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Breath Control: Mastering Natural Tension for Effective Workouts

After 9 years of personal training and 20+ years of athletic endeavors I've seen exercises to reduce pain or improve performance come and go. However none of these are more important than learning how to control our bodily tension through breathing.

I'm sure that Intuitively you know that holding your breath is a quick way to pass out and in most cases not perform very well. However, regardless of what we know we often do the opposite and instead breathe in ways that prevents us from accessing our full physical potential.

When we think about our health, we are quick to think about exercise, eating clean, sleeping well, managing stress and social connection. However, we seldom think about how to adapt our breathing pattern to better handle the various stresses of life. 

The large majority of people (especially those who spend long periods of time looking at a screen, driving, or sitting) and who do not exercise tend to be “chest breathers” Gross (Just kidding)!!

While breathing into your chest is perfectly normal, it can cause problems with creating tension (in the core region especially) and releasing tension because it limits how much oxygen we send into our bellies (diaphragms) and that alters the way we begin movement patterns when performing basic tasks like, bending over to tie your shoes, stepping off a high sidewalk, walking/jogging/running and more.

The Breath of Appropriate tension:

There are a variety of ways to breathe for exercise and they all change according to the particular form of exercise you are taking part in. 

However, let's focus on the style that allowed our ancestors to run from danger without a warmup or getting injured and also allowed them to relax subconsciously when the danger was clear.

For lack of knowing the term lets call it “The Breath of Appropriate tension”. #BreathWork

If you are able to master this form of breathing you will:

  • Increase the quality of contraction in your muscular tissue.

  • Decrease blood pressure and aid in helping those at risk for hypertension.

  • Reduce your risk of injury during everyday tasks.

  • Increase the quality of your workouts without having to go heavier.

  • Improve flexibility and mobility without dedicated stretching/rolling routines due to helping to calm your nervous system and more!

Here are the simple steps to execute this breathing technique:

Note: Start by mastering this lying down, seated and then standing upright and do this exercise slowly and with the intent to see, or feel what is supposed to be happening. Which is expansion of your mid section on the inhale and shrinking the midsection on the exhale.

  1. Breathe through your nose with your mouth closed.

  2. Send that breath to the lowest part of your belly (diaphragm) so that it expands during the inhale. Tip: You’ll know you’ve got this right when you’re able to take a longer and deeper inhale.

  3. Allow the chest to expand AFTER the belly (diaphragm).

  4. Exhale until all of the air has left your diaphragm and lungs.

  5. Repeat 5-10 times or more if you think you need more practice.

After you feel comfortable with these steps we are ready to start implementing it into an exercise.

Below You'll find a step by step guide of how to apply this to a squat, however you can apply the same thinking to any exercise of your choosing.

  1. SLOWLY inhale through your nose with your mouth closed (and into your diaphragm) and begin the lowering phase of your squat. 

  2. Pause when you can no longer inhale, this is going to be the bottom of your squat for now. This is your body's way of telling you “this is all the range I have right now, please don't go lower or I will start to compensate in some way”.

  3.  Once at the bottom allow a natural exhale through the nose (do not force all of the air out of your body this time).

  4. While still pausing at the bottom, inhale into the diaphragm through the nose and begin the upward phase of the movement.

  5. Exhale through the nose when about half way up or when it feels natural to do so.

  6. At the top breathe in through your nose again and into your belly (diaphragm) to recreate that expanded midsection and then start again.

Here's what you’re looking to achieve with this technique:

Short-Mid term 

  1. An Improved connection and awareness to your body.

  2. Understanding how to create tension without feeling like you’re constipated and making a poo poo face.

  3. Recognizing where you naturally lose tension because your depth is outside of where your body has full control of the load you're using or the position you are in.

Long term

  1. Increased working capacity/endurance because you'll be able to transfer tension to dedicated areas at will.

  2. Severely decreased risk of injury due to subconsciously relaxing and engaging when the need arises (A.K.A running from danger without a warmup).

  3. Enhanced awareness of what your body is capable of and how to access what you have on a day to day basis.

  4. No longer having to think about how to brace or breathe to naturally create tension in the areas of your choosing.

There are a ton of other ways to implement this technique that will provide various additional benefits. Follow me on Instagram @RolinMcQuade to get updates on future posts and technique demonstration! will keep you in the loop on future posts and video demonstration of these techniques!

Written by: Rolin McQuade

Tired of feeling low back pain or not being able to contract your glutes? This breathing technique may help you improve both of these problems!

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