Want More Everything? Breathe Better

Kyle Honcharik, NASM CPT, CES, PES, MMA

 I already know what you’re thinking. “I breathe the right way!” If that is your final answer, I urge you to continue reading. You may be missing out on the development of your abdominal muscles, giving yourself back injuries, or slowing fat loss. You may even have a lack of overall comfort during weight training. Sure, you might breathe, but do you breathe in the best way possible to support your body when it is moving under load and stress?

Out of the ten-plus years spent in gyms as a fitness professional (and to make myself stronger), I have noticed an eerie silence beneath the clanking of weights and the usual grunts in the free weight area. There is a resounding problem that spans across this country and makes its way into every single discipline of resistance training: breathing patterns. We can live without food for about three weeks, without water for 3 days (depending on temperature conditions), but how long can a human survive without breathing? The answer is about five to ten minutes, but even then a person may have irreversible brain damage. So, it appears breathing may be more important than most people think. Without it, we would be dead, or at least brain dead.

Anyone who has trained for more than a week knows to hydrate and eat properly for maximum energy output during sustained resistance training. You carry around your plastic water jug with motivational phrases scribbled onto the side. Maybe you are even toying with the right protein to carb ratio to fuel yourself on leg day. In most western training styles, the training mindset generally works from the outside in. What are the right exercises, reps, tempos, pre workouts, and protein supplements? These are all questions most lifters consider when trying to become stronger. However, when was the last time you thought about your breathing patterns, and more importantly, when was the last time you tried to make them better?

Before we talk about how to make your breathing better, we should talk about why it is even important. Your body regulates breathing as part of your autonomic nervous system. Like the name implies, it is largely automated. You probably will not forget to breathe when you go to sleep tonight. Because the nervous system has a handle on breathing function when the body is at rest, breathing also tends to remain automated when the body is in motion. If the body needs more oxygen, it breathes to meet the demand for more oxygen until it can circulate more oxygen throughout the blood stream. Then, your heart rate can slow down, and like magic, you have caught your breath.

The human body can regulate its heart more effectively with better breathing control. The body becomes short of breath when the demand for oxygen does not meet the supply.

Now, let’s talk about how to breathe better. The next time you are feeling your heart rate rocket out of control, try this:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror (I know you’re already looking at yourself in the mirror)
  2. Take in a slow, deep breath through your nose
  3. Fill your lungs up completely
  4. Notice when you inhale, that you will see your chest rise.
  5. Exhale slowly through the mouth
  6. Repeat as much as 6 times before attempting to breathe normally

Lesson learned: You are now better equipped to recover your breathing and heart more quickly and can dedicate more time to lifting heavy things. If you use the lungs to a higher capacity, more oxygen can be extracted from the air, and your heart rate can come down faster.

The way breathing relates to the core and the spine safety is extremely important. The core is the way the body makes itself stable, and is also the way the body transfers kinetic energy to the ground when under load. Your diaphragm, the muscle responsible for deep breathing, is actually considered part of your core. The best way to understand how the core works with your spine is with a model. Put a plastic water bottle in front of you. Even your ridiculous gallon jug with the motivational quotes will do the trick.

  1. Pick up your water bottle.
  2. Take the cap off.
  3. Squeeze the water bottle. Notice how easily it is crushed
  4. Blow the bottle back up with your mouth
  5. Put the cap on tightly
  6. Squeeze it again
  7. Notice how the bottle will not collapse anymore

This model shows you how air pressure preserves the shape of the water bottle. When a person takes a deep breath, air pressure builds inside the torso. The increased air mass turns the core into a pressure vessel, making it less susceptible to external forces. See where this is going, yet? This type of deep breathing and higher pressure will prevent the spine from undesirably moving under external (weight) forces. Now, the spine is more stable—because you have thought about your breath.

When you inflated the water bottle back to its original shape, notice how the air pressure effects all sides of the bottle equally? You can’t blow up one side of the water bottle. Aerodynamic law says that air pressure applied inside of a vessel will be imposed on all sides equally. In other words, before a heavy lift, take a moment and fill up your lungs. This will allow your spine (especially the lower vertebra) to be in a better position for moving heavy things.

