Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Be a Mouth Breather

by Pete Troupos, SSC | July 20, 2021

breathing though your mouth for weight lifting

Sometimes we take for granted people’s ability to breathe and brace while training. It seems so natural and simple, yet trainees still find ways to mess it up by: 1) not getting a big enough breath initially or 2) not bracing as hard as they can before each rep. Then we wonder why the back turns into a whippy mess. This article isn’t an argument for using the Valsalva. If you’re going to train heavy, then you have no choice. Rather, this is a short article that I hope serves as a reminder for something so simple it gets overlooked as a potential weak point in a lifter’s technique.

One common issue I’ve come across is lifters thinking they’re going to get a big enough breath through their nose. You won’t. And unlike when people try to tell me how great tofu is, here’s where it’s actually helpful to be a mouth-breather. Inhaling as big a breath as you can and filling up your lungs will require you to open your pie-hole. So knock if off with the half-assed nostril breathing, please, and embrace being a mouth-breather. Just try not to drool or start wearing socks with sandals.

Now that you’ve gotten enough air, let’s make sure to hold it in properly. This requires you to close your glottis at the back of your throat. It’s that thing you do when you brush your teeth and try not to swallow the toothpaste. In fact, you should be able to hold your breath while keeping your mouth open when done properly. Now that your breath is taken and your glottis is closed, the brace should come easily. Simply try and exhale against your closed glottis and you should feel your trunk muscles immediately contract. Go ahead and try it right now. See? We’re not pushing out against the belt or “bearing down” like you’re trying to pass a pineapple. Now when you add a belt and get the requisite feedback, it should be even more apparent.

We’ve learned how to properly inhale and how to properly brace the trunk, so now we can add it to your “pre-flight checklist” for every rep you do going forward. Which should include warm-up reps, since you’re practicing for the work set anyway. The extra second you take to get set up will pay dividends. If you don’t give this simple step its due attention, you risk getting loose at the worst possible time.

  • Open your mouth and get as big a breath as you can manage.

  • Keep your mouth open and close the back of your throat (glottis).

  • Attempt to exhale against the closed throat, firing up the trunk musculature and keeping constant pressure on your belt.

  • Start your rep and don’t exhale until it’s time for the next one.

That’s it. Pretty simple but incredibly effective. Rush through the process and ignore it at your own peril. But no one I know of has missed a lift or tweaked their back because they were bracing too hard. Good luck with your mouth-breathing, and try not to drool.

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