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The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter, Issue #344. Learning to Breathe Right
March 15, 2023

Learning to
Breathe Right

I starting working out as a teenager at Yarick’s Gym (in Oakland in the 1950s) and then later on at Walt’s Gym (in the 1960s).

Today’s Gray Iron Fitness beginners’ exercise routine isn’t much different from the beginners’ program at Yarick’s, from those “ancient” times.

Superstars like Steve Reeves trained at Yarick’s, and some of the strongest men in the world lifted there. Still, you might wonder if training hasn’t greatly evolved since then. Yes, there have been some tweaks here and there. But mostly it has not.

Your first workout at Yarick’s was really an orientation, doing one set of about 12 reps of two exercises per body part. You learned to exhale on the push or pull of a movement; you inhaled on the return. (More about that in a minute.) And you controlled the weights in a steady up and down motion.

In the many years since Yarick’s, I’ve never discovered a better way to introduce beginners of any age to weight training.

What are the “tweaks” I mentioned?

In the old days, cardio usually wasn’t a part of the training. Seventy years ago, most new gym members were skinny young guys who just wanted to put on muscle. So they pumped iron and ate everything put in front of them.

There are still skinny guys today. But these days far more beginners have the opposite problem. They’re often very overweight. Sitting in front of electronic devices all day has taken its toll. Reasonable cardio, when added to pumping iron, helps trim them down.

Another tweak is that in Yarick’s day the vast majority of beginners were young men and a few young women. Because of their youth, they could be pushed faster and harder. At Yarick’s your first workout was one set per exercise. At the second workout, it was two sets. Then three at the third session. That ended week one. Starting in week two, the quest began to lift ever-heavier weights and pack on muscle.

Today, many beginners are seniors. Pushing them like you would a 16-year-old doesn’t work. You’re likely to discourage or even injure them. Allow their progress to be gradual and they blossom. Push but push gently. See what I mean here.

Ed Yarick’s breathing advice.

First, have you ever heard of the “Valsalva maneuver”? Even many fitness buffs may not know what the term means, but unknowingly practice it, or something like it. Picture a guy (it’s usually a male) doing a heavy bench press. On the last reps, he’s holding his breath, red in the face, and looking like his head is about to explode. He may not know the term for it, but he is practicing the Valsalva maneuver.

When we lift or push something heavy there is a natural tendency to hold our breath. Some coaches even teach it as a way of increasing abdominal pressure, thereby providing more back support. But it can have dangerous consequences — especially for seniors.

Blood pressure skyrockets when chest cavity pressure increases. Dizziness, fainting, or even a stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, or retinal detachment are possibilities. Younger lifters may use it to their advantage and get away with it. My advice is don’t do it. Breathe!

Ed Yarick would say to beginners: Exhale as you push the weight away from you or pull it toward you. Inhale as you return the weight to the starting position. Developed a rhythmic breathing pattern.

Most trainers today tell their clients not to hold their breath, which is good. But many don’t make much of an issue about exhaling during the pushing or pulling phase of a lift. They just say, “Don’t hold your breath.” Ed Yarick emphasized exhaling during the exertion part of a push or pull, and that was even better.

Breathe the Ed Yarick way.

Stay healthy. Stay Fit.


Senior Exercise Central

My Photographs: Subscribers have asked when the newsletter photo at the top of the page and my website pictures were taken. The photos were taken when I was a mere 70. I’m 86 years old now. Though I remain active, I am no longer nearly as muscular as I was 16 years ago. —LF

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Newsletter Policy

The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter is a free publication sent twice monthly to subscribers. The purpose is to provide honest and realistic fitness information for people age 50 and above.

I have never been paid or received compensation of any kind to write a positive review or endorse a product. If I say that I personally use a product or service, it is because I find value in it and have paid for it with my own money.

Like newspapers, magazines, and television, this newsletter and my website contain advertising and marketing links. Naturally, I am compensated for these.

The newsletter and website provide information to help users establish and maintain a fitness lifestyle. But fitness information is not the same as fitness advice, which is the application of exercise and dietary practices to an individual's specific circumstances. Therefore, always consult with your physician for assurance that fitness information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate for you.

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Logan Franklin
The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter

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