The Power Of Your Breath – Part II
If you read last week’s article, you may already have an appreciation for the power of our breath; the positive effect on our health and well-being that learning to inhale and exhale fully and effectively can have.
No longer a practise reserved exclusively for yogis and functional movement specialists, the importance of breathing and re-positioning activities is well recognised in strength and conditioning circles and forms an integral part of human movement optimisation.
Understanding the role of the central nervous system and the effect proximal structures like the rib cage and pelvis have on surrounding joints and structures has a profound effect on performance; increase the efficiency, strength and endurance of your respiration – increase your athletic performance.
Breathing is a process that requires a coordinated contraction/relaxation of various muscles, muscles that work hard during training and need training themselves. If you want to increase your strength…you need to learn to breathe properly, if you want to move better…you need to learn to breathe properly.
Taking a more holistic approach to training is all well and good in theory…but people still have specific athletic, health or body composition goals and as a coach, it is our job to create the adaptations in our clients to get them there. Spend your PT sessions teaching the anatomy and physiology of breathing and you may find yourself rapidly losing clients!
So, the question is…how do you take the cornerstones of physical preparation; respiration, joint positioning, effects of the nervous system and the natural asymmetries of our bodies, and incorporate them effectively into our strength and endurance training programs?
Get into better positions first and then train those positions.
If you already tried the breathing exercise in last week’s article, take a look at the following five exercises.
Use them as corrective exercises to address dysfunctional movement patterns or limitations, incorporate them into your warm up/cool down or simply as “fillers” between working sets of strength exercises. While everyone has their own idiosyncrasies, the majority of us present with similar issues and the focus should be on the following;
- Move out of an extension posture
- Decrease sympathetic tone
- Teach control of the ribs and pelvis
- Teach coordination of the diaphragm for use in respiration
This is a basic position that allows for development of optimal breathing patterns and kinaesthetic awareness.
You will get feedback from the ground through your back, a posterior pelvic tilt and hamstring activation with the feet on the wall, which allows you to gain an understanding of the positioning and active control of the ribcage, pelvis and abdominals that can then be applied to performance of bigger, compound lifts like squats and deadlifts.
Helpful position to restore flexion in the thorax, reiterate that posterior pelvic tilt and learn how to expand the ribcage posteriorly through proper breathing mechanics.
This exercise allows for restoration of what is called the “zone of apposition” (essentially, the region into which our diaphragm must expand to function fully) and has the added benefits of decreasing the neural tone in our back extensors and facilitating the muscles integral to our shoulder health and mobility.
- A staple in anterior core/ anti-extension training.
- Using a full exhale will help dial in the form and make this exercise more challenging with increased activation and therefore, increased training effect.
- Try switching it up and instead of thinking about sets and reps, think about breaths.
- Try 5-6 breaths with a full exhale, pause for three seconds before fully inhaling again.
Another anti-extension exercise, but with an anti-rotational element added, this activation exercise essentially inverts the dead bug.
Without the feedback of your back in contact with ground, postural awareness, positioning and breathing becomes even more important to resist those extension and rotational forces.
This is an often butchered exercise, but if performed correctly, teaches proper movement and motor control between lumbar spine, abdominals and pelvis.
The use of breathing techniques to calm the nervous system was covered last week so the final exercise is a more restorative one that is ideal to practise in the morning and evening or as a stress reliever throughout the day, helping to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
I recently attended an insightful Pranayama breathing workshop delivered by Maria Caldwell (@caldwellmaria), she explains the technique in further detail.
When you are finished, its nice to just lie down, and breath freely and naturally, for a minute or 2 to allow everything to settle and integrate.