Episode 64: Breathing into Power
This week we are joined by Chad Yarvitz to explore cardiovascular health and breathing to support movement and create power.
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[01:46] Cassy Price: Thanks for tuning into Supplementing Health. Today I am joined by Chad Yarvitz a personal trainer and California Golden Globes Champion of 2008. We will be exploring cardiovascular health and utilizing breath work to support movement and create power within your movements. Welcome Chad. Thanks for joining me today.
[02:03] Chad Yarvitz: Thank you. I am excited to be on.
[02:05] Cassy Price: So, often breath work is thought of in terms of meditation or relaxation technique and possibly in some cases not thought of at all, yet it is estimated that breathing can increase your power output by 20% when utilized correctly for activities such as weightlifting or in your case boxing. So, what is that magic behind breath work?
[02:29] Chad Yarvitz: Yeah, absolutely. It is the most important of any athletic movement in my opinion and it was one the toughest to really master especially in the sport of boxing. I did find that when you breathe properly you are able to produce more power and sustain that power. A lot of it comes down to creating rigidity. This goes for boxing as well as power lifting and weightlifting. Sometimes you will see Olympic weightlifters or experienced weightlifters or cross fitters take a big gulp of air as they are about to do repetition. That creates rigidity in the body and creates a stable core which allows you to flex the muscles and create and sustain power. It is the same thing with boxing. It allows you to stabilize the core and create tension and produce more power. If you think about a soda can, if you get an empty soda can and you were to try and stand on it that soda can is going to crumple underneath you but if you had a full soda can unopened and you stood on that the equalized pressure from the inside of the soda pushing out is essentially the same as taking a big gulp of air. It is going to create rigidity and you are not going to crush the can.
[03:40] Cassy Price: So, are there specific techniques for each individualized sport or is it more of a generalised technique that can be used?
[03:48] Chad Yarvitz: That’s a good question. It is definitely different. I found that breathing in any sport where there is synchronization it is a lot easier. For example, let’s take weightlifting. Your reps are going to be pretty much the same tempo hopefully if you are doing it correctly, so it is a two second inhale followed by a one second exhale or something like that. It is the same thing with a synchronized run or a tempo swim, you are counting your steps and you are counting your strokes and your breathing is going to be very consistent. The difficult thing in a combat sport like boxing or MMA or kickboxing is that your breathing is not so synchronized. You don’t have the ability to create a rhythm and breathe in a rhythmic way. You have to take your air when you can get it. So, learning to breathe in a fight sport or in the middle of a combat scenario is a lot more difficult and takes a lot more consistent focus than it does in any of these other sports.
[04:49] Cassy Price: So, when you are breathing, I have heard different advice. For example, when you are doing crunches you are told to breathe out when you are contracting and breathe in as you relax. Would that be the same pattern for other sports like weightlifting and what not or do you vary and breathe out when you are giving output verses relaxing?
[05:15] Chad Yarvitz: Yeah, I mean there are different schools of thought on that but for the most part exhaling upon exertion is the key but not exhaling too much. So, for example if you are weightlifting and you exhale all of the air out of your body, or you are throwing a punch and you are exhaling every last ounce of air out of your lungs you are going to lose power and lose focus. You have no oxygen to work with and you are not really able to stabilize the core so having a half breath or a three quarters breath and expelling some of that air during a concentric phase or a flex or a punch for example, you want to keep some of that air in your system to create the rigidity and not expel all of the oxygen and not become hypoxic where you lose focus and it is even possible to lose consciousness as we have probably all seen videos on the internet of people lifting really heavy weights and then passing out. They have either held their breath for too long or they have expelled all of the air out and they lose oxygen to the brain.
[06:18] Cassy Price: So, then if you are only taking half breaths or not fully expelling or fully inhaling, can that reduce the oxygen that is getting to your muscles as you are working them?
