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September 02, 2022 5 min read

The squat is one of the most popular exercises in the gym, and it can be one of the most beneficial for strength and muscle gains. Learning how to do a squat can take time and practice, but it’s not just the proper form of a squat that is important.

The breathing technique when squatting is also an important part of the movement as it can help lift heavier weight and makes for a safer lift.

Whether you’re performing bodyweight squats or going for a one-rep max back squat, proper breathing can be essential.

The Breathing Process

Breathing of course is essential for living, and it’s a natural process we know from birth. But to truly understand breathing, we should be aware of the process.

The basic process is when we inhale, oxygen goes into our lungs, and when we exhale, carbon dioxide gets exhaled out. This process is called gas exchange, but it goes deeper than that.

The respiratory system is responsible for inhaling and exhaling, and it’s made up of the lungs, diaphragm, airways, and blood vessels.

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm, which is a major muscle of respiration, is located below the lungs. It contracts and moves down your abdominal cavity, allowing your chest to expand when you inhale, and it relaxes again when you exhale.

The Lungs

An extremely important and foundational part of the respiratory system are the lungs. These organs are responsible for gas exchange and bring oxygen not just into the lungs, but also into the bloodstream.

Carbon dioxide is made by cells as they work and is then moved out into the capillaries where much of it is dissolved into plasma. The rest that isn’t dissolved returns to the heart, which is then sent to the lungs to be exhaled out.

This gas is a waste product, and if we have too much of it, it can cause headache, fatigue, muscle twitches, and shortness of breath.

What Kind of Breathing is Important in Squats?

We know why breathing is important, but the proper breathing mechanics during exercise can help prevent high blood pressure and can lower the risk of injury.

When performing intense bouts of exercise, it can be easy for your breathing pattern to suffer, so knowing the difference between traditional breathing or breathing while weightlifting could make a huge difference in performance and safety.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing technique where you take a deep breath into your belly to fully engage the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles. 

During this type of breathing, you consciously use your diaphragm to take large breaths and encourage full oxygen exchange.

Doing this can help lower the heart rate and the blood pressure.

All too often, we breathe shallowly and through the chest, but breathing deep into the belly can help you relax, increase oxygen in your blood, and helps expel carbon dioxide.

During squats, diaphragmatic breathing can bring more oxygen to your blood and improve muscle function. To help encourage blood flow during your workout, check out  Pumped-AF for maximum vasodilation, increased endurance, and visible muscle pump.

Valsalva Maneuver

One of the more popular breathing techniques, especially when performing heavy lifts is the valsalva maneuver, or breath holding. This type of breathing involves taking a big breath into your belly and holding it during the lift, then forcefully exhaling after the exertion.

Doing this type of breathing  helps increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which can help lift heavy weight and can protect your lower back. 

This is often used during heavy barbell squats and deadlifts as it braces your core muscles and increases trunk stability.

Although this technique is widely used, it may also come with adverse effects such as spiked heart rate and raised blood pressure.

How to Do Squats 

The squat is a functional exercise and can be beneficial for any type of lifter to perform. However, many people perform it incorrectly due to lack of knowledge or poor muscle strength. 

Understanding how to do the squat properly can help build lower body strength, improve your athletic performance, and make everyday function a little bit easier.

There are different variations of the squat, but in order to perform those variations, you must first perfect the foundation of a traditional squat first. Consult with a personal trainer if you’re unsure and check out this step-by-step guide.

How to Do a Squat:

  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart and keep your chest tall and core tight.
  • With your chest up, start to lower your hips to the ground like you’re sitting down in a chair.
  • Keep the weight in your heels as you lower your hips to a 90 degree angle.
  • When your hips are parallel to your knees, press up through your heels to start standing back up.
  • Fully extend your hips back to the starting position before performing another rep.

Once you have the foundations of a squat down, you can start adding weights with a barbell or dumbbells.

How to Breathe During Squats

Whether you’re just getting the foundation down, or you’re adding some weight to the bar, how you breathe during the squat can be important for your form, safety, and performance.

A proper breathing pattern can help get more oxygen into your bloodstream, which then distributes to your muscles, and the more oxygen your muscles have, the better they can perform before becoming fatigued.

Big muscles like your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves are recruited during the squat, but your core also assists in movement and stability and plays an important role especially during heavy loads. 

The amount of air in your belly can help provide more stability to your core and spine, helping create an overall better and safer lift.

Here’s How to Breathe During Bodyweight Squats:

  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart and keep your chest tall.
  • Take a deep inhale into your belly and be conscious of getting maximum oxygen into your lungs, so your diaphragm expands.
  • As you lower into the squat, keep the air in your belly to help create IAP and more trunk stability.
  • Lower your hips to a 90 degree angle.
  • After you’ve reached a full range of motion, start to exhale the air out of your lungs as you stand your way up.
  • Continue to repeat this breathing pattern throughout the reps.

Although bodyweight squats are still working against the resistance of your own body weight, adding extra load with a barbell can mean a greater need for extra IAP.

In this case, using the valsalva maneuver is a popular technique in powerlifting and heavy recreational lifting and can be a good choice.

Here’s How to Do the Valsalva Maneuver:

  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart, keep your chest tall, and rest the barbell on your upper back and shoulders.
  • Take a big, deep breath into your belly, making sure to expand your diaphragm. Your belly should move outward during this, and you should feel your abs contract.
  • Hold this breath to use it as a brace for your core and spine as your lower into a squat. This can help the spine stay in neutral, helps your back have more stability, and helps push up that heavy weight.
  • Continue to hold in the air as you press your weight through your heels to stand back up.
  • Exhale forcefully when you stand all the way up, and your hips are at full extension.
  • Repeat this breathing technique through the reps.

Breathe Better to Squat Better

Understanding how to breathe during squats and other strength training exercises can make all the difference in your movement, form, and safety. If you’re new to weightlifting or these different breathing techniques, it can be beneficial to practice them on your own outside of the gym.

Practicing diaphragmatic breathing or the valsalva maneuver for the first time under heavy load can be a bad idea, so make sure to practice before stepping under the barbell.

The fact is, the more oxygen your body gets, the better it can function, so breathe right, train hard, and get those lungs working.