Most people who have paid a little thought to breathing will know to exhale during the lift (concentric) phase and inhale during the negative (eccentric) phase. For beginners that lift limited weight, that may be fine, but more advanced training requires more advanced breathing. Try this:

  1. Stand up
  2. Place your hands on your stomach
  3. Breathe normally
  4. You will notice you don’t feel your stomach muscles engaged.
  5. Now, take a deeeeep breath in through your nose.
  6. Notice the muscle activity in your abdominal area
  7. Exhale as forcefully as you can through your mouth! Pretend you are blowing out a candle that is 6 feet away from you. You should hear the air leave your body!
  8. Observe the way your core muscles fire when a proper inhale and exhale takes place.

Lesson learned: Your core activation is determined by how deep you inhale, and how fast you exhale. The exhale should start about a half a second before the concentric phase of a lift. You want your core engaged fully BEFORE there is a change in force, not DURING that change in force. If the core is not able to accept that load, the spine may have to compensate, and bam, you now have a back injury. The exception to this rule may be extremely heavy lifting, such as a 1 RM max. Practice this breathing technique by itself before trying to apply it to a lift. This technique is especially useful for abdominal work.

Congrats, you will now prevent a lot of back injuries, recover your heart rate faster, and get your abdominal muscles to fire more effectively! So, the next time you hit the weights, breathe the right way. Do not be afraid to make some noise.. There is nothing more deafening and detrimental to your survival, especially while weight lifting, than unfocused breath.

Kyle Honcharik
National Academy of Sports Medicine CPT
National Academy of Sports Medicine Corrective Exercise Specialist
National Academy of Sports Medicine Performance Enhancement Specialist
National Academy of Sports Medicine Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Specialist
National Academy of Sports Medicine Senior Fitness Specialist

Mindful Aging for Seniors – 5 Hobbies for Health and Happiness

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Are seniors happier than their younger peers? According to studies outlined in the Atlantic, many retirees report being happier than respondents in their twenties and middle-aged years.

Research shows that happiness tends to follow a “U Curve” trajectory, starting high in the early twenties and dipping to its lowest during the forties and fifties. From there, happiness tends to steadily increase in the following decades – rising from the sixties all the way up to the nineties.

This isn’t to say that aging is always easy, or that seniors are a euphoric bunch. However, for many, the key to capturing that wave of happiness lies in finding a meaningful hobby, one that inspires passion and dedication and keeps the body strong. Read on for five hobbies that will keep you fit and feeling fabulous in your golden years.

 1. Garden your way to health.

According to experts, playing in the dirt is spiritually fulfilling, and allows seniors to connect to their “primal state.” The experience of gardening also relieves stress, increases mental functioning, and provides lots of exercise. Plus, vegetable gardeners reap the benefits of eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet full of a rainbow of produce.

Gardening is great for seniors at all ages and skill levels. Something as simple as creating a container garden can connect you to nature and provide mental and physical stimulation.

2. Volunteer at a local museum or theater.

If you’ve always been a big lover of the arts or enjoy watching plays and concerts, consider volunteering at your local museum or theater. You’ll get to watch shows for free – plus, you’ll be supporting your local arts community and instilling a love for art in the next generation. Volunteering is also a great way to meet new friends and maintain a lifelong love of learning.

3. Get creative.

The health benefits of artistic participation are scientifically proven. Dr. Gene Cohen, director of George Washington University’s Center on Aging, Health and Humanities, conducted a two-year study with two groups of seniors. Half were involved in various arts programs, and the other half did no artistic activities. After two years, researchers concluded that seniors in the arts group reported better overall physical health and took fewer trips to the doctor than the seniors with no artistic involvement.

So, if you’d rather be the one on stage – or long to see yourself swirling paint around a canvas – consider taking up a creative hobby like drawing, dancing, learning to play the guitar, or singing. Having a hobby, especially a creative one that allows for self-expression and “me time,” is a healthy habit every senior should add to their daily routine. You don’t even need formal lessons. YouTube is packed with how-to tutorials for budding visual artists and musicians.

Artistic hobbies are also great for seniors dealing with alcohol and drug addiction

recovery, because creativity provides therapeutic relief. The process of making art connects addicts to communities of like-minded individuals and becomes an emotional outlet for expression, stress relief, and contemplation.

