Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Lift Silently

by Mia Inman, PhD, SSC | August 16, 2022

lifter at the bottom of a squat

When lifting heavy weights, you should take in a breath and hold it against a closed glottis. This is known as the Valsalva maneuver, which creates intra-abdominal pressure that supports the spine, enabling more efficient force transfer through the kinetic chain. You can lift more weight, thus getting stronger. It also decreases the likelihood of a back injury.

One of my clients, when she first started squatting, would let out her breath about halfway back up. This made the force transfer along the spine less efficient, and diminished the effectiveness of her hip drive. In the deadlift, she would let out her breath at the lockout position, and she would have to retake a breath before putting the bar back down. Not only was she spending more time at the top of the deadlift than was needed, the Valsalva was difficult to regain while standing there with a heavy weight in her hands.

I instructed my client to take in her Valsalva at the start of the rep, and not let it out until the very end of the rep. I explained why she should neither take in nor let out a breath while the bar is moving. These explanations, and various and sundry cues to remind her to hold her breath, did not work. She understood the principle, but as soon as she felt the strain, she would exhale to try to seek a more comfortable position. This would promptly backfire as the “more comfortable position” made the lift harder to complete.

Letting out her breath was typically accompanied by a loud grunt. This gave insight into how to fix the problem. Rather than focusing the cue on the physical act of letting out her breath, the cue that worked focused on the sound of the exhalation.

That cue was to “Squat silently.”

To squat in absolute silence, she had to maintain her Valsalva throughout the rep. She was more uncomfortable, but she stayed braced and tight during the rep, the force transfer from her hips along her spine to the bar was improved, and the bar speed increased.

Ditto for the deadlift. With the cue to “lift in silence” from the moment the bar left the ground to when it hit the floor, she held her breath, and her execution of the lift improved.

If you have the tendency to perform a forced exhalation near the end of the squat, or let your breath out at the top of the deadlift, try to “lift silently.” You’ll stay better braced throughout the rep, and you'll perform the lift with a little more focus and control.

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