[06:30] Chad Yarvitz: Absolutely. If you are not recycling air so you are taking half breaths or short breaths you can hyperventilate and I have done that especially in the beginning of my boxing career before I learned to take breaths when I needed them, full inhales and exhales, if you are stuck in the middle with half breaths or you are taking short shallow breaths you will eventually hyperventilate especially if you exerting a lot of energy. The half breath exhale let’s say I am going to do a heavy press and I am going to max on the bench press I want to take almost a full breath or a full breath if possible and expel it as I am lifting the weight but not push it all of the way out. It is what is called a forced exhale. You contract the abdominal muscles which then activate the diaphragm and that way you can expel some air but have a really tight core and maintain some air in the lungs and that way you are going to tighten the core, you are going to expel some air, you will be able to produce more power and more force, but you won’t become hypoxic. It is important at that point once the rep is done, complete the exhalation and get a good full inhale on either the concentric phase of the exercise or when you are recovering after a strike or a punch.
[07:51] Cassy Price: Okay, so then does your current lung capacity impact the amount of power that you can get from a movement when you are utilizing this technique?
[07:58] Chad Yarvitz: Current lung capacity and how it translates to power is an interesting question. In my research I wasn’t able to really find a concrete answer to that. I will say though that if you are not able to uptake oxygen and cycle oxygen and uptake the nutrients of the oxygen rich blood eventually it is going to catch up to you and you will enter an anaerobic fatigue state and you won’t be able to produce power. Maybe right on the onset someone who has a large amount of lung capacity verses someone who has a little less lung capacity will be able to produce the same amount of power relative to their strength and muscle mass but in sustained energy in sustained exercise and exertion the person with more lung capacity and better oxygen uptake is definitely going to be able to last with more power in the long run.
[08:52] Cassy Price: So, does the breathing technique also reduce your risk of injury?
[09:00] Chad Yarvitz: Yes. It comes back to what I was saying with being able to maintain focus and not becoming hypoxic. As soon as you become hypoxic and lose oxygen to the brain, you lose focus, you lose nutrient delivery, you can lose acuity and cognition. As soon as we lose those things you are going to lose your ability to focus on whatever sport you are doing. You won’t be as coordinated. You won’t be as precise and if it is a sport or activity that involves strategy obviously your ability to strategize under that pressure is going to diminish and it is going to leave you in trouble.
[09:40] Cassy Price: So, from your career in boxing obviously speed and precision are really important so then that mental acuity and ability to home in on your breathing would really help to improve these skills, would it not?
[09:57] Chad Yarvitz: Yes. Like I said at the beginning of this the breathing was the most difficult part for me. I was never the type of meditate and I always thought it was granola and only hippies focused on their breathing but through the transition from playing football my whole life into boxing I was out of air in the first three minutes of a fight or a sparring match. I was determined to figure out why I could run a five-and-a-half-minute mile and I could run sprints and I could sustain long jump rope workouts and heavy bag workouts but when it came to a fight and the adrenaline was pumping and I wasn’t focused on consistent breathing I would hit that hypoxic state. Learning to breath properly and learning to meditate, even in the middle of a violent act like boxing, learning to be focused and centred on breathing is really what keeps the entire computer system working. If the oxygen is flowing and you are able to prioritize that in any environment you are going to perform better, you are going to strike harder, you will be faster, and your reflexes will be quicker.
[11:01] Cassy Price: That mindset piece really ties in for elite athletes as well, especially when you are doing endurance activities and what not. Does the breathing relationship that comes into that change for those more ultra-marathon runners and long-distance bikers and things like that that are more about the endurance rather than the sprinting to the end?
[11:25] Chad Yarvitz: Well for sure. Endurance sports are almost entirely aerobic. Sometimes they become anaerobic meaning without oxygen. If you are hitting a hill on a bike or on a marathon or something like that. Being able to sustain ultra-marathon pace and going for one hundred miles for ten to twenty hours of sustained activity is completely aerobic. Those athletes have trained hours and hours not only in meditation and mental strength but also how to deliver oxygen, how to breathe consistently and how to optimize that oxygen uptake in order to be able to sustain that type of exercise. If they are not focus on breathing to support that or as a second priority, they are not going to perform and they will not make it through one of those big endurance events.
