You are hereBreathing!
Natalie Wolfolk (my hero)
An excellent article from Performance Menu:
April 1 2008
Breath control is critical for increasing and maintaining the structural integrity of the spine while under heavy loads. The supporting musculature is alone inadequateâ€”in order to adequately stabilize the spine, the abdominal and thoracic cavities must be pressurized.
The torso has only a single supporting structureâ€”the spineâ€”on one side, and this structure articulates in all directions, requiring additional support to maintain rigidity. The remaining circumference is comprised of muscle walls, which are able only to pull, not push up to support a load. Fortunately the torso is filled with a collection of organs that are only slightly compressible and a fairly large container whose internal pressure we can easily controlâ€”the lungs.
By filling the lungs with air, we can maximize the volume of the torso. By then activating the surrounding musculature, we can increase the internal pressure. These two things in concert allow us to maximize the rigidity of the torso, which will both improve performance and the safety of the spine. In essence this creates a broad, stable base from which the spine can be tied in tightly to prevent folding in any direction.
The athlete will need to draw in as much air as possible, forcing the abdomen to expand to ensure the lungs are able to fill completely; filling the lungs partially by only allowing the chest to lift and expand is not adequate. Once this breath is taken, the athlete will clamp down the glottisâ€”the muscle in the throat that seals off the tracheaâ€”to contain the air. The lifter will then tighten down the abdominal and back musculature to increase the internal pressure and reduce the potential for flexion or extension of the torso.
Itâ€™s critical the athlete not â€œhollowâ€, or suck in the abdominals as many have been taught to do or will believe is correct. If the abdominals are drawn in, the base of support is reduced in width, and this is obviously not beneficial. We want the muscles activated tightly while keeping the torso as wide and deep as possible, allowing us a broad foundation to support the load. It may help athletes having difficultly with this activation to think of pushing the abs down.
The chest should not be lifted any more than may occur naturally with the deep inhalation. This artificial lifting of the ribs will create elevation than canâ€™t be supported well, and will predispose the upper back to rounding forward under heavy loading, which can lead to the breakdown of the entire system. By keeping the chest neutral and filling in the space below it, we can keep the torso compact and tight vertically, minimizing opportunity for unwanted movement.
Pressurization should be maintained throughout as much of the movement as possible. There will be times, however, such as during the recovery of a clean, that the pressure becomes too great and the lifter will feel dizzy and even near unconsciousness. If this occurs repeatedly, the athlete should begin releasing a small amount of air during the highest-pressure moment of the lift through a hissing or similar action. Acting just as a relief valve in a high-pressure system, this tightly controlled release will reduce the pressure just enough to prevent the dizziness, but maintain enough to keep the torso strong.
During the explosive second pulls of the snatch and clean, and even sometimes during the drive of the jerk, some lifters will audibly expel a small amount of air, most commonly involuntarily. If this happens naturally, thereâ€™s no need for it to be discouraged as long as itâ€™s a minimal amount of air. The loss of pressure will not be dramatic, and forcing the athlete to avoid the practiceâ€”if involuntaryâ€”will only hurt his or her performance. That said, the habit doesnâ€™t need be encouraged if it doesnâ€™t occur naturally.
Post thoughts on the article and impressions of Natalie's lifts to comments.