Train at a Higher Level With Tactical Breathing

Known as box breathing in military circles, this technique can also be used by lifters to improve performance. Check it out.

In my time working in San Diego with some of the Special Forces, I learned as much from these amazing human beings as they learned from my coaching. There’s one method in particular that revolutionized my coaching – tactical breathing. And because of it, my athletes have been able to train at high relative intensities while increasing the total volume of work.

How To Do It

  1. With this variation of “box breathing,” sit on the floor with legs crossed and your spine supported by the wall. Place your hands in your lap. Close your eyes and relax into this position.
  2. Inhale with a 4-count, using your belly, chest, and shoulders in that order. Hold for a 4-count at the top of the breath in full expansion.
  3. Exhale with a 4-count out through the mouth.
  4. Pause at the bottom of the breath for a few seconds between breaths.

Continue practicing this tactical breathing to make it automatic, and progress into kneeling and standing. After you’ve got it down, add it to your training sessions. The last thing you need between heavy work sets of deadlifts is hyperventilation. You’ve been warned; master this skill before using it in workouts.

When To Use It

Tactical breathing was developed out of necessity. I first started formally studying the tactical breath under the teachings of former Navy SEAL, Mark Divine.

There’s nothing routine about a firefight, no matter how much experience you have in the field. Our human nature is to heighten our senses with a sympathetic response that elevates heart rate, increases blood pressure, dilates the pupils, and prepares the body to fight for survival.

While this is a primitive response, it’s less than ideal for fine and gross motor skills needed to execute tasks perfectly. Imagine if every time Chris Kyle saw a threat walk into his sniper scope he got the sympathetic shakes. That wouldn’t exactly be ideal to carrying out his mission. The same can be said (of course to a far lesser extent) to training performance.

While training “on the nerve” can sometimes create physical and neurological advantages under the bar, more often than not, learning how to harness the potential of the sympathetic system by grading it back is better. Not every workout is treated the same as a competition, especially as volume, relative intensity, and cumulative capacities are challenged throughout the course of a training session.

Simply put, tactical breathing can optimize the recovery window inside rest periods. How? By allowing for a more full and complete mechanical and systemic recovery. The quicker you can recover, the more efficient your training becomes. And the more efficient training becomes, the less energy you waste and the more can be streamlined into the training itself.

You shouldn’t need to sit around huffing and puffing for 5 minutes after every tough set of squats. Use tactical breathing to steady your CNS, optimize your intra-set recovery and repeatedly train at your highest levels.