[12:20] Cassy Price: So, what about those that are just starting on exercise or maybe recovering from a cardiac event, how could those breathing techniques support them in getting back to their ideal fitness level?
[12:37] Chad Yarvitz: Start with something simple. Breathing is intuitive. It is natural. It is something that we do without having to think about it, an automatic response in the body. Learning to control it and learning to tap into it is something that a lot of people haven’t even considered. They are just on autopilot their entire lives. So, no matter where you are in your life, whether it is post-cardiac event or you are trying to improve endurance or you are just starting out as an athlete or you just want to improve your mood and your cognition, start with something basic. One of my favourites is a box breathing technique. So, you think of a box and each side of the box is four seconds. I am going to inhale for four seconds slowly. I am going to hold the top of that breath for four seconds and then I am going to exhale for four seconds slowly and hold the bottom of that breath for four seconds. Even doing this for forty seconds to one minute, a really short duration of time, has been proven to have our bodies relax and get us into a better mental state and lower blood pressure and switch you from a sympathetic nervous system state to a parasympathetic which is growth and recovery.
[13:48] Cassy Price: So, would it make sense then for those who are recovering or those who are newer to exercise to focus on breath work separate from their exercise routine to then hone in on those skills?
[14:01] Chad Yarvitz: Yes. I believe focusing on breath work during exercise is obviously important but doing it outside of exercise is important too. Not only is it going to translate and make you breathe better and perform better in your workout, but it is going to make you perform better in every aspect on your life whether it is stress reduction, improved sleep, improve nutrient uptake, dealing with anxiety. The list goes on and on.
[14:28] Cassy Price: Then in your experience does age or gender play into people’s ability to utilize this breath work?
[14:36] Chad Yarvitz: It does. After thirty-five lung function starts to decline. Your diaphragm will weaken and all of the tissues in the human body will start to lose elasticity. Now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t counteract that. If you use it, you won’t lose it. Continuing to exercise and exercise vigorously after the age of thirty-five is very important. That is going to maintain elasticity in the oesophagus and the trachea and all the way into the lungs and the lung tissue but it also helps strengthen and keep the diaphragm strong as well so we will be doing core exercises, rotational movements. Those are definitely going to help as we ago so keep the system working and keep it functioning to maintain help. There is definitely going to be somewhat of a decline that we can’t help but we can definitely be optimal for whatever age we are at no matter what age we are.
[15:35] Cassy Price: When you are working with clients do you have any particular exercises or techniques that you use to get them to strengthen that rhythm of breathing with the exercise that they are doing?
[15:49] Chad Yarvitz: Yeah. Some people are very intuitive with it. Former athletes, a lot of them have it down, especially if they have been in water, you know water polo athletes or any kind of swimmer, they’ve had to work on breath work, so it is natural to them. A lot of people who haven’t, and I see them become hypoxic or start to hyperventilate or be too tired too soon, I will actually sit them down at the end of our session and we will focus on mediation and I will start with box breathing because it is one of the most simple breathing exercises. We will take five to fifteen minutes at the end of some of our sessions and put on some really mellow music, close our eyes, dim the lights and focus on breathing so they can become in tune with that aspect of their training.
[16:34] Cassy Price: Thank you so much for chatting with me today Chad. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise on breath work and how much it can impact your athletic performance. If any of our listeners wanted to work with you, how could they go about doing it?
[16:48] Chad Yarvitz: Yeah. Absolutely. I appreciate you guys having me on. xplicitfitness.com is a great way to find us. Also, our Instagram page @xplicitfitness. We are all over the place and we would love to work with you guys and any way that we can help we want to do it.
[17:10] Cassy Price: Awesome. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.
[17:14] Chad Yarvitz: Thank you. You too.
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Thank you for listening to Supplementing Health. For more information about our guests, past shows, and future topics, please visit AOR.ca/podcasts or AOR.us/podcasts. Do you have a topic you want us to cover? We invite you to engage with us on social media to request a future topic or email us at [email protected] We hope you tune in again next week to learn more about supplementing your health.
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