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     The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2013 issue 6



Just Breathe

Breathing is one THE most often overlooked pieces of the puzzle when it comes to weight training...and it can have a tremendous impact on the results you get from your training!  Here's the thing that a lot of people don't know about breathing...different exercises require different breathing strategies.  How you breathe in a heavy squat is not even close to how you should breathe while doing a pulldown.

So here's a rundown of how to breathe while doing some of the more popular exercises (I will assume your form is generally good - going in depth into proper form for each exercise would make this a book instead of an article!).

** Please note, if you have high blood pressure or any issues with holding your breath (e.g. you easily get light-headed), you'll need to adjust these breathing recommendations accordingly. These instructions (for a few of the exercises, at least) are intended for those who don't have issues with short periods of breath holding.

1. How to Breathe When Doing Squats

As you start the descent, inhale deeply so that you complete the inhalation by the time you're about halfway down. Hold your breath from this point on, all the way to the bottom and then about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way as you come back up. Then exhale until you come all the way to the top. The reason you want to hold your breath like this is to maximize the stability of your abdominal region.

Breathing in or breathing out (especially out as you come up out of the very bottom), will destabilize the core area. To maximize strength and power, your muscles need a stable platform to work from. Keeping that solid core will also save your lower back from strain because more tension will held in the abs rather than being forced onto the lower back.

One of the key things I've found in my own squat is that core strength (in the frontal abdominal wall) is a HUGE part of successfully coming out of the bottom. If I breathe out at the bottom, I'm done. But if I save that exhalation until after I get past that point where I need maximum core stability, I'll hit the lift and power through that sticking point.

2. How to Breathe When Doing Bench Press

Improper breathing on the bench press is one of THE biggest reasons people are weak on this lift. If you breath wrong, you lose that stability (just like in the squat) and don't provide your body with a solid platform from which to move the weight.

This technique applies to heavier to moderate-weight benching - it's not as critical on the lighter, higher-rep training to follow it as is because the load is a lot less.

Picture yourself at the top of the movement with the barbell locked out. Now lower the bar, inhaling a deep breath as you come down. Here's the should finish taking in that breath by the time you're halfway down (around your sticking point). This is important for torso stability.

Hold your breath during the bottom phase of the movement, just like in the squat. If you start breathing out right at the bottom, you will not only destabilize your torso, which will change the leverage in your shoulders, it'll also sink down your chest and flatten your shoulder blades out (which should be held in tight behind you during the whole movement to maximize leverage).

Once you hit your sticking point THEN start to exhale forcefully through pursed lips. At this point, it's actually good to change the leverage in your shoulders. When the bar is on your chest, it's not good, but when the bar is halfway up, it can give you a little extra leverage to get past that sticking point.

Keep blowing out all the way to lockout. Then you can go right into your next rep or, if you need it, hold that lockout and take in a breath or two before starting the next rep.

3. How to Breathe When Doing All Versions of Rows, Pulldowns and Chin-Ups/Pull-Ups

Breathing during back training is, to be honest, completely misunderstood by most trainers...if you have trouble feeling your back while training your back, it's generally your breathing pattern that is messing you up.

You have to breathe BACKWARDS when training back or your lats will never be in a proper biomechanical position to fully engage. I'll explain...

Generally speaking, you're told to exhale on the exertion and inhale on the lowering phase of an exercise.  But here's the thing and where people get back training, the exertion LOOKS like the lowering phase of the exercise so THAT is when people tend to exhale! Instead, you actually want to INHALE as you perform the exertion. I'll use the pulldown as an example.

When you perform a pulldown, you want to puff your chest to meet the bar and have an arch in your lower back to fully activate the lats. You don't want a flat chest and a vertical torso position.

So when you pull the bar down, that's the exertion. If you exhale (which you normally would do) this actually caves in the chest and straightens out your lower back. The moment this happens, it reduces lat involvement and puts more stress onto other muscles.  Switch things up and INHALE as you're pulling down.

