Breathing squats were touted in some bodybuilding magazines of the 1960s and 1970s, mainly Ironman, as a little known, seldom tried exercise which could, however it worked, help you pack a lot of muscle on your frame. I also remember some kind of connection to rib cage enlargement. Now, this could be a postural change like lifting the rib cage, tilting it up, throwing the shoulders back, or whatever, but the bottom line was that the people that swore by breathing squats believed it made their rib cages look better or larger. I realize enlarging the rib cage is now considered a myth by modern bro-science, so lets just say ‘rib cage appearance improvement’. I recently did a several month program prescribed by a physical therapist to affect scoliosis. Yes, scoliosis can be improved with the assistance of the limited amount of physical therapists who are schooled in Applied Functional Science ala Gary Gray. I notice that my rib cage now is lifted or tilted, or however you want to describe it, in such a way that relaxed it looks like it used to when I took in a deep breath. So maybe breathing squats, with the extended time of having your hands in back of the bar and thrusting your chest forward with doing an insanely long deep-breathing routine, affects your posture in some way.
Regarding the claims of weight gain as a result of doing breathing squats I want to show you a quote from an article on breathing squats in T-Nation magazine:
His squat program worked so well that Rader put on close to 100 pounds of solid body weight in a year. A hardgainer, he weighed just 130 pounds before starting the program.
by Mike Mahler | 11/06/08 | T-Nation
The Rader referred to in the quote is Peary Rader, founder of Ironman magazine. In that quote there are a few unanswered questions. First of all, was Rader at his full height when he started the breathing squat routine? According to Wikipedia, he was 24. Okay, what does solid weight mean? It clearly doesn’t mean muscle because if Peary Rader only weighed 130 pounds pre-breathing squats then it is very unlikely that he was fat, and 100 pounds of added muscle would make him a lean 230, which is only five pounds short of Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Olympia body weight, and at a height 5’11 1/2″ (according to Wikipedia). Even bodybuilders on steroids, growth hormone, and insulin don’t put on nearly 100 pounds of muscle in a year. Solid weight could mean 20 pounds of muscle and 80 pounds of fat. Fat or muscle, maybe he ate a lot more than usual the year he did breathing squats and would have gained the weight regardless. It would be nice to get some of the fantasy and mythology out of old workout routines. There may be an above average weight gain associated with breathing squats but we don’t have any controlled studies documenting breathing-squat related muscle gain. Regardless, I am inclined to say that there may be something to breathing squats although the claims might be exaggerated. If there’s one element of untruthfulness or exaggeration some people have the tendency to be entirely dismissive which is a mistake. There could be elements of truth.
For me, the “weight” gain purported to be associated with breathing squats isn’t an issue. I’m curious about what such an unusual deep breathing routine may have for the appearance of the rib cage. Here is basically how you do breathing squats. Pick a weight that you can ordinarily only squat 10 times maximum. Squat to failure with that weight(about 10 reps) and then, with the barbell still on your shoulder, take three to five very deep breaths as your thighs recover slightly, then do as many squats more as you can. Once you fail, do the three to five breaths again. Then more reps. Continue this until you have done 20 full reps of squats. After the initial 10 reps you may only be able to do one additional rep before you “rest” by doing three to five deep breaths. That doesn’t matter as long as you eventually hit a total of 20 reps on squats. That’s all one set. The weight is on your shoulders the whole time and the routine is a very difficult thing to do. Follow the squats directly with a 20 rep set of dumbbell pullovers with a light weight.
Rader’s breathing squat routine kept evolving and there are many variations but here is more or less the original routine done three times a week:
Barbell behind-the-neck presses 3 x 8
Barbell squats 3 x 20
Barbell pullovers 3 x 20
Bench presses 3 x 8
Barbell curls 3 x 8
Some later incarnations of the breathing squat routine had only one set of the squats and pullovers, and some added exercises like bench presses and calf raises. I think the most important thing is to do at least one set of the breathing squats followed by one set of the pullovers, followed by whatever other exercises you can handle. Keep in mind that the routine centers around the breathing squat and, if performed correctly, is very unlike anything you may have ever tried. You should be exhausted and worn out beyond belief with just one correctly executed set of breathing squats.
Eat what you have to gain muscle mass and maintain energy on this routine but the gallon of milk a day and the other overeating techniques practiced in the past with breathing-squat workouts just end up adding a lot of body fat which is unnecessary and may end up being hard to lose. Good luck.
Please leave a comment if you believe that you’ve increased your rib cage size or shape on any breathing squat routine.