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The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter, Issue #209. Breath Control.
August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017

In this newsletter . . .

Take a deep breath

Are you a shallow breather? Look down at your belly for a moment. Does it rise as you inhale? If not, you are shallow breathing.

In Yoga, the martial arts, or any meditation or relaxation training, students are taught to focus on relaxed deep breathing as a means of calming the mind and body, which in turn lowers blood pressure and slows heart rates.

Years ago I taught classes at a health club and found (unfortunately) that the relaxation and gentle stretching that followed resistance and cardio training was the least popular phase of the workouts. A few people would even duck out of the room.

When I saw them again I’d explain that they were shortchanging themselves by not devoting a little time to relaxing mind and body after working out. Most listened but some always seemed in too much of a hurry to be bothered. I understand. We have busy lives -- but that’s exactly why slowing down for a few moments can be so important to our well-being.

More on breathing

An even more serious matter in the gym when it comes to breathing is a practice known as the “Valsalva maneuver.” Some experienced fitness people have never heard of the term, but unknowingly practice it or something like it. You’ve probably seen someone doing a heavy lift of some kind -- while holding his breath -- sometimes until red in the face, looking like his head is about to explode. It’s an almost do-or-die effort to get that last wonderful rep. He may not know the term for it, but he is practicing the Valsalva maneuver.

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

Blood pressure skyrockets when chest cavity pressure increases as you hold your breath. Dizziness or fainting can result. Even a stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, or retinal detachments are possibilities. Some lifters may tell you the dangers of Valsalva are exaggerated. It’s a useful tool, they’ll say. I’m sure there are younger lifters who use it to their advantage and get away with it. Still, my advice is don’t do it. Breathe!

Ed Yarick was my first trainer and showed me the basics. He would say to beginners: Do not hold your breath. Exhale as you push the weight away from you. Inhale as you return the weight. Develop a rhythmic breathing pattern; it’s one that I practice to this day. You didn’t ignore the man who showed Steve Reeves the ropes.

Most trainers today tell their clients not to hold their breath, which is good. Still, most of them I’ve seen don’t make as much of an issue about exhaling during the pushing phase of a lift. They just say, “Don’t hold your breath. Breathe.” Well, that’s certainly a plus. But Ed Yarick’s instruction to emphasize exhaling during the exertion (concentric) part of a push or pull was even better.

So seniors don’t hold your breath. And best of all, develop rhythmic breathing the Ed Yarick way. Also devote a little daily quiet time to practice deep belly breathing to relax your mind and body. It's a small habit you’ll learn to love.

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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.

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Logan Franklin
The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter

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