Now as you pull down, your chest is expanding and rising up to meet the bar, which instantly puts the lats in their best possible position to activate.  The difference is instantaneous and HUGE. If you've always had trouble feeling your back work, this will be a big eye-opener for you.

As you let the bar come back on the negative, THAT is when you exhale. It's a bit of a mind-bender the first time you do it...I can promise you it'll make a big difference in your back training.

You'll now just apply that same principle to the rest of your back exercises (except the deadlift, which is a whole different animal...more akin to the squat in terms of breathing). When you row, inhale as you pull the handles or bar into your abdomen. When you chin, inhale as you pull yourself up.

4. How to Breathe When Doing Barbell Curls

Another very popular exercise is the barbell may have heard of it :)  One of the main problems people have in the barbell curl is they are entirely too loose. When doing ANY exercise with moderately-heavy to heavy weight, you should basically "solidify" your body, tightening everything up so that you're operating from a strong, stable base.  Even a barbell curl should be done with a rock-solid body.

So at the bottom of the movement, start by taking in a deep breath, puff your chest up high and get your shoulders back. In my experience, I've found it best to keep your breath held until just after you get past the half-way point of the curl. To get past that sticking point, you need the most stability possible for your levers to operate maximally.

Once you get past that mid-way point, THEN exhale forcefully but not completely. You still need to keep some torso stability for holding the weight at the top of the exercise.

Hold at the top for a moment. At this point you have a can immediately start lowering the bar and inhale on the way down or you can hold at the top and take a quick breath in and out then inhale on the way down after that.

5. How to Breathe When Doing Deadlifts

Proper breathing for the deadlift is very similar to breathing for the want to have the most stable core at the bottom of the movement. In the case of the deadlift, this is the START of the movement.

So get yourself set up in front of the bar and get ready to lift. It's important to note with the deadlift (and I will include a technique point here because I think it's an important one), don't try and pop the bar off the floor, especially when using heavy weight. You want to SQUEEZE the bar off the floor. A heavy bar has to bend and if you pop it off the floor, the weight will bounce up then down and pull you back down. So get the bend into the bar with your initial lift THEN pull the weight off the floor.

When you first start the lift, you'll want to hold your breath during the first part until around the point where the bar has cleared your knees. I say "around" because if you're using really heavy weight, it may take you a bit of time to get to that point and you may need to start to exhale a bit sooner in the range of motion, i.e. below your knees.

This bottom range is the most vulnerable time for your lower back and you want to keep the greatest stability in your core during that time. So do hold your breath a bit at the bottom...don't start the exhale (through pursed lips, like you're blowing up a balloon) until you get that bar at least a few inches off the ground and moving up.  Keep going to the top, then take a quick breath then lower the weight.

Personally, I prefer to hold my breath on the way DOWN as well, simply because lowering the weight is also a vulnerable time for your lower back, especially as you get near the bottom. So inhale at the top then hold as you get down to the halfway point.


Breathing plays a BIG role in proper lifting and in achieving maximum strength. It'll also make your lifting safer and overall, more effective. Give these breathing tips a try in your training and you'll feel the difference immediately!


Recipes For Health

Banana Peanut Butter Protein Smoothie


  • 1  banana
  • 1 scoop whey protein powder
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup plain, low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup low-fat milk


  • Blend all ingredients together until smooth.  Serve immediately.

Nutrition Info:

Calories:  470
Protein:  67g
Carbs:  29g
Fat:  10g
Fiber:  12g

prep time:  15 minutes

ref.  Eat This Not That



Sandbag Exercise of the Month!

Overhead Tricep Extension


Triceps!  Those muscles in the back of your upper arm that give it that shape that everyone covets!  The triceps are a muscle that both men and women envy and seek to improve upon.  Your triceps are responsible for extending your elbow from the bent position, to the straight position.  So basically, any exercise where the effort is taking place during this motion is working your triceps.


Target:  arms (triceps brachii)

Description:  Starting with the sandbag behind your neck, gripping the outside of the bag.  Keeping your elbows in and up, extend your arms overhead before returning to the starting position.  Your elbows should be the only join that is moving during this isolation exercise.  Repeat for desired reps or time.

