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Core Activated Breathing
Rescuing Passout Pete


Martina demonstrating where you check to
make sure you're doing the core activated
breathing properly.

It was a disaster waiting to happen. I was working out with my friend Carol on vacation, when a young man walked onto the gym floor. Carol stopped, grabbed my arm and said, "You've got to watch this, it's Passout Pete."

"Why do you call him Passout Pete?" I asked. All Carol would say was, "Just watch. You'll understand."

What I saw was someone trying his best to lift as much weight as possible. His form was reasonable and he was doing about the right number of reps. Problem was, for at least half the time he was doing his exercises, he was holding his breath.

It's a tactic I usually see in people who learned how to train 20 or 30 years ago. When the exercise gets tough, they simply hold their breath. It's also a trick bodybuilders use to push their bodies and lift heavier weights.

Back to Passout Pete. It was about 35 minutes into his workout and he was curling a particularly heavy set of dumbbells. As usual, he was holding his breath, straining terribly trying to finish the last couple reps. Suddenly his arms went limp and he collapsed to the floor. Fortunately he had somebody spotting him who managed to move the weights away before he fell, so he didn't hurt himself.

"See!" My friend Carol said. "That's why we call him Passout Pete! At least once every couple of months he passes out during his workout."

What Passout Pete failed to realize is that when you exercise, your body needs oxygen. Stop breathing and your heart rate quickly starts to climb, your overall performance drops and bad things happen. You can get dizzy or faint. Repeatedly holding your breath while lifting heavy weights can cause a heart attack, hernia or even stroke. By breathing properly you can maintain the proper pace and avoid injuries.

Generally I have a strict "non-interference" policy when working out in someone else's gym. But this was one of those times I needed to step in. I decided to give Passout Pete a little lesson in how to breathe anytime you're lifting weights. It's called CORE ACTIVATED BREATHING and it's a way to keep your body stable, safe and help you avoid unfortunate problems like passing out.

Follow These Steps - Core Activated Breathing

STEP ONE - Start by placing your hands on your abdomen. Inhale feeling your abdomen distend. Exhale, imagining a string attached to your belly button, pulling the belly button to the spine.

This technique will engage your deep abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis. Careful not to exhale so much that your abdominal muscles cave in. Practice this technique for 5 to 10 breaths until you are comfortable with it.

STEP TWO - Flatten out your hands with the palms up and fingers together. Place your fingertips directly underneath your shoulders below your ribs. Push your fingers under your ribs into your sides. While keeping the belly button string taught, inhale into the belly so the pressure builds into your abdomen without your abdomen distending. Exhale. If done properly, your abdomen won't distend but your fingers will be pushed out on both sides.

Congratulations. You've just completed one rep of core activation breathing. Now your assignment is to breathe like that for every rep, of every set, of every resistance training exercise you do from now on.

For you geeks out there, here's the physiology of what's happening: When you inhale into the abdomen, your diaphragm pushes the viscera down, creating tension in the inner core. By keeping the string tight on the belly button, you engage the transverse abdominis and the multifidus, stabilizing the spine. If you do an exercise called a Kegel, you also incorporate the pelvic floor muscles. For more on Kegels click here.

Physical Therapist Gray Cook describes the hips as the body's engine and the core as the transmission. Without a strong and stable core, the body will not properly transfer force. Keep your core properly activated while you breathe and you'll improve your strength and balance, without becoming a "Passout Pete."

For more details on breathing, read our original article:
Breathing Techniques for a Better Workout.

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Uploaded 6/8/2012
9/16/2012