When we are under stress, our breathing can become erratic or non-existent. If you’re an SFG instructor, you probably teach biomechanical power breathing as one of the first safety standards of the swing. However, you’ve still probably witnessed a large number of new clients holding their breath while swinging.
These new clients are under stress because they’re in a new environment, have a new instructor, are performing a new exercise, have social anxiety, and the list goes on. In any case, there are a number of reasons why someone would be under stress and potentially have improper breathing. It takes multiple repetitions to control breathing while under stress, and even a kettlebell veteran can throw proper breathing techniques to the wayside when maxing out repetitions in a snatch test.
During the last TSC, I learned a valuable lesson when it comes to breathing, and I hope to share it with you here in this short article.
Effective vs. Ineffective Breathing
In training, we focus on a 1:1 breathing match (one breath per repetition) while doing nearly every exercise. But when it comes to the day of the TSC, newbies will usually throw that practice out the window before the first snatch, and even veterans typically don’t make it past 75 repetitions before huffing and puffing to the five-minute mark.
Yet, we understand that huffing and puffing leaks power. Leaking power is less efficient, and being less efficient causes even more fatigue. In comparison to diaphragmatic breathing, huffing and puffing, or chest breathing, allows for less oxygen utilization. Consider how panting from exercise is similar to someone who is hyperventilating or having a panic attack. Is that what you want your snatch test to sound like—a panic attack?
On the flip side of this panicked breathing is something Chief SFG Brett Jones and the FMS teach known as “crocodile breathing,” which is intended to teach diaphragmatic breathing. He teaches this to help enhance your athletic performance, and it is accomplished by lying on your belly and taking slow, deep breaths that are focused on expanding the sides of your stomach just above your obliques.
How Breathing Salvaged My TSC Performance
In fall of 2016, my TSC training was not going well. A new training program we were using had left me feeling weak, and my conditioning for the snatch test was poor. As a result, the only way I could foresee to salvage my snatch numbers on test day was to practice what we preach to our clients: control the breathing, and you control the workout. With my cardiovascular stamina below normal, I decided my only shot at a good snatch test was to own my breath the entire five minutes.
The result was 131 repetitions with a 32kg bell. It wasn’t a personal record, but it was the first time I had ever made it an entire five minutes without setting the bell down, and it was far above my expectations headed into the competition.
How did I breathe differently? Rather than reverting to a natural (yet unfocused) breath, I kept my breathing pattern rhythmic.
At the bottom of every snatch, I inhaled through my nose. At the top of every snatch, I let out a relaxed breath through my mouth. As fatigue began to set in, I took an extra mouth breath in and out while the kettlebell was going from the top to the bottom. Eventually this led to an extra mouth breath out and in while the kettlebell was sailing from the bottom position to the top. I continued the nose inhalation at the bottom, and the mouth exhalation at the top, so I had a total of three full breaths per repetition. I believe holding to a nose inhalation at the bottom allowed me to maintain position and power, making me more efficient.
The Power of Breathing
To sum this up, we promote power breaths and crocodile breathing during training. We often revert to our training when competing, but not always. Snatch tests, other max-out efforts, or stressful surroundings can cause us to neglect our training, reverting to whatever comes naturally. Therefore, we must practice proper breathing under extreme circumstances in order to get better at it and have it become what feels most natural.
Give the breathing as I outlined it above a try, and let me know what you think. I’d love to get your feedback. Until next time, good luck with your training.