perfecting Your Breathing

Before using the Valsalva maneuver, you need to perfect your breathing. Vertical breathing is common, and it involves the movement of the chest and engagement of the shoulders and neck. Using this breathing technique is not productive and leads to a swath of potential injuries.

Diaphragmatic breathing engages the abdominal region. Breathing in this way ensures that you create the pressure pocket of protection during a workout. To improve your breathing skills, lay on the floor, and take a deep breath in. Your stomach should expand in all directions, but your chest and neck should experience limited movement. Laying on the floor makes it easier to engage the correct muscles, allowing you to experience the way Valsalva feels.

Taking Necessary Precautions

While the Valsalva maneuver is preferred among weight lifters, it is necessary to state that it is not appropriate for everyone. Using this technique will temporarily increase your blood pressure. For people with existing blood pressure problems, it can be better to avoid the risk, or at the very least, schedule an appointment with your physician.

What do you think about the Valsalva maneuver? Will you use it? Leave a comment below with any questions or observations you might have, and as always, continue reading the Smarter Science of Slim for more exercise and nutrition information to help you live your healthiest life.

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