Mar
21
2011

Breathing (part 3)

33 comments written by Al Coleman

In my previous installment addressing the topic of breathing during high intensity exercise, I alluded to the idea that our respiration, if left untouched by the Val Salva maneuver, could possibly be the crudest tool we have to measure the rate and depth of muscular inroading and the general performance/adherence to the Renaissance Exercise protocol. 

My objective during this installment is to begin to try and explain how the things that I have observed as an instructor have led me to this conclusion. This subject will be divided into two parts.

“Everyone is always teaching one what to do, leaving us still doing the things we shouldn’t do.”
F.M. Alexander 

In my formative years as an instructor I would at times get frustrated with being unable to get a subject to do something that I asked.  A gleaning example of this is getting someone to load up correctly during the commencement of a leg press.

Despite specific instructions to “breathe freely”, “load up gradually”, or “take a good 3-5 seconds to initiate the first inch”, a subject will more than likely perform some type of restrained and tensed maneuver to provide themselves some mechanical assistance in breaking the inertial load. Even having them “over-breathe” this load up (in an attempt to reduce intra abdominal pressure) only worked half of the time. This frustrated me because I could seem to do it myself almost effortlessly, yet folks who probably double me in the IQ department, couldn’t seem to compute such a seemingly simple task.

This wouldn’t have been a major issue if it didn’t somehow seem to affect the remainder of the set. I surmise that there is a profound educational tool in learning how to initiate this phase that will neurologically “prime” and “lock in” the intended musculature and their recruitment sequence during the remainder of the set. 

It is almost as if the quality of the exercise is determined by how the subject initiated the movement. This isn’t difficult to understand when one realizes that the quality of that initial “loading up” is reflective of a particular attitude and that if that attitude isn’t present right from the get go, then it isn’t likely to be present for the remainder of the exercise.

Oddly enough, I’ve found the most practical and effective tool for ingraining this attitude is the proper application of “squeeze technique”. The “squeeze technique” is, in my humble opinion, what makes or breaks this protocol, but that is a topic for another post.

I digress.

The observance of this phenomenon (Val Salva while initiating movement) led me to wonder, “Could it be possible that the quality of muscular loading is reflected and determined by the degree to which the subject enacts the Val Salva maneuver?”

In other words, the speed of motion and therefore the protocol of choice, might to a large degree, be determined by whether or not the Val Salva is enacted. This may sound slightly outlandish and overly anal retentive, but I have good reason (I think) to believe it is true.

I would actually go as far to say that it might be impossible to suddenly apply muscular force without first performing the Val Salva maneuver.

I’ve performed experiments on myself where I’ve tried to apply muscular force abruptly and simultaneously tried to avoid a Val Salva and it is (by my determination) impossible.

I feel to come to this conclusion one must be acutely aware of what the Val Salva maneuver could be at its most subtle level. It is exactly this subtle awareness that I have found to be the most effective tool in breaking the tendency to perform the Val Salva maneuver prior to loading up.

Simply paying attention and being aware of the process seems to be all that is necessary to stop it.

After all, breathing happens on its own if we allow it. The process of getting a subject to pay attention in this fashion can be arduous, but the payoff is huge in the sense that they have just taught themselves something extremely profound about their habitual reactions to stress. I have rarely seen someone go back to their old way of trying to break an inertial load once they discover this, not to mention this level of attention spills over to the remainder of the set.

Once again, it has to do with laying the groundwork for a particular attitude and intention.

Once one has avoided the Val Salva maneuver, muscular force will more or less happen gradually.

What we have now is a situation where the manifestation of the protocol will be contingent upon three things: Val Salva (or lack thereof), the subjects’ willingness to “chase” a consistent rate of speed, and the source of resistance (equipment). 

Given my experience and observations, I find the argumentation over protocol choices a bit silly. You either feel that ideal loading occurs without the Val Salva maneuver or you don’t. If you are of the opinion that ideal muscular loading will occur in the absence of the Val Salva maneuver (and I obviously am), then you are not left with a whole lot of options with regards to how you will effort against a particular resistance source.

Is it necessary to hold up such an ideal?

I have no idea, but without at least moving in that direction, neither I nor the people I train have any direction.

After a subject has learned to avoid the Val  Salva maneuver, they now have provided you the instructor, with the most profound feedback to determine how well they are engaging the intended muscles at any given moment…..oxygen debt

You can’t fake oxygen debt and how that relates to protocol performance will be the topic of my next post.

