Every experienced weight trainer knows that the proper way to breathe during a set is to inhale during the negative (lowering) phase and exhale during the positive (lifting) phase. But is this the best way to breathe in all exercises?

As a matter of fact, it isn’t. I’m going to show you exactly how and why you should breathe BACKWARDS during many if not most back exercises. I will use the lat pulldown exercise to demonstrate this powerful technique.

Fact: the pulldown movement is more effective when done with an arched lower back and puffed-up (expanded) chest.

This body position more fully activates the latissimus dorsi muscles. In fact, if your lower back isn’t arched, it’s extremely difficult for your lats to contract. The straight-back position throws more tension on the biceps and upper back muscles.

Expanding your chest helps to accentuate this arched-back position and helps the lats activate.

Fact: exhalation (breathing out) makes your chest contract. Inhalation (breathing in) makes your chest expand.

Fact: the typical breathing pattern of the pulldown consists of breathing out as you are pulling the weight down and breathing in as you are letting it back up.

What this means to you is that the typical breathing pattern is caving the chest in when you should be puffing the chest out!
Take a deep breath in and notice what happens to your chest. It puffs out and expands. This is the optimal position for your torso during the pulldown exercise.

Now carry this logic over to the pulldown movement. As you pull the weight down, take a deep breath in. Your chest will puff up to meet the bar automatically and your lats will engage strongly.
If you’ve ever had a hard time feeling your lats working when you do back exercises, use this technique and you will certainly feel an immediate difference.

This amazingly simple technique can be applied to almost any back exercise from pulldowns to chin-ups to seated cable rows. Try this technique the next time you work your back and you’ll see just how powerful breathing backwards can be!

3 Comments
  1. Jeremy 7 years ago

    Thanks for the tip

  2. Suneet Sebastian 7 years ago

    I have experienced it first hand actually.
    I automatically enter into the reverse breathing pattern whenever I do any lat exercises. Same when I am shrugging.
    I always thought I was doing it wrong and it was becoming a habit.
    And when I’d consciously try to breathe the common way during the set, I’d immediately lose all the power and the set would be done!
    Thanks for the post Nick
    Cheers!
    – Suneet

  3. Joe MacG 7 years ago

    Great article! I couldn’t agree more. I actually stumbled on this while doing pull ups. I kept trying to follow the “conventional” way of breathing and really struggled with pullups. By accident I breathed “backwards” and found I was really able to make some gains. Thanks for this article and proving that I’m not insane… sort of.

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