Avoiding Rhabdo

People like cross training because it is intense, builds fitness quickly, and varies almost every day. Cross training is particularly popular with men and women in the military because it develops well-rounded fitness that prepares them for almost any physical challenge. Cross-training programs stress the body to the max. Exercise biochemistry studies have found that pushing the muscles close to failure results in the fastest rate of muscle protein synthesis and hypertrophy.

Unfortunately, failure training also increases the risk of severe muscle injury that can be debilitating or even life threatening. Overzealous cross trainers may develop rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo), which involves destruction of muscle tissue that results from the release of the muscle cell contents into the bloodstream. Toxic chemicals include myoglobin, creatine kinase, potassium, lactate dehydrogenase, uric acid, calcium, aspartate transaminase, alanine transaminase and phosphorus.

Typically, rhabdo turns the urine dark brown because of the presence of myoglobin. Symptoms might also include fainting, cardiac arrhythmias, compartment syndromes (inflamed muscles trapped by bone or soft tissue), muscle pain and weakness, nausea and vomiting. The severity and risk of rhabdo increases with dehydration, eccentric exercise (negatives or lengthening contractions), trauma, and even medically prescribed drugs such as statins.

The incidence of rhabdo has increased alarmingly with the popularity of high-intensity training programs. Approximately three percent of people involved in physical training programs for the military, police and fire departments experience rhabdo. Physicians across the country have reported an increased incidence in ordinary people performing extreme physical training programs in health clubs. The exact percentage is unknown, but experts believe that the incidence is under reported.

Rhabdo and Cross Training

Cross training programs typically involve high-rep, high-intensity exercises such as kettlebell swings and snatches, thrusters, squats, sit-ups, sprints and pull-ups. While these exercises build whole-body fitness rapidly, they can cause muscle cell destruction if pushed too far. There is sometimes a fine line between building muscle fitness and muscle destruction.

Recent scientific studies on muscle hypertrophy found that muscle size increases best when muscles are pushed to failure or close to it. Failure training typically involves exercising using relatively light weights for as many reps as possible. This technique maxes out recruitment of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers and is an excellent way to promote muscle protein synthesis. There are pluses and minuses to this training technique. The few studies that examined failure training showed that it increased muscle mass and strength better than other training techniques. However, it also delays recovery. In strength sports requiring movement skills, failure training could interfere with sports practice. Also, excessive training to failure, such as used in "boot camp" and cross-training programs, can increase the risk of rhabdo.

Most people have experienced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is caused by injuries to the muscle cells that release calcium into the cell contents. Calcium triggers the production of chemicals called proteases that cause further breakdown in vital cell structures. While DOMS is painful and may temporarily decrease performance, the problem is usually not serious. Also, the muscle repair process associated with muscle soreness may be important in promoting muscle hypertrophy and increasing strength.

Rhabdo caused by excessive exercise is basically delayed onset muscle soreness that goes too far. Like DOMS, rhabdo is linked to calcium release that causes cell inflammation and destruction of vital muscle cell membranes. However, rhabdo is more severe than DOMS and results in the release of toxic chemicals into the bloodstream. Cross trainers must perform a delicate balancing act that pushes the muscles hard enough to cause some damage but not so hard as to cause severe muscle damage and rhabdomyolysis.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins also increase the risk of rhabdomyolysis. Increasingly, physicians are prescribing statins to young adults with increased risk of coronary artery disease. Risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and high blood sugar, abnormal blood fats and inflammation. Some researchers feel that statins should be widely prescribed in young adults to prevent heart attacks, Alzheimerís disease, and abnormal blood fats such as high cholesterol and elevated LDL. Statins also cause muscle achiness and decreased physical performance. They are linked to muscle fatigue in about 25 percent of casual exercisers and 75 percent of intensely training athletes. Statins could pose a serious risk for muscle damage in cross trainers. People must balance the benefits of reducing the risk of coronary artery disease with the negative effects of statins on physical performance and muscle health.