Until next time, please post any comments below and we will personally reply! We’d love to hear your feedback.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Ed Hovanik March 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Al

Great article; a really tremendous follow up to the previous two. You are correct. Something which should occur freely and naturally–breathing– is so often done incorrecctly when performing the protocol. I know, as I have been guilty of this violation many times (although I think I am getting better).
I also agree with your explanation of the first rep setting the stage for the entire set. My last leg press showed improvement because I initiated the first rep much more slowly than I had previously. In fact, I feel the best way to commence the start of the first rep is to apply force so gradually that there is a slight trepidation that the weight may be too heavy to even lift. This gradual build up of force will aid in taking out any momentum. In any exercise that I did well on, the first rep was started quite slowly which enabled me to continue subsequent reps in a more focused manner and made “chasing the rate” more plausible.
Do I have it down pat yet? Absolutely not!! But I feel that I am getting closer to where I would like to be.

Ed H

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avatar Andrew Shortt March 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Hi Al,

I think it could be helpful if you extrapolate some on your use of the term ‘attitude’.

“You either feel that ideal loading occurs without the Val Salva maneuver or you don’t.”

Nicely put.

Regards,
Andrew

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avatar Joshua Trentine March 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm

simple as that

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avatar Al Coleman March 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Hey Andrew,

I’m going to start work on an article regarding inroad as a developed skill. I’ll dive into attitude as part of that.

Thanks for reading.

Al

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avatar Andrew Shortt March 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Excellent. The one thing I can say about it is how surprisingly
pathetic I am at it even after much practice. I mantra ‘let go, let the the muscle’, but geezus…lol!

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avatar Joshua Trentine March 24, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Old habits die hard.

There is a way to accelerate the process, more to come…

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avatar Al Coleman March 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Andrew,

It is bizarre isn’t it? Breathing is interesting because it is the one autonomic function we can control.

I’ve gained a lot more out of having someone purposefully do it wrong and take note of how they did it. As F.M. Alexander said,” The right thing will do itself”.

Al

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avatar Andrew Shortt March 25, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Getting out of one’s own way has never been my strong suit sad to say.

avatar Brad March 21, 2011 at 6:40 pm

For me the process and attitude starts with the understanding and acceptance of the MAIN OBJECTIVE…empty the tank…with the right application of gradual force I begin the process…yes…how the body recieves the load will set the tone and outcome of the exercise

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avatar Robert March 22, 2011 at 4:29 am

Al – Great quote from Alexander, and it sums up his best idea. Have you dabbled with Alexander Technique? If so, what are your thoughts?

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avatar Al Coleman March 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Hi Robert,

I have done an Alexander lesson and find his writings interesting. I believe he was really onto something regarding how people learn.

His ideas on using breathing as feedback as an indication of unconcious holding patterns have influenced my thought process.

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avatar Paul Marsland March 22, 2011 at 7:16 am

This article reminds of a program I was watching on TV the other night, it featured a section on car makers Volvo on how they are developing a system to avoid the occupents being subject to whiplash, what they found is that upon feeling a sudden impact (accelertaion, high force…..sound familiar? ) the body automatically tense the neck muscles, it is this auto matic response which actually makes whiplash worse!!!
So what they are trying to develop is a system that “surprises” the body a milisecond prior to the impact thus advoiding the tensing of the neck muscles..

In the case of this protcol being discussed and in relation to breathing it highlights even further that the trainee should be as relaxed as possible prior to starting the set and force should be applied very very gradually, also in light of the instructor, care should be taken on how the instructions are given ie: not barked at the trainee, causing surprise, and also what the instruction is trying to portray…

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avatar Al Coleman March 22, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Yes Paul. The trainee needs to approach the exercise with a calm excitation. Instruction is key in that many instructors lack the skill of staying objectively detached from the trainee’s emotional state. It does the trainee no good for his/her instructor to get overly excited.

Al

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avatar Andrew Shortt March 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

“calm excitation”…your going to make to give Scott a
migraine ;n)

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avatar Al Coleman March 24, 2011 at 7:57 pm

🙂

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avatar Jeff March 23, 2011 at 6:53 am

Paul,
The Volvo study you mentioned is interesting and it makes sense. Statistics show that a lot of times those involved in a car accident who are impaired by alcohol suffer far less traumatic injuries than those who are not impaired. They attribute this to the impaired person being less tense due to being intoxicated.

I’m not saying get your clients drunk before a session but the more relaxed state of mind and body you can get them from the onset and throughout the set I believe the more effective the set will become.

A perfect example is Al Coleman’s “Zen like” state during training.

With regard to the inflection and tone of an instructor’s voice General Tso once said “If you lower your tone you demand that they listen”.

It is your job as an instructor to keep the client calm. If you are excited in your instruction they will be as well.

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avatar Travis Weigand March 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm

A member of my family was involved in a major car wreck. She fell asleep behind the wheel. In the ER, the physician commented on the fact that he tended to see less severe injuries amongst those who fell asleep. Miraculously, she escaped with a broken wrist and a couple of bruises (she hit a parked car at nearly 80mph). This is certainly worthwhile commentary on the clients physical and mental state during an exercise.

