The Paradox Breathing Crunch for Stronger Abs and Bigger Lifts

An Excerpt from Deadlift Dynamite

Deadlift Dynamite

The paradox breathing technique, developed in the USSR by opera singer Alexandra Strelnikova for applications obviously unrelated to lifting, will teach you how to tense your abs while “packing” your belly with air.

Lie on your back with your legs straight.[i] If you are top heavy, anchor your feet under a piece of training equipment or furniture, or have your training partner hold you down.

Crunch up, while inhaling deep into your belly through your nose or pursed lips. Yes, this seems backward—hence the name of the technique: paradox breathing.

Try to minimize the movement of your neck. “Pack” it.

Jason Marshall showing the paradox breathing crunch
The paradox breathing crunch demonstrated by Jason Marshall,
StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor,
and his student Tyson Shipp, a former professional rodeo rider

To keep your diaphragm muscle active, keep pretending you are inhaling even when you cannot get any more air. You will feel a “bubble” of pneumatic and hydraulic resistance in your belly. Keep the pressure in your stomach, not your head.

Exhale passively and relax on the way down. Rest your head on the deck briefly before each rep. Keeping your head up for time does your neck no favors. Indeed, try not curl your neck up if you can help it.

Do not strive to add reps and do not bother adding weight. Because this is a self-resisted exercise (the diaphragm versus the rest of the midsection muscles), you can make the drill tougher just by focusing on generating more tension. The ability to generate great tension without an external load is critical for a powerlifter. Bracing maximally before un-racking the squat or bench or blasting off a deadlift is a skill no strong man or woman can do without.

At the top of the crunch, make a few short pumping actions with in-sniffs in an attempt to further compress your stomach. Palpating your abs and obliques with your fingers will help generate more tension. Your waist should feel thick and powerful.

Eventually, once you have figured out how to control your diaphragm, you will no longer need to pretend to be inhaling to keep bearing down. Simply hold your breath. Concentrated straight-legged crunches with the breath held were Dr. Mel Siff’s favorite abdominal drill.

You may do this exercise standing as well—anywhere, anytime.

Here is your recommended schedule. “NL” stands for the number of lifts—the total number of reps of the exercise per workout.

  • For strength: NL 10–15 in sets of three to five reps
  • For strength and mass: NL 25–50 in sets of 5–10 reps

The last set of loading parameters comes straight from powerlifting great RDC: “A good weighted abdominal workout to build some size and strength is simply five sets of 10 reps; you can cycle down to 5 x 5 (for better strength results)… You’ll be amazed at the support you’ll get from these for those big squats and deadlifts.”

To learn more state-of-the-art abdominal strength training techniques, read Deadlift Dynamite.

# # #

Andy Bolton is the lifter who broke the mythical 1,000-pound deadlift barrier.

Pavel Tsatsouline is the founder of StrongFirst.

Deadlift Dynamite: How to Master the King of All Strength Exercises is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats. Get your copy HERE.

[i] If you are a strength professional who wants to know why we recommend keeping your legs straight in the crunch, refer to Facts and Fallacies of Fitness, 6th edition (2003), Mel Siff and Muscles, Testing and Function with Posture and Pain, 5th edition, Kendall, Kendall, Provance, Rodgers, Romani (2005).

Andy Bolton and Pavel Tsatsouline
Andy Bolton is the first man to break the mythical 1,000-pound deadlift barrier.

Bolton is a co-author, with Pavel Tsatsouline, of Deadlift Dynamite, a highly sought speaker, coach, and consultant.

Visit his Facebook page and his Instagram profile.

Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

11 thoughts on “The Paradox Breathing Crunch for Stronger Abs and Bigger Lifts

  • Dear Pavel,

    How would you train the obliques for boxing or MMA, in addition to this ? I already use HS plank and the paradox breathing but I do not have something for the “twisting” motion

    Thanks a lot

    • IANP (I Am Not Pavel) but this is explained near the end of the article:

      “NL” stands for the number of lifts—the total number of reps of the exercise per workout.

  • How is this incorporated with Janda situps/HLRs (Bullet-Proof Abs?

  • Thanks for this great article. One question on the top position: How far should one crunch up? Should the lower back stay on the floor?

    And how many sessions per week are recommended?

    Thank you in advance. I loved the first edition and forgot about this exercise 🙂

    • Thank you, Bauer.

      Don’t be concerned about keeping your back down but don’t sit up.

      2-3 times per week.

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