Stronger Breathing For A Stronger Body

By Geneva Bender, BS in Kinesiology from Western Washington University, Certified Pilates Instructor, Certified Exercise Specialist, CrossFit Level One Certified

(All Images were taken during the corresponding Kinetic Learning Event at our Green Lake clinic.)

Geneva explaining a technique to the class.

Geneva explaining a technique to the class.

One of the most important elements of a core strengthening exercise routine is something we are doing constantly - Breathing. We are subconsciously exercising muscles around our lungs as we inhale and exhale throughout our day. Becoming mindful of our breathing patterns during our daily activities can actually strengthen our inner core (diaphragm, transverse abdominis, pelvic floor and internal obliques). The inner core can be challenging to strengthen without using your breath. Yes that’s right, 100 sit ups before bed won’t do the trick. A strong inner core can lead to longer runs and more powerful lifts while keeping the back protected.

In order for the lungs to fill with air, the ribcage has to expand and as we exhale the ribcage needs to compress. The diaphragm muscle should be the key player in this movement of the ribcage; however there are many muscles through the chest, back and abdomen that can go beyond their duties of simply assisting with this movement when we maintain a slouched posture or neglect taking deep breaths. If these muscles (scalenes, upper trapezius, sternocleidomastiod etc.) dominate this movement, then the diaphragm can become weakened or even inhibited. That can have a downward spiral effect by compromising core and postural stability and increase the likelihood of neck and shoulder pain.

Dr. Michael Smith expanding on the mechanics of breathing.

Dr. Michael Smith expanding on the mechanics of breathing.

An analogy to understand this phenomenon is failing to do a proper bicep curl. The bicep muscle bends the elbow. Therefore, adding some weight into your hand and bending your elbow then exercises the biceps. If you were to choose a light object that is difficult to grasp and go through the same exercise, the exercise will change quite a bit. Instead the forearm muscles are working hard to grasp the object and the light weight does not challenge the biceps enough. Therefore, the movement becomes an exercise for the forearms instead. The same is true for breath. The bicep muscle is the diaphragm, the forearm muscles are the scalenes and the hard to grasp light object are short shallow breaths. So instead pick up a heavy easy to hold object to properly work the biceps and take deep abdominal breaths to do the same for the diaphragm.

Therefore, taking deep breaths through the abdomen will increase the job of the diaphragm and take the load off of the neck and shoulders. Our body is really great at compensating for the weaker links within our body and in turn creates imbalances. It takes some hard work to “undo” these imbalances. It also takes some hard work to find time  in your busy life to sit down and read this blog, so why stop now?

Here are five simple steps to begin your journey to strengthening your inner core and bring balance to your body.

 

  1. Breathe in your belly – not your chest.

    • Practice while lying on your back. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Focus your attention on breathing into the hand on your belly and not letting the hand on your chest move.

  2. Breathe three dimensionally.

    • Place hands on either side of the lower ribcage or waist. Breathe laterally into your hands and feel the ribcage expand. Also try lying on your belly and breathe into your low back. Now try to accomplish all three dimensions in each breath.
  3. Take long breaths.

    • Take your time, there’s no rush. Practice counting to 5 with each inhale and each exhale.
  4. Engage your Transverse Abdominis (TA).

    • Your TA is a deep intrinsic core muscle that acts alongside the diaphragm to create support and strength to the core to protect the organs and spine. To feel this muscle – place your hands on the front two points of the pelvis and wrap fingers around the bone comfortably. Now, cough. Feel the puffing up of the muscle? That’s the TA! Now with every exhale, feel as though you are hugging your belly button to your spine while you eliminate all the air through the lungs as if you are blowing up a very large balloon. You should be able to feel a similar “puffing up” of the muscle at the end of the exhale.

  5. Maintain a brace.

    • Now for the hard part. Try and maintain engagement of the TA while you take full inhales into all three dimensions of the abdomen. It should feel as though you are increasing the abdominal pressure with each inhale. Practice finding the right balance of a subtle brace of the TA while you take deep, long breaths.

 

These five steps don’t always come easily! It takes practice. Consistent, daily practice. It’s crazy challenging to change something we do naturally every day so give it time. But this breath pattern is incredibly useful for almost any type of athlete or activity. Runners can improve pacing and increase endurance of their muscles throughout their body if their diaphragm is engaged. Crossfitters will be able to protect their spine more efficiently while doing heavy lifting especially overhead as well as increase their overall power output. Even desk jockeys can improve their posture while sitting at the computer decreasing the chance of neck and back pain. No matter what your activity is, a stronger inner core can have some exciting benefits.

Gallery

Kinetic Learning Event_002 - Stronger Breathing for a Stronger Body

BIG 'Thank you' to everyone who participated in the Kinetic Learning Event!


Videos Referenced During the Learning Event

 

The Benefits of Deep Breathing

3D View of Diaphragm

Transversus Abdominis

 

Outline from the Kinetic Learning Event

  • Introductions
    • Introduce KSR and hosts
    • Change Your Story
    • Brief introduction of everyone in class
  • Supine Breathing
    • Breath in belly, not chest
    • Breath laterally
  • Prone Breathing
    • Breathing all three dimensions
  • Supine Core
    • Transverse Abdominis engagement
    • Lewitt
    • Deadbug legs
  • Side Laying
    • Breath into one lung (use small ball if available)
    • Clams
  • Seated
    • Band around ribcage
  • Quadruped
    • 3 dimensional breaths
    • Bird dog
  • Plank
    • 3-5 for 1-2 full breaths
  • Standing
    • Hands on collar bone
    • Breath three dimensions
    • Farmer Carry
  • Videos
  • Outro
    • Reiterate the benefits of deep breathing
    • Reminder of intro of the clinic
    • Answer any questions