One of the oldest pieces of exercise advice is to exhale on exertion. This tends to hold true for most exercises like squats and chest presses but on many pulling exercises the breathing may be just the opposite.


On inhalation the spine extends and lengthens. On exhalation the spine moves toward flexion (rounding) and shortens.

Ideally, we want to sync the breathing pattern up with the spinal movements.

The additional benefit of breathing this way is the intra abdominal pressure.  When you have inhaled, the lungs are ‘filled up’ and the trunk then becomes stiffer. This is why it feels natural to everyone to have inhaled at the bottom of a squat instead of the reverse. The bottom portion of the squat is undeniably the toughest position to hold for an extended period.

The bottom phase of lat pulldown is also the hardest position. In other words, this is the position where the bar feels the heaviest because the arms (levers) are in a shortened position. If you take intra abdominal pressure into account then you want to maximize your ability at this point by having inhaled or “filled up.” This will usually translate to improved strength or just a feeling of better stability.

You can try this test I created by pulling down the bar on an inhale and holding the bar at the bottom phase while also holding your breath.

Take a 20 -30 second break and repeat but this time as you hold the bar at the bottom you exhale.

If this is a weight you use for 10 reps then maybe aim to hold for 10 seconds and notice the difference on exhalation and inhalation.

For those who have been breathing opposite of this recommendation it will undoubtably feel awkward at first.

Lat Pulldowns


The same applies with the standing rows above too.

This will feel very awkward at first if you’ve been breathing opposite in these movements

Only a couple of exercise are shown here but you can apply this breathing to most pulling and rowing exercises. exercises like the bent over row and one arm row fall under this heading too.


There are exception to every rule and in this case if you are performing a multi joint exercise like squat and rows with the cable then on the phase coming out of squat you’ll exhale with can coincide with the row. The squat trumps the row in this case.

Let me know what you think and if it translates into more strength for you too.

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