In addition, I think this conversation could also include what McGuff referred to as “cultivating training angst”. My least productive workouts always occur when I fall victim to training angst between sessions.

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avatar JOHN O'ROURKE March 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Nice article and of particular relevance to my training at present.
I like the bent legged deadlift and feel that I do it well, except for breathing.
Trying to squeeze out of the bottom of that exercise without activating the val salve is proving to be a challenge. There is sometimes a brief hint of dizziness for a second or so at the start of lift. Should I just start saving for a leg press?
John.

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avatar Al Coleman March 22, 2011 at 9:46 pm

John,

This is an important question.

While I think that a bent legged deadlift could be done without a Val Salva, I wouldn’t recommend it. The ValSalva does have a useful purpose and one of those purposes is to create enough intra abdominal pressure to protect the spine in things such as a deadlift. It is for that reason that I don’t recommend the deadlift as an efficient exercise for you must brace the chain at the expense of inroad. There is benefit to that exercise for sure(people have used for ages), but it fits in a slightly different paradigm and doesn’t address the direction we are trying to go. My suggestion would be a body squat if you don’t have access to a good leg press.

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avatar JOHN O'ROURKE March 23, 2011 at 7:35 am

Thank you for the reply Al, even though my question did not appear on the page. Perhaps the hip belt is a better way to go after all.
John.

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avatar Scott Springston March 23, 2011 at 11:24 am

In my previous installment addressing the topic of breathing during high intensity exercise, I alluded to the idea that our respiration, if left untouched by the Val Salva maneuver, could possibly be the crudest tool we have to measure the rate and depth of muscular inroading and the general performance………

===Scott==
You say crudest tool and I wonder why you say crudest? I would think this would be one of the best tools, not the crudest? Other than results what other real tools does anyone have at his disposal to determine this??
I’m still not even close to understanding how one would know if in fact they have dissengauged the Valsalva? I have tried the techniques of relaxed jaw and such to prevent the valsalva protective effect from happening but really don’t know how to tell if I’ve really done it or if I just imagine I’ve done it?? How does one really know they are successful at not engaging the valsalva when lifting hard?

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avatar Joshua Trentine March 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm

it can be the ‘best’ yet still be VERY crude.

Valsalva has likely occured if your breathing ceases or is resisted

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avatar Scott Springston March 24, 2011 at 11:15 am

==Scott==
Are there different levels of valsalva involvement or is it a on or off type of thing?? In my short experience in trying to relax enough to not involve the valsalva I don’t really know if I have actually defeated it or if I have only partially done so?? It’s takes me as much concentration to relax the jaw as it takes to do the lift, ha ha..

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avatar Al Coleman March 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Scott,

I understand how hard it can be. One thing we have folks do who can’t seem to break the association is to have them purposefully “over-breathe”. Think of breathing the sound “A-ha” really fast. If you can load up gradually while simultaneously doing this, you should be able to break the association in no time.

A word of caution though; once you’ve broken the link, drop the purposeful hyperventilation and breathe freely without thinking about it. This is important as breathing isn’t a “technique”. You should be focused on smooth movement, not breathing. What you will note(and the attention you pay to this is an important mental exercise) is that if you are truly attempting to keep your rate of speed uniform, your breathing will get faster if you let it. This is what I meant by “crude” feedback in that it isn’t digital, electronic, or techie in anyway.

Hope that helps,

Al

You’ll get super dizzy at first, but this isn’t harmful

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avatar Scott Springston March 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm

==Scott==

Ok but what if I slip up mid set and and grunt a grit my teeth which which seems to happen almost every set which I assume activates the valsalva. Can the valsalve go off and on during one set depending on how your breathing goes and how relaxed you are or once it is activated is it on for the remainder of that set regardless of how you breath after you have activated it?

avatar Scott Springston March 23, 2011 at 12:16 pm

what they found is that upon feeling a sudden impact (accelertaion, high force…..sound familiar? ) the body automatically tense the neck muscles, it is this auto matic response which actually makes whiplash worse!!!
==Scott==
I’ve also heard that when drunks get into a wreck they sometimes come out unscathed because they were so limp they just rolled around with the crash loosely where as the ones who weren’t drunk suffered more injury. Hmm, maybe we should be drunk when we workout, ha ha..

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avatar Scott Springston March 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm

==Scott==
I’ve been bouncing around the internet looking up the valsalva maneuver trying to understand it and it’s relation to exercise. I am finding lot’s of reasons where the effects of holding one’s breath during a stressful exercise can be dangerous and why it effects stuttering but I can’t find much on how to actually avoid the Valsalva maneuver other than relaxing the jaw and breathing freely . I’m also am not finding much to support the idea that by not activating it one can dig deeper inroads to the muscle. Do you have any links to a site or something that better explains how to do it properly and illustrates how it helps in digging deeper inroads?

