Breathing in Kettlebells

by Boris Bojanovic

You’re all familiar with the traditional way of breathing during weight training exercises. You exhale on the exertion/concentric phase of the lift & inhale on the relaxation/eccentric phase. We call this breathing pattern biomechanical breathing because it matches the biomechanics of the movement. Biomechanical breathing works well in kettlebell grind exercises. When it comes to ballistic exercises, where the name of the game is efficiency so that you can keep pumping out rep after rep. For that to happen the breathing pattern needs to adapt.

Let’s have a look at the kettlebell swing, the base ballistic exercise. If we were to use biomechanical breathing one would exhale as the bell is propelled up & inhale as the bell drops down into the back swing. Thinking about what the arms are doing on the down phase we see that this isn’t the natural choice of breathing. As the bell comes down it drags the arms down which presses on the chest & the stomach – compressing them. As the bell is propelled upwards, the arms lose contact with the body & allow the chest & abdomen to expand.

This is the essence of anatomical breathing. In anatomical breathing we time exhalation with the phases of the ballistic exercises where the arm or kettlebell compress the body & we inhale when that pressure isn’t there. This allows us to piggyback some of the effort of breathing onto the kettlebell therefore sparing some energy for the long set ahead of us.

Using that principle lets match up the breathing to the rest of the ballistic exercises. The swing is the simplest & has one breath cycle associated with it – exhale on the way down, inhale on the way up. The clean uses two breath cycles. It follows the pattern of the swing on the back swing & up phases but as the kettlebell lands in rack you exhale. You can, of course, take a break in rack position for a full breath cycle (inhale/exhale).

Phase Breath
Receive in rack Exhale
Release Inhale
Back swing Exhale
Propulsion Inhale

Breathing in the clean

In the snatch we can use the same pattern as with the clean. As with the clean, you can rest in the rack position for a full breath cycle (inhale/exhale).

Phase Breath
Lockout Exhale
Release Inhale
Back swing Exhale
Propulsion Inhale

Breathing in the snatch

The jerk is the most complicated as it has many phases & there are many anatomical breathing patterns for it. The simplest is a two-and-a-half breath pattern outlined below. The jerk allows you to take a rest breath at lockout (inhale/exhale). But in rack position you have to at least inhale or inhale followed by any number of full breath cycles ending in a breath in (eg. inhale/exhale/inhale). You can easily tack on a clean to the jerk to make the long cycle breathing pattern.

Phase Breath
Propulsion Exhale
Dip Inhale
Lockout Exhale
Release Inhale
Catch Exhale

Breathing in the jerk

There you have it. The proper way to breathe during kettlebell ballistic exercises which allows you to keep up the intensity during your long sets approaching the 10 minute girevoy sport events. Try out these anatomical breathing patterns & let us know your experience on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/kettlebellinstitute