What Are the 5 Levels of Breath?

(Exclusive article as shared by one of our Personal Trainer friend – Mr Herman Chauw)

There are many ways to breathe. Some better some worse. Some good some bad. Some safe some dangerous. In this article we’ll introduce some of the common types and arrange them in order.

We’ll also answer once and for all the question of “How to breathe during (weight training) exercises?”

Why is this so important? Breathing properly during your exercises can make or break you. It is one of the components of proper technique (remember the 7 Key Components of Structure). Done properly, your breath can maximize your performance. Done improperly your breath can kill you.

The 5 levels of breath are summarized in the Breath Mastery Scale (adapted from Prasara Yoga by Scott Sonnon):

1) Fear Level Breath: passively (reflexively) inhale and brace on perceived effort

2) Anger or Force Level Breath: actively inhale and brace on perceived effort

3) Discipline Level Breath: actively exhale on perceived effort/discomfort; passively inhale on cessation of effort/discomfort

4) Flow Level Breath: passively exhale on compression; passively inhale on expansion

5) Mastery Level Breath: control pause after exhalation on activity

For all intents and purposes, i’ll only cover what is important to you, ie the layman, and not give exhaustive explanation of the hows and whys.

The breathing techniques #2 are not to be used at any exercise. The reason being the breath holding would increase your blood pressure. And if the pressure increases to very high, it can cause stroke or heart attacks. It can be argued that for maximal efforts such as powerlifting you need to hold your breath, but remember that we are a health first fitness system. Performance at the expense of health is not real health.

As an aside, even when you encounter fear or anger, you should not inhale and brace either. As prolonged exposure to this type of breathing would increase your overall muscle tension (read upper thoracic breathing, tight upper traps, forward head posture etc.), which would lead to poorer health and performance. You should instead exhale and do some exercises to release the tension (ala RESET).

Discipline Level Breath (#3) is the one that you should employ in most of your strength & conditioning exercises. The exhalation causes activation of the core muscles that serves to stabilize the body and in that manner you tie the body into one unit to create linkage for force transfer from limb to limb or one part of the body to another.

Flow Level Breath (#4) is the one you should employ when the effort level is low enough that you do not need the exhale to create sufficient stiffness in your core. An example of this is during joint mobility exercises in Intu-Flow. Another example would be in endurance efforts where energy conservation is a primary concern, like marathon running.

Your breath would evolve from Discipline to Flow as you get better in a particular exercise. The evolution fromDiscipline to Flow cannot be forced. It happens subconsciously as your nervous system gets more efficient in a particular skill. As you make the exercise more difficult through increased resistance, volume, sophistication etc, you may need to go down to Discipline again, going back and forth as needed.

Sounds complicated? If you can’t remember anything, just remember these:

1) Exhale on effort

2) Exhale on compression

3) Exhale on impact/contact (with the floor, punching bag, your opponent etc.)


Additional notes from editor: While most of you reading this are probably runners or newbie runners, this article serves 2 purposes –

1) Knowing how and when to breathe while running is crucial. It allows your body to function more efficiently as you run. That is to say, to give your body the most efficient amount of oxygen intake at ever step you take. Afterall, running shouldnt be a chore for your body nor should it stresses your body out to the extent of you panting heavily and feeling like passing out at the finish line.

I know cause i’ve been in that state before and it wasnt good. Panting heavily just indicates that your body needs more oxygen to be circulated in its system. Had i took note and breathe properly during my runs back then, i would not be suffering from such post-running heavy panting. And no, thats not me in the picture. Duhh?

2) Most runners that i know of personally, would hit the gym to train. Train what? Train their legs, run on treadmills etc. That’s fine cause im guessing that you all know your stuff well. But the other half of you might not even train in the gym at all. You know, good solid runs are backed with good strong core muscles as well as leg muscles. Well, if you plan on hitting the gym (after inspired by this), its time to take note on how to breathe right while carrying out your weighted exercises.

And no thats not me either. I’m not that hardcore, really. Not yet. 😉

Till then, Guten tag!


2 thoughts on “What Are the 5 Levels of Breath?

  1. Pingback: Weekly Health and Fitness Roundup: 16th-22nd January, 2012

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