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Breathe Your Way To Better WOD Performance

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to instantly improve your WOD performance is to address the most important aspect of performance – breathing. 

“Learning to breathe correctly is key to unlocking higher levels of performance no matter your sport”


The majority of individuals I work with through online coaching come to me with some general concepts of breathing. I often find these concepts are used in an inappropriate way or at suboptimal times during workouts. Amongst competitive athletes, breathing is something that’s rarely, if ever, practised and considering the huge gains in performance it can unlock it’s something that needs to be addressed.

In part 1 of this series I won’t be digging too much into the mechanics of respiration and what role they play in optimising performance. This is something I’ll be discussing in later editions, as well as considerations for exercise selection and movement prep.


The use of Intraabdominal pressure (IAP) to brace during heavy lifts using the Valsalva manoeuvre (VM) is widely known and used amongst CF athletes. The VM is the process of taking a big breath and holding it throughout most, if not all, of a heavy lift. Whilst this method of bracing through breathing is very important to lifting near maximal weights, it is counter-productive to achieving optimal performance in many training CF workouts (more on this later…). One example of an exception to this would e if your workout had a load that was a very high percentage of your 1RM, such as a snatch/clean ladder.

Using the Valsalva manoeuvre to create IAP during a workout will cause your blood pressure to rise, bump up your heart rate, driving occlusion and reducing venous return (the rate at which blood flows back to the heart). All of which are things you should be trying to avoid when seeking to optimise your performance. Now we’ve addressed that it’s not a great idea to hold your breath during workouts (duh!), it’s also very important to time your breathing correctly so that you exhale at the point of maximal tension on each movement. The majority of athletes don’t exhale at this point because of what they’ve repeatedly practised when lifting during training.

As an example, when you’re performing a heavy clean, it’s important to hold your breath and keep tight and braced in the catch position when you are about to stand it up. But that’s not the case when you’re lifting a submaximal weight and are instead looking to perform high reps, especially if combined with other movements as part of a workout. Your goal now is to reduce your blood pressure, and your heart rate, in the catch position is where you need to exhale, not be holding your breath. 

The method of breathing and bracing to lift a heavy weight and breathing to maximise our ability to get oxygen to our muscles are not only different but totally opposed. When performing a workout, you will typically do better by purposely exhaling where it would be LEAST appropriate during a maximal lift.

5 Rounds for time:
Run 400m
15 OHS – 95/65#

In this example I see many athletes holding their breath during the overhead squats, increasing their blood pressure, heart rate and making it tougher to recover from the 400m repeats. Unless the weight of Nancy is a high percentage of your 1RM, you should attempt to breath consistent through the overhead squats.

Try experimenting with your breathing during these movements using the suggestions below:

  • Clean: exhale as you receive the bar

  • Wall Ball: exhale as you receive the ball and again as you throw the ball

  • Kettlebell Swing: exhale as the bell swings between your legs

  • Burpee: exhale as your chest touches the floor

  • Push Press: exhale as you receive the bar on your shoulders

  • GHD Situp: exhale as you are fully extended and reaching for the floor


#1 - EMOM (Every minute on the minute) Work
The most effective method I’ve found to develop this breathing pattern is by training it during ‘on the minute’ work. This is where you so a set of a particular movement at the start of each minute, resting for the remainder of the minute. To get started, perform 4-5 reps at a light weight of a movement on which you’d like to focus. These reps need to be light at first because we want to ensure you’re breathing correctly on each rep. Chance are, it will feel strange at first because it’s almost the opposite of your typical breathing habits. Once you feel comfortable, you can add some weight.

Our goal over time is to be able to lift heavier weights and/or do more reps whilst maintaining this breathing pattern.

Example 1:
EMOM for 10minutes
4 TnG Cleans @ 45%

Example 2:
EMOM for 12 minutes
3 TnG Snatches @ 45,55,65% (wave loading)


#2 – Sub Maximal Interval Training
Another way to train these breathing patterns is to practise them while completing submaximal interval training. This is performing a block of work at a moderate (normally around 70-85%) intensity, taking some rest, and then continuing with more intervals at a moderate intensity. Just like with the ‘EMOM’, you should keep the movement(s) at 3-5 reps with a relatively light load at first. As you get more comfortable with this pattern of breathing, you can begin to progress to heavier loads and increased repetitions to increase the difficulty.

8min @ 85% Aerobic Effort
Run 250m
5 Power Snatch @ 45% 1RM
5 Burpees
Rest 4min
8min @ 85% Aerobic Effort
Row 250m
5 Thrusters @ 95lb
5 Toes to Bar 


Breathing efficiency is the key to unlocking huge gains in performance and is something I address in my seminars and with online performance coaching clients. If you’re a competitive athlete, you can’t afford to ignore the increases in performance that optimising your breathing can bring.

If you’re a driven indivdiual who is serious about your training for performance, click here to learn more about online coaching with us, if you’re a coach looking to learn more about the above methods to enable you to incorporate them with your clients, check out our coach mentorship program


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