4. Start swimming or stretching.

Low-impact exercises are great for seniors because they increase heart rate without putting undue stress on older joints. Yoga and pilates improve core muscles, increase balance, and force you to stretch, while water aerobics and swimming increase strength, burn calories, build cardiovascular endurance, and decrease anxiety. Plus, group exercise classes encourage camaraderie and hold participants accountable to an exercise routine. Most classes are inexpensive and have flexible time slots.

5. Read and write your way to happiness.

For seniors with reading lists a mile long, joining a book club is a low-key way to make new friends, discuss vital topics, and share in one of life’s great pleasures: sitting down with a great book – only this time, you’re reading (partially) in the company of new friends. If you love one particular genre like mystery or romance, try joining an online community dedicated to that particular area.

And don’t forget the health benefits of reading! Diving into a new novel improves mental agility, reduces stress, and preserves memory function. Writing has similar benefits, and seniors with a knack for creative expression should seek out a writing group focused on letter writing, fiction, or even journaling.

For even more healthy habits you should consider including in your daily routine, click here.

Stay active. Stay young at heart.

Do you need more convincing? Hobbies keep seniors sharp, healthy, and connected to their communities. Plus, trying new things keeps life interesting – and makes for great stories to tell the grandkids.

Looking good, feeling good: The many benefits of exercise and good nutrition


You don’t need to be a swimsuit model or a world-class athlete to know that when you look good, you feel good. The improved physique you get from regular exercise comes with a biochemical benefit that literally leaves you feeling happier. When regular exercise is coupled with a healthy diet, you can expect lower stress levels, decreased blood pressure, and improved cognitive functioning. If you’re thinking about adopting a healthier lifestyle, consider the many benefits you’ll derive from eating right and staying physically active. What’s better than achieving a trim, athletic body that makes you feel great about yourself?

A package deal

A 2013 Stanford University research project revealed that subjects who began dieting and exercising at the same time were able to increase their physical activity to more than two hours a week and got five to nine servings each day of vegetables and fruits. They also succeeded in reducing saturated fat intake by 10 percent. Those who just did one or the other (diet or exercise) only attained dietary or exercise goals and realized fewer overall health benefits than those who did both.

Helping hands

One important factor in making a healthy lifestyle change is to find support and encouragement from others who are working toward the same objectives. That means exercising and observing dietary modifications with a small group of friends or co-workers, or joining a large exercise group. In addition to emotional support, companions can help make sure you’re doing exercises correctly, completing a set number of laps and generally helping you stay with the program.


An exercise group provides a consistent workout schedule and engaging approaches to physical activity, which offer opportunities for greater social interaction. Fitness professionals who lead exercise groups structure workout programs so that you improve both muscular and cardiovascular fitness.

The bottom line

Exercise and healthy dietary choices can help you shed pounds, strengthen both bones and muscles, achieve a better mental outlook, lessen your risk of heart disease and some cancers, and help you live longer. One of the best things about combining exercise and healthy eating is that you won’t require quite as much high-impact physical activity if you reduce your caloric intake and stick to a well-rounded diet. Senior citizens are better able to perform daily activities and are at reduced risks for falls and broken bones. If you’ve always enjoyed playing a sport, such as tennis or basketball, chances are you’ll be able to continue playing longer if pay close attention to the foods you eat.

A holistic approach

Good nutrition can help treat multiple conditions, such as chronic pain, depression or even drug addiction. An effective strategy for coping with a chronic health problem requires a comprehensive approach involving a well-balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise, which releases pleasure-inducing endorphins in the brain, mitigates some of the effects of depression and chronic pain. Both conditions can leave victims in a state of lethargy, with little energy for anything but sitting around. A balance of nutrition and exercise helps keep you motivated to manage a potentially debilitating physical or mental condition.

Exercising at home

If you’re rarely motivated to get to a gym, consider creating an exercise area at home. You can mark out a few square feet to do sit-ups, leg lifts and stretching exercises, or you can go a bit further and add weights or a home workout machine. A few helpful items include dumbbells or kettlebells, a yoga or pilates mat, resistance bands, and a doorframe pull-up bar.

A little progress can spur you on to greater things. Dropping a little weight or feeling a bit more energetic can give you the boost you need to make a major lifestyle improvement, look good and feel great.

Courtesy of Pixabay.com.