Preventing Rhabdomyolysis During Cross Training

Some cross trainers consider rhabdo a badge of honor. This is a mistake. Exercise-related muscle damage can cause decreased performance, muscle pain, kidney failure and even death. However, you can train intensely and safely if you follow a few basic principles:

  • Get in shape gradually. Muscles produce protective proteins that strengthen muscles after intense exercise. If you are a beginner, donít do a cross-training program designed for a well-trained athlete. If you take a break from training, donít start where you left off. Rather, increase the intensity of exercise gradually for two to three weeks. Ex-athletes are particularly susceptible to rhabdo because they remember how to train hard but no longer have the fitness.
  • Exercise within your capacity. Physical training is an adaptive process that is highly individual. Genetic studies show that there are responders and nonresponders to exercise. If you are a hard gainer, donít overcompensate by doing excessive exercise.
  • Donít overdo eccentric exercise (lengthening contractions or negatives). Rhabdo has been reported in people doing high-repetition squats, kettlebell swings and snatches, thrusters and downhill running.
  • Donít train hard when you are sick. Illnesses accompanied by fever can affect muscle function and increase the susceptibility to rhabdo. Viruses, such as influenza A and B, Epstein-Barr, herpes simplex and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are linked to an increased risk of rhabdo.
  • Be aware of the warning signs of rhabdomyolysis. See your physician immediately if you develop dark, brown-colored urine within two or three days following an intense workout. Rhabdo is an inflammatory process that may get worse 36 to 48 hours after a workout. Other symptoms include muscle weakness, muscle tenderness, extreme fatigue, joint pain, seizures, inability to recover, nausea, vomiting and faintness. Rhabdo is often misdiagnosed because common blood tests such as myoglobin and creatine kinase are insensitive markers of the problem.
  • Beware of assisted spotting during failure training. While this technique is effective for pushing muscles to the max, it can result in muscle destruction in unfit or susceptible people. Avoid doing drop sets (multiple sets performed to exhaustion, decreasing the weight after each set) until you are well trained.
  • Stay hydrated. In general, let thirst be your guide in determining fluid intake. But make sure you take in enough fluid to satisfy your needs. Dark urine color may be a sign of dehydration. Be aware that vitamin supplements can make your urine darker.
  • Hyperthermia (high body temperature) increases the risk of rhabdomyolysis. Take care not to exercise excessively in the heat. Physical fitness is the best protection against heat illnesses. Avoid sitting in hot tubs after performing monster workouts. Recent studies have found that cold water baths help decrease inflammation after intense muscular exercise.
  • Balance the risks and benefits of statin therapy to reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Statin use in intensely training athletes is highly controversial. Learn as much as you can about this topic and have a frank discussion with your physician. Some experts recommend suspending statin therapy for five to seven days before competition.

Most people donít exercise hard enough. Fifty percent of Americans donít meet the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. However, cross trainers are a competitive, hard-driving group of people. They are more likely to overtrain in an effort to reach top-level fitness. They have an increased risk of developing exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis. The take-home message is to train intensely, but not too intensely.

ref.  Fitness RX,

It's Go Time!

Ok... it's June 1st and tomorrow is the Tough Mudder that I've been training for... YIKES!  I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by my capacity to actually run.  I've never been a runner, nor do I particularly like running on the streets... but I am really starting to enjoy the trail running.  After having a few cartiledge tears removed from my knee a few decades ago, I can't say that I'd ever be running 11-12 miles!

Did I mention that I'm turning 47 this month?  ... and yes, I do plan on flipping our big warrior workout tire 47 timesJ  It's tradition around these here parts!  No, I don't plan on slowing down anytime soon.  That's when old age sets in!  Sure, you have to be smart and gradually work up to some of this stuff, but the only time you should say "can't" is if you follow it with a "yet"!  Seize the day!

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Exceed Your Potential!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

"I've worked too hard and too long to let anything stand in the way of my goals. I will not let my teammates down and I will not let myself down."
~Mia Hamm


youtube of the month --> Archer Training
Nice collection of some different bodyweight exercises to add to your collection. | Personal Training | News | Tips & Tools | Fitness Stuff




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