Hissy Fits Are Weak (Stop Using Pressing Breath on Your Squats)

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Our body is amazing and does a whole bunch of things without us thinking about it

Breathing is a big deal. If you don’t believe me, stop for a bit. We’ll continue our chat when you wake up… Breath goes beyond sustaining life though. How we use our breath can make us fast, strong, rigid or relaxed.

As a general rule, we hold our breath to create rigidity, and we release our breath to create fluidity. Every movement system worth its salt will address breathing to some extent or another, because our breath is never neutral to our movement, it will either help or it will hinder.

In StrongFirst, when we teach people to press, we teach them how to generate greater intra-abdominal pressure by filling their chamber with air, and then forcing a small amount out as they hit their sticking point by hissing (imagine a high pressure air hose). This has multiple benefits, the main one being that it facilitates spinal stability and protects our back. Alongside this, it allows us to have a more stable platform from which to press, because our body becomes more rigid. Why does rigidity help you to press? Imagine standing on a trampoline and lifting something heavy. Easy right…? Not really.

Our body is amazing and does a whole bunch of things without us thinking about it, and if we are on an unstable surface, our body will be automatically adjusting to maintain our balance, and will, whether we realise it or not, be using resources to do this. When we make our platform stable, it allows us to marshal all of our resources in order to ensure that we generate the most force possible, allowing us to lift greater weights.

One thing that I don’t enjoy though, is seeing people use this style of breathing when they squat.

Why is it a bad thing to use the hissing on a squat?

It’s not necessarily terrible (depending on the load), but its definitely not optimal. There are a few things that you might want to keep in mind when you are squatting that you don’t have to think about when you press. 

  1. The load is much greater and literally on top of you

  2. It takes much longer to perform the movement

  3. Greater overall system load

  4. Greater spinal threat

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You want to reinforce your intra abdominal pressure and then move, rather than trying do anything extra after you’ve begun the motion.

All of these things mean that if you try and hiss your way through a heavy squat, you’re likely to end up reducing your overall intra abdominal pressure while you have a heavy weight that you’re trying to control on top of your body. This means that at the point you’re probably straining hardest, and where you’re likely to be most vulnerable, you have an extremely short window of additional power before you are exposed.

So, how should I breathe when I squat?

StrongFirst teaches people to grunt when as they initiate the ascent from the bottom of the squat. People are encouraged to completely fill their chamber at standing, descend maintaining their breath, and then grunt to trigger the ascent. This is beneficial because it actually reinforces your intra abdominal pressure, and reinforces your pelvic floor co-contraction, helping to reestablish the column that is supporting the load. The ascent is then completed while the intra abdominal pressure is maintained.

It’s important to view the grunt as the first domino in the chain of movements involved in your ascent. You want to reinforce your intra abdominal pressure and then move, rather than trying do anything extra after you’ve begun the motion. 


Ultimately, whenever we are performing a movement our two priorities are safety and efficiency. This is different in different situations. The reason I teach for organisations such as StrongFirst is that they teach logical, reasonable systems that follow a principle based approach. By understanding principles you are given a toolkit that can be reapplied from movement to movement and situation to situation. 

If you’re in Brisbane and interested in learning more about kettlebell training and what we do at Queensland Kettlebells, contact us today to get started!