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avatar Joshua Trentine March 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Hi Scott,

I don’t think you’ll find anything, as far as I know we are the first to identify these relationships.

They are VERY easy to prove.

All you have to have is a machine that can measure force output.

Really all you have to do is experience it both ways.

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avatar Chasbari March 23, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Al,
Nice article. I have found that I need to keep checking my breathing once it starts to speed up to see if I can relax to a lower respiratory rate. I have found my self “pre-expecting” a certain respiratory profile at times and, without disengaging from the exercise, have been able to slow it down while squeezing. I am not sure what this means other than the fact that I have spent years taking conscious control of the breath mechanism in performance situations. I have found that as I fine tune this protocol to my prototypes that breathing is becoming a more solid indicator of effectiveness of the exercise. You have to come down here some time to try them out.. next time Josh heads down this way. I appreciate all the educational effort you are putting forth here.. greatly. I was thinking about the Alexander quote. So much of my teaching is an attempt to contrast suboptimal practice with optimal alternatives. Sometimes I will have a student intentionally do the wrong thing so they can then disengage willfully from that. Once identified, that aspect becomes easier to avoid in the future as it provides a stark contrast from which to move in the opposite (or somewhat opposite) direction. There are, of course, reasonable limitations to this when applied to anything but, as long as it is knowingly overseen, can be effective.
Chuck

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avatar Scott Springston March 29, 2011 at 7:31 am

==Scott==

Ok but what if I slip up mid set and and grunt a grit my teeth which which seems to happen almost every set which I assume activates the valsalva. Can the valsalve go off and on during one set depending on how your breathing goes and how relaxed you are or once it is activated is it on for the remainder of that set regardless of how you breath after you have activated it?

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avatar Scott Springston March 30, 2011 at 8:49 am

Hi Scott,

I don’t think you’ll find anything, as far as I know we are the first to identify these relationships.

They are VERY easy to prove.

All you have to have is a machine that can measure force output.

Really all you have to do is experience it both ways.

==Scott==
Very easy to prove you say??Easy? All you need is a machine that can measure force output? Why I’ll go down to Walmart and get one right now, ha ha..Since you are saying this I assume you have done so?? What were your findings?? What was the result of REN-EX method vrs standard breathing techniques? If it’s as easy as you say this could clear up all the confusion. Please show us the results.

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avatar Al Coleman March 30, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Scott,

I haven’t had a ton of time to respond to the many questions posed here, but what Josh is trying to say is that these observations are very easy to prove if you are paying close enough attention.

One thing I’d like to clear up is that breathing is NOT a technique! We have no trade mark on a special form of breathing. What I was trying to express in my articles is that is you simply allow yourself to breath and instead concentrate on keeping the target musculature continually engaged, breathing will take care of itself. In other words, you can’t perform a Val Salva manuever AND contract the musculature continuously with an ever increasing degree of effort. Something’s got to give.

If during your set you catch yourself performing the ValSalva manuever, guess what happened to your muscular effort in that given moment? It broke. Panic momentarily ensued and your body tried to find a way to brace and mechanically manuever the load instead of you staying concentrated on producing fatigue/inroad as rapidly as possible. This requires a ton of concentration and observation to witness these subtleties happening. This is where being your own scientist and using your fasculties of observation come in handy. You won’t find a study proving any of this because quite frankly I doubt anyone has ever cared about deciphering these relationships as much as us.

Some think that this is minutia, but when you are trying to evolve your level of observation there is no such thing as minutia. All I focus on is my level of effort and increasing the degree of that effort per unit of time. I don’t focus on my breathing. There literally is no time for it. I listen to my breathing to make sure I’m not blocking it, but I certainly don’t concnetrate on it. For those who say that they focus on pushing but still fall prey to holding their breath…….well the truth is you aren’t really and truly focused on a pure effort. You’re bracing somehow. Don’t take my word for it though.

I wish I could box this up and send it to you, but I can’t. All I can do is share my experience and hope that others are willing to study with an equal level of interest.

Thanks for stopping by.

Al

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avatar Scott Springston April 4, 2011 at 10:34 am

==Scott==
Thanks Al! Frankly I could care less about studies, I just am trying to figure this out. I think I tend to breath as necessary and don’t force the breathing and don’t hold my breath but I do find I clench my jaw and tense up my neck muscles, etc, as the set gets harder. I still can’t seem to comprehend how involving the valsalva makes one less able to exert maximum inroad to a muscle?? Even if I am tensing up and bracing numerous other muscles than the one I am trying to work , how does that cut back on the inroading of that particular muscle? Is it more of a focus thing, the other muscles being tensed causes a distraction to putting full concentration into that one particular muscle?

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