Breathing and Bracing

Breathing and bracing is a hugely important topic which is massively under rated.  It is not spoken about a lot but it really should be as it relates to everything we do. It covers all areas in training and also the way the body functions including the central nervous system, recovery, mental health and much more. There has been a lot of research in to this area, however I would just like to mention a few things that I have used and learnt relating to CrossFit. 

breathing correctly will optimize oxygenation to your muscles and internal organs, and help you lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety by lowering the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, and releasing mood-boosting hormones like serotonin, balance your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, improve athletic performance and Improve mental focus and boost brain health

Dr Mecola, Peak Fitness, 2015.

Strength Training

First thing to discuss is what are the weight, sets, reps, tempo.  How I would breathe doing a 1rm back squat is a lot different to how I would breath during a 5x5 back squat with a three second negative and two second pause at the bottom. 

Using these as my examples I will explain how I would attack a one rep max back squat.

  1. Take a deep breath and brace my core (which means pushing out against my abdominals) as I take the bar out of the rack.

  2. Hold that breath until I hit the bottom of my squat 

  3. Exhale as I stand or attempt to stand out of my squat. 


Now I'll move to the more complicated one which is the 5x5 back squat with a three second negative and two second pause at the bottom. 

The things to consider with this are that there are more reps, an increased amount of time under tension and less weight. If I was to attack this the same way I would my one rep max I would most likely pass out which isn't highly recommended so through trial and error I have a different method which is:

  1. Taking a deep breath when taking the bar from the rack. 

  2. Breath out slowing as getting to the bottom of your squat. 

  3. Take another breath in whilst in the bottom of your squat. 

  4. Exhale on the way up. 

  5. All of the above done keeping the core braced. 


Doing this breathing technique helps you not feel like you're going to pass out, be massively out of breath at the top of your lift and also teaches you how to stay in a strong position throughout your body. 

Notice however there are similarities in both. The core is braced throughout in both lifts and exhaling on the way up is also done in both lifts so practicing different breathing techniques no matter what lift you're doing in higher rep / time sets will help you considerably when it comes to a one rep max.


Isometric Holds

An example of an isometric hold would be a plank or wall sit.  Isometric holds are difficult to execute and something I see and hear people struggling with regularly. Whenever there is something like a hollow hold or plank, I tend to see a lot of red faces and shaking from holding their breath. 

A point of performance I was taught on CrossFit Gymnastics was about breathing during a hollow hold. Thecoach explained it as 'sips of air' which resonated well with me but it essentially meant small breaths whilst staying tight in your abdominals which again isn't dissimilar tothe strength examples I mentioned previously. 



I have practiced many different breathing techniques. But the method I've found which I use the most is that I purposely breath at the same pace I was when I was performing an exercsie, which is probably the one which a lot of people would disagree with, as I have said I am just discussing the methods that have worked for me.

This method works for me as I don't feel I am restricting myself of oxygen by deliberately slowing my breathing down. As an example; if I do five rounds of 10 burpees and 20 calorie bike sprints @97% effort with a 1-minute rest. During the rest period I would be looking to bring my breathing and heart rate back down. What I would do to control this is continue to breathe how I was during the working sets, which prevent me from depriving myself of the oxygen I need to be able to recover. 


The topic of breathing is something that I have discussed with some people in classes and people seem interested but also sounds like it's something new. Breathing is something we all have in common and should be a thing that is consciously thought about and practiced through different techniques. I truly believe that if you consciously think about breathing whilst in the gym, you will progress in movement, strength and conditioning a lot quicker than if you weren't. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my article

Pat Lucas - Coach at Central Staffs CrossFit

Dallam, G.M., McClaran, S.R., Cox, D.G. and Foust, C.P., 2018. Effect of Nasal Versus Oral Breathing on Vo2max and Physiological Economy in Recreational Runners Following an Extended Period Spent Using Nasally Restricted Breathing. International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science, 6(2), pp.22-29.

Martyn Jennings

Amature Photographer, Father, Part Time Crossfit,