We all know the power of eating right to help us look and feel our best but one of the most undervalued practices we can develop daily is to learn how to use our breath to help relieve stress, to help add power to our movements when working out and to help prevent injuries.
When we work with new clients we notice that not all know how to breathe correctly. Now I know what you’re thinking, “but I’m breathing ALL the time so I wouldn’t be alive if I wasn’t doing it right!”. Of course, you’re going to be breathing but we want you to breathe fully and effectively so you can benefit from its calming and bracing effects.
When you breathe, you should be using your diaphragm, this is a big dome shaped muscle below the rib cage. How you can test if you’re using your diaphragm is to lie on your back with your feet against a wall or up on a bench/chair with the knees at a 90-degree angle. From there take a big breath in and notice does your stomach move out first or is it your chest that moves first? ….. It should be your stomach but for many of us, it is our chest.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes muscles and allows more oxygen to flow throughout the body. Think of it as calming versus what can be shallow breathing into the chest (like panic breathing) which only serves to tighten and stress your body.
To help with learning how to breathe right we ask our clients to practice this drill (as shown in the picture) with a small weight or book on their belly and to ensure that when they take a breath that the weight moves up and down and most importantly the breath moves from the belly up NOT the other way around. Neck and shoulder tension is exacerbated by excessive and stressful chest breathing.
We don’t need to make this into a religious experience with a special sequence to follow - simply inhale on a 5secs count, feel your belly pressing out for 3-5secs, then exhale on a 5secs count and repeat for 10-20 breaths. Perform this daily and it is a perfect practice to follow when you’re feeling stressed or a bit overwhelmed. It is excellent practice if you are feeling a but nervous for example before a work presentation or other important event.
Diaphragmatic breathing also serves as a bracing pattern to help us stay tight when we’re going to lift a weight, for example, when deadlifting, squatting and on push ups.
So, when getting ready to make any movement or lift that requires us to stay tight we need to push air down into our belly which will move it out. We then need to tighten our abs and oblique’s which will lock that air in. This keeps us more stable in our lift and helps to prevent us getting lose and loosing form. One of the most common movement we see people not breathing and bracing in is the push up. Most people think their lack of push up ability is purely limited to their arms whereas we most often see it as an inability to brace correctly which leads to the hips sagging towards the floor.
Here’s a short video on how to set up for a squat and you’ll notice the emphasis I place on the breathing and how that relates to bracing.
I also cover this point in the video below.
If you want to get more out of your training and experience some much needed stress relief, then you absolutely must learn how to develop the power of your breath so you can return to your very nature to breathe right like you did when you were just a little toddler.
Remember “if breathing is good then usually movement integrity is good” - Grey Cook