Are you suffering from chronic stress? Having trouble coming back down after a hectic day at work? Struggling to fall asleep at night? Finding yourself in constant poor posture? Having a hard time progressing past a training or performance plateau? And/or suffering from chronic tension in your neck, shoulders or back?
Well if you answered “yes” to any of those questions, prepare to be surprised, because the common link between all of these issues is breathing.
Breathing is something most of us do without thinking, until we have trouble doing it. Like say when you have a cold. But the surprising thing about breathing is that most of us do it wrong—which can, and usually does, lead to issues like one’s outline above.
The number one cause of poor breathing mechanics is something we call, hyperinflation. Hyperinflation refers to a state when we’re unable to get rid of stale air in our chest, causing our ribs to be stuck in a constant flared position. See the image below for a visual of what that looks like. One of the most common byproducts of hyperinflation is poor posture, in addition to poor activation of your diaphragm and abdominals—which reduces your ability to create inter-abdominal pressure, causing a decrease in your ability to brace your core.
Poor Posture (Ribs flared in hyperinflation)
Correct Posture (Ribs down, good interaction between the abdominals and diaphragm)
Hyperinflation also makes it difficult for your sympathetic nervous system (think your basic fight or flight survival instincts) to shut off. This can contribute to anxiousness, poor nerve conduction, decreased blood flow to your peripheral and gastrointestinal vessels, fatigue, weakness, and all of the nasty side effects that come with being in a constant state of stress.
The poor breathing patterns and posture that accompany hyperinflation often go hand-in-hand with a low exercise tolerance, shortness of breath, headaches, neck, shoulder and low back pain, as well as asthma.
So you can see why it’s important to learn how to breathe right.
How to Correct Poor Breathing Mechanics
Okay so you’ve figured out that you have poor breathing patterns, now what? Well there are a number of simple exercises that you can do to teach your body how to breathe right. The simplest fix being teaching your body how to inhale and exhale properly.
Proper breathing techniques allow your body to get out of hyperinflation and into a parasympathetic “rest & digest” state.
Some benefits of being in this relaxed state include…
Improved blood supply to the bottom of your lungs, which results in an increase of oxygen production
Better activation of your diaphragm and abdominal muscles
It also allows the “secondary” breathing muscles in your neck and chest to shut off, which gives your “primary” breather, your diaphragm, the chance to do it’s job properly—which can help to reduce tension headaches, neck, shoulder and back pain.
One Exercise to Get You Breathing Right
To start, try this 90/90 Breathing Drill to teach your body how to fully exhale and depress your ribs so that your abdominals and diaphragm can interact. This drill doesn’t look like much, but if completed in good form, with full exhalations, will challenge just about anyone.
90/90 Breathing Drill
Inhale through your nose and exhale for twice as long through your mouth
When you inhale, your abdomen should expand first, then your chest should expand **Try to stay relaxed through your neck muscles
When you exhale, you should feel your ribs depressing **Try to blow all of your old air OUT!
Keep your low back flat against the ground and keep your abdominals and obliques as engaged as possible during your exhale **Try to avoid allowing your ribs to flare back out and your low back to arch on your inhale
Once you master this drill, try incorporating this type of breathing and “ribs down” posture into your everyday life. Like when you’re kicking back and relaxing, meditating, or working out.
Here are a few other exercises where you can apply this technique:
Dying Bug with Pullover Crunch
If you’re interested in learning more about breathing—and the specific ways to apply these breathing techniques, and more—I encourage you to join us for our upcoming Breathing Workshop on Monday, November 7th at 6pm. More information about this FREE hour-long workshop can be found HERE.