I was thinking: the one thing Convict Conditioning is missing is Power Breathing. Maybe I missed it (please let me know if I did).
If you’ve read Pavel’s book on Bodyweight Strength, The Naked Warrior, or Power to the People! or Bullet Proof Abs or have been around the RKC world for a while, then you know the importance of using your abdominals as a “strength amplifier.”
Best thing you can do for your abs and strength: Power Breathing
The secret is to know how to send pressure deep down into your dear abbies. You do this by “power breathing.”
At the Ageless Body Workshop, Andrea taught a few variations of power breathing and when we met on Grand Avenue in St. Paul a few days ago she showed me another way to do it. Have you ever done power breathing in the middle of a coffee shop? You haven’t lived!
Anyway, there are a lot of different ways to do it. Press your tongue behind your teeth and “hiss” and push the pressure down down down (it helps to put your hands together and push down, putting all the pressure in your mind and in reality down into a “ball” in your belly) and then a somewhat violent “cough” or “tsa!” to forcefully release all of the pressure in one burst. It works better than coffee or an energy drink to wake you up. These are for short durations (like 5-10 seconds) and the pressure is very high. These are done standing, hips extended.
These are great. Doing them seated and with less intensity has benefits too.
Seated Power Breathing and the Hidden Benefits
Lately, I’ve been doing these while I drive, obviously sitting down. It is a softer kind of power breathing because of the circumstances. You can’t be 100% focused on the breathing because you will wreck your car. So you tone it down but still put pressure into the abs.
But you can spend a good amount of time practicing sending pressure down where it makes you strong. Less pressure for a longer duration.
You can work up to a 50 count or even a 100 count if you progress methodically.
Leg Raises: The Right (Easy) Way and the Wrong (Hard) Way
At the workshop, Andrea taught leg raises, then power breathing, and then had everyone go back to leg raises. The consensus from the group: leg raises are much much easier after “pressurizing” your abs. If you can’t contract your abs properly in leg raises then the pressure moves down from your abs (strong) to your hip flexors (weak).
Once you do this you aren’t strengthening your abdominals, the intention of the movement. It can look like an authentic leg raise but in reality it isn’t, at least if it is proper form and strength your are after. Your HFs act as your abs (and that takes your glutes out of the equation), not what they are supposed to do. Abs and glutes should both be engaged in leg raises, not hip flexors.
You will be able to do A LOT more reps if you can keep the pressure down in your abs when you do leg raises. ”Push your back hard against the floor.”
You can cheat by using your hip flexors as abs if you are doing leg raises on the floor and are somewhat capable, but when you graduate to hanging leg raises, you simply can’t do them if you are “ab ignorant.” You can deadlift some weight with horrible form, but if you go heavy you need to be dialed in or it won’t budge. So get it right at the beginning level and you will go further and safer in your strength practice.
“An error in the beginning is an error indeed.” Power breathing is foundational to strength.
From practicing “soft” power breathing while driving (or any seated position), I added 20 reps to my leg raises. The reason is that you get in the habit of retaining ab pressure over long periods of time, essential for higher rep seated leg raises. If the pressure is in the abs, then form is good (strong) and you aren’t using your hip flexors to raise your legs.
Holding the pressure for a long period of time works by simply putting you in the habit of intra abdominal pressure, so much so that it is practically automatic when you go to do your bodyweight or kettlebell workouts. Its getting difficult not to have pressure in my abs. Oh, and don’t think this won’t shrink your waste line a bit if you need it.
Power Breathing and Pistols
The other benefit is with squatting and pistols, one legged squats. One of the big secrets to pistols is keeping the pressure in your abs when you are in the bottom position and using it as a strength amplifier to propel yourself upward. If you lose the ab strength, then there’s a disconnect with your middle and your legs. Like we talked here, this is leakage instead of linkage (a brick compared to a string…the former transmits forces and the latter doesn’t).
Strength is linkage, making your entire body one functioning unit, all different parts united in one single goal, like a successful sports team or business.
The art of strength is obtaining the habit of firing all the muscles at once, without having to think about what you are doing, such as “oh yeah, I should be firing my glutes, I better do that.”
Problems with Pistols might be Problems with Power Breathing
If you drop down to do a pistol and you have to think “OK, now I need to put pressure in my abs,” then the battle is over. If you are new to it, you will focus on firing the glute, then remember you have to do something with your abs and in switching the focus will lose the tension in the glutes. After longer practice you fire abs and glutes simultaneously and automatically, without conscious effort. This is an example of progressing in strength.
Besides the requisite flexibility and mobility needed for pistols, the most important thing is power breathing. If you are a long way, then just take a seat and practice power breathing and work on your ab strength.
The practice of power breathing while sitting conditions you to keep abdominal pressure while your hips are flexed, a key skill because a strong pistol involves keeping the abs pressurized while the hip is flexed. You don’t want this to be a “new” sensation but one you are comfortable with. Most people will get down into a pistol position and panic and lose the abdominal tension. Its understandable: that is no easy position to be in, especially if you are trying to remember things you have to do. If you are used to power breathing with hips flexed, then it is going to be second nature. If it isn’t, then keep practicing and it will.
At the workshop Andrea did a real power breathing session - professional instruction with all the subtleties. You cannot generate that kind of power and focus while seated. The force is so powerful that you have to be in an extended position. So after her demo when I said I did that in the car, people said “how would you ever do that in a car?” They were right, you can’t do it like that sitting anywhere, let alone a moving vehicle.
So the driving version is softer, but still has its benefits in my experience. And please use common sense and remain focused on your driving. In fact, maybe just do this sitting in a chair in your kitchen.
Try it out and let me know if helps you with leg raises, pull ups, or pistols.
Recently Pavel cited a sports scientist who said power breathing is the best pure bodyweight exercise you can do for your lower back (!).
But be careful with it. If you aren’t experienced with power breathing, best to seek out an RKC or trusted source for proper instruction. Messing with the pressure in your body can cause dizziness so if you have medical conditions talk to your doc first.
Some day I’ll share the new version that Andrea revealed at the coffee shop. It is so effective for putting pressure into the abs that I thought they were going to explode. I wasn’t ready for it and felt light headed. It was intense.
Here are some resources from Pavel that break down Power Breathing further:
An essential ingredient for the Ageless Body – Strength!