The art of breathing and it’s physiological as well as psychological benefits can be a tool to improve your body composition, performance, and overall health. Techniques have been researched quite extensively as of late, the theory and application becoming a popular discussion in the fitness industry. Life gets crazy for a personal trainer in West Los Angeles, and breathing becomes extremely important.
Think of your core as an incompressible cylinder. The diaphragm is the inner lining of this cylinder and is used to pressurize the core. If we can have a stable core (ability to maintain posture in the presence of change) than the hips and shoulders can be more mobile (more flexible) because they do not have to compensate for the lack of core stability.
Ever look at some of the top MMA fighters or Kenyan distance runners? They have these big bellies, but there are abs over them! I believe this is due to activation of the diaphragm pushing the musculature out, which is indicative of these athletes utilizing their diaphgramatic breathing sequence to produce more force, exchange oxygen at a higher rate, and continue to be extremely mobile.
Techniques to get your cylinder firing can be utilized to sculpt your core, protect your lower back, help your body recover, and help set new weight lifting personal records (PR). If this sounds like something you want, read on!
DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING FOR RECOVERY AND POSTURE
Chemical, emotional, and physical factors all play a role in dysfunctional breathing which makes the mind body connection that much more complex and thus that much more exciting.
The body doesn’t adapt and progress the most during exercise but rather between bouts of exercise (i.e. time between Tuesdays and Thursdays workouts), so how one’s body recovers during this time is crucial. If you’ve ever lain on your back to read with the book on your stomach, you’ll notice a quick onset of sleepiness because of the shallow breathing. Shallow breathing originating from the chest can have a negative effect on posture, the nervous system, as well as your endocrine system (hormones). In chest breathers, the sympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) is inhibited, thus not allowing the body to optimally carry out the functions beneficial to recovery. Looking at this breathing pattern from a primal standpoint, chest breathing would be considered a reflex to a threat. When threatened, the nervous system is stressed, telling the body to produce more cortisol (the stress hormone).
According to world renowned physical therapist Vladimir Janda, the chest, neck, shoulders, pecs, traps are all “phasic” muscles which are primarily used for posture and should not be overused during breathing. However, for chest breathers these muscles become the primary movers. When overused, the muscles listed above become short, tight, and sometimes weak, causing the shoulders to round, head to creep forward, and back to become weak.
The diaphragm is the primary mover for breathing, and is considered a “tonic” muscle (the opposite of phasic) so it’s not used for postural control. Breathing from the diaphragm elicits a response from the sympathetic nervous system, so the body can do what it needs to get you ready for your next bout of exercise. Here’s how to perform diaphragmatic breathing:
- Lay on your back with a hand on each side of the bottom of the ribcage
- Inhale, laterally expanding the diaphragm without moving the chest
- Exhale, consciously pushing air out of your stomach so the belly falls without the chest moving
The goal is for the hand on your chest to be completely still throughout the entire process. Repeat for 3 to 5 minutes, increasing the frequency and duration over time.
INDUCE CHALLENGED BREATHING DURING CORE EXERCISES FOR MORE ACTIVATION
Forceful expiration and inspiration can increase your core activation. As I touched upon last newsletter, the core is activated more strongly when it is resisting force rather than producing it (think holding a heavy box in front of you vs. a sit up). So if you’re breathing forcefully, the core musculature is resisting the motion of the diaphragm’s expansion of the belly. Try this:
Do an all-out sprint for 10-15s and immediately go into a plank afterwards. You should be breathing pretty hard with your core getting blasted.
“BRACE” YOUR CORE DURING BIG LIFTS
Abdominal bracing has been studied extensively by Dr. Stuart McGill, who is the leading doctor of low back dysfunction. He likens the core and the spine to a pole in which strings are attached and planted to stable surfaces. In order for the pole to remain upright and strong, an equal and strong pull from the strings is necessary. The strings symbolize your core (rectus abdominus, obliques, and low back muscles) and the pole is your spine. In order to increase the force from the strings:
- GET FAT! Get a big belly of air in your “cylinder”
- Hold your breath contract the muscles in your cylinder (low back, obliques, abs)
- Do a repetition of chosen exercise
- Breathe at the top
You’ll feel a lot stronger instantly, allowing you to set new PRs. The pressure from your belly on your core will increase the activation and thus provide more support for your low back.
Use these 3 techniques and you’ll be well ahead of your competition, whether that be yourself or others. That’s the world I breathe…