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Power Breathing and Growth Hormone

February 7, 2005 07:53 AM

There has been a lot of talk of late about power breathing and its effect on strength. Power breathing is performed by taking a slow deep breath through the nose about 75% of your lung capacity. Breathe in to the stomach using the diaphragm don't just raise the chest. Exhale through the mouth plugging your teeth with your tongue and hiss while tensing the abs until a full contraction has been obtained. Rest and repeat up to 5 sets of 5. Pavel also recommends contracting your glutes and to tuck your tail under. This technique builds great abdominal definition and greatly increases overall strength. Anyone that has given the twenty-rep breathing squat program ago will agree, it promotes massive gains in overall body mass- including your arms and chest, as well as strength and the 3 deep breaths between each rep is the key to these gains.

What has this got to with growth hormone? I was reading some of my university text on strength and conditioning and looked up growth hormone for some interesting reading. I came across something that struck my attention. Growth hormone levels increase in response to breath holding and hyperventilation alone (1), and has been found to be responsive to variety of exercise stressors including resistance exercise. This prompted me to do some more research on a possible link between power breathing strength gains and growth hormone.

I'm not going to give definite conclusion on a link between two, but going present some information I sourced on growth hormone and let you decide.

Growth hormone is a polypeptide hormone secreted in a burst like manner from the anterior pituitary gland it is intimately involved with the growth of skeletal muscle and many other tissues in the body. Not only is it important for normal growth and development but it also appears to play a vital role in adapting to the stress of resistance training.

The roles of growth hormone are listed here (2):
  • Decreases glucose utilization
  • Decreases glycogen synthesis
  • Increases protein synthesis
  • Increases utilization of fatty acids
  • Increases fat break down
  • Stimulates cartilage growth

The secretion of growth hormone and the amount in the blood varies according to the time of day, with the highest levels observed during sleep. The pulses are secreted in different amounts throughout the day, and exercise appears to increase their amounts. Growth hormone releases during sleep are involved in various tissue repair mechanisms in the body. Thus, Buckler (3) hypothesized that it is possible that growth hormone secretion and release may directly influence adaptations of the contractile unit of muscle and expression of strength.

Growth hormone in addition to directly stimulating protein synthesis in various tissues, especially in muscle tissues, causes production of insulin-like growth factors. This results in conditions that promote tissue repair in general and, perhaps, recovery following resistance exercise (4). Resistance exercises like- deadlifts and squats- probably cause all skeletal muscles to grow because they are strenuous enough to trigger large growth hormone releases and also put enough tension on all your muscles and bones to activate the growth factor in them (5).

Altering your breathing pattern alone, without any additional exercise, may affect secretions of growth hormone. Either hyperventilation or breath holding by themselves causes a 1.5 to 5.5 fold of growth hormone secretions (1). Holding your breath during exercise is not advisable, deep and frequent breathing- in rhythm with exercise- is advisable and helps in other ways than just influencing hormones. As Pavel teaches, it delays fatigue, helps force application and stabilization of the body.

This is where the effect of power breathing may come in. The slow exhaling under pressure may decrease oxygen in the body synonymous with hyperventilation and breath holding. The high muscular tension created in the abdominal muscles simulates a brace for heavy load bearing exercises like deadlifts or squats. In addition one learns how to better control the abdominal muscles for core stabilization during all other exercises. The combined affect could be a release in growth hormone, boosting recovery and the adaptation of the muscle fibres, there by increasing strength. I don't know for sure, but I do know that Power Breathing works and even works better if you use a hose and a big bucket of water. Give it a go.

Aaron Ellis, AKA Comrade Azza, has been involved in strength training and muay thai training for 10 years. He is the current ISKA light middleweight Australian champion and currently in his 3rd year of study in Sport and Exercise Science.

  1. Djarova, T., A. Ilkov, A. Varbanova, A. Nikiforova, and G. Mateev. Human growth hormone, cortisol, and acid-base balance changes after hyperventilation and breath-holding. Int. J. Sports Med. 7:311-315. 1986.
  2. Baechle, Thomas R., Editor. Essentials of strength training and conditioning/ National Strength and Conditioning Association. 1994.
  3. Buckler, J.M. The relationship between exercise, body temperature and plasma growth hormone levels in a human subject. J. Physiology. 214:25-26. 1971.
  4. Daughaday, W.H., and P. Rotwein. Insulin-like growth factors I and II. Peptide, messenger ribonucleic acid and gene structures, serum and tissue concentrations. Endocrine Rev. 10:68-91. 1989.
  5. Kurtz, Thomas. Growth hormone. Stadion News 9:4 Fall 2002.