How to Breathe When Loading the Heavy Stuff (and it's all Heavy Stuff)
The first step to getting stronger – in anything – is creating awareness.
When we allow for our situation, acknowledge that we must be fully present to create what we’re after, and focus in on every detail we need to complete our goal, then we really have no choice but to get it done. This sounds like a lot, especially when lifting, because there are SO MANY technique things to think about, but it gets easier.
In psychology, as first noted Four Stages for Learning any new Skill (Noel Burch), there are levels of competence when we’re in the process of mastery, and bear with me here, because it gets a little confusing if we’re going fast.
1. Unconscious incompetence: in which we don’t understand how to do something, and also don’t recognize how far we have to go to get there (or the usefulness of said skill).
2. Conscious incompetence: in which we recognize that the skill has value and will improve our lives, and also realize that we don’t know how to do it (we make a *lot* of mistakes in this stage- which is okay, because we’re learning! Pep talk here.).
3. Conscious competence: in which we know how to do something, but it requires lots of concentration to do it (we’re thinking of every little step: squeeze our glutes, spread the floor, push our knees out, breathe, brace, push our back into the bar out of the hole, etc. etc. all throughout the squat).
4. Unconscious competence: in which we have so much practice that we perform the skill as if it were second nature (and can teach it to others).
All of that to say, it’s easy – and natural – to get frustrated, give up, want to turn our brains off, etc. But we can’t skip steps: if we want to learn how to #LevelUp (which, if you’re here, you do), there are going to be periods where it’s sticky, where it’s bogged down by thinking of every little thing, where it’s exhausting.
With enough practice, and enough awareness, and enough making it NBD to mess up or think hard through the process, we’ll get to the effortless stage. It’s guaranteed. Cultivating awareness actually allows for the stage where we can complete a heavy lift as though it’s an empty bar. So, stay focused, my friends: the ease is coming.
Another key facet of movement, before we get to breaking down the mindset of each major lift, is to create strong foundational patterns.
What I mean by that is, without a strong, solid groove from which to work, we’re setting ourselves up for inefficiency, injury, and/or failure. Even holding ourselves up in space well requires a certain set of angles and tension, and many places of pain are created when we ignore proper movement patterns.
Think about it this way: when my brother and I were younger, we played a “game” (more like engaged in ways to get tiny 10-year-old rage out in a way that didn’t make our dad want to have a heart attack) to stomp on soda cans to crush them before we put them into recycling. The only time it worked to crush these cans into a flat little disk was if they were empty…and it worked even if we didn’t stomp them straight-on. If they were full, even if we *did* have the perfect stomp, we were far more likely to break a foot than crush that soda can.
Simple example, but illustrates the point: when we’re lifting, before we load and put ourselves under a bar of any sort of appreciable weight, we want to be a full, non-crushable soda can. If we’re not braced properly, any weight at any angle will cause us to fold, twist, buckle, and crumble. Okay, hopefully not crumble, but imagine what would be happening to our spines if we were wet noodles and tried to squat. Ouch.
A technique I learned to create “360 degrees of pressure” (to become said non-crushable soda can) is called 90/90 breathing. I’ll provide a video link to it, because there are more succinct people in this world than I (you’re shocked, I know). But, before I link to it, I will say: this technique is a thing I do my best to incorporate for 10m throughout every day, and certainly part of my warmup before every lift, and it has made a world of difference to my spinal health, technique, and awareness. I’ve also passed it on to all of my clients, who have seen great results in form and function from a few minutes spent here most days.
It teaches us to breathe, brace, and lift from a stable position (rather than a misaligned and, therefore, unstable one), and is a method to fix problems in form, rather than just cover them up (you know, by just squeezing here or shifting there…which may make it look prettier, but isn’t addressing the root: misalignment, weak core, improper bracing). Check it out here (Dr. Quinn Henoch, if you wanna go down a rabbit hole, is a brilliant sports medicine doctor and physical therapist).
Getting our awareness and breath down is key to quieting down our brains and focusing on the task at hand. This practice carries over to juuuuust about everything: in any challenge we face, taking a few moments to reflect, reframe, and hone in our stability will create a launching pad from which to succeed. #WonderWomanLoading, every moment of every dang day.
Next week, we’re honing in on the squat specifically – a lift that is (or at least has been) intimidating to many of us, but a perfect mindset hurdle to overcome. See you then! And let me know how the 90/90 breathing works out for you. :)