31 Jul Breathing: The Secret to Health and Performance?
One of the most undervalued and underutilized strategies when it comes to improving movement and recovery is breathing. If you are not breathing properly, then everything else is most likely not going to be working properly.
So why work on breathing?
First, let me share what I typically see on a daily basis.
Most clients that I work with are stuck in a state of inhalation, meaning they are unable to achieve a full exhale. A way to test for this is to just assess the infrasternal (rib) angle.
By placing your thumbs on the angle of the rib cage you can get an estimation of how wide or narrow someones rib angle is.
A normal rib cage angle is roughly 90 degrees. Most of my clients have an angle larger than than that, accompanied with increased rib flaring, so they are stuck in a state of inhalation. Like electricity, air will follow the path of least resistance, and the least resistance is down into the stomach.
A.K.A. belly breathers.
They are unable to have air fill up in other areas like their upper chest, upper back, and even their low back.
With these restrictions in respiration, it could also be a cause of pain.
The effects of breathing on movement quality cannot be underestimated. Shitty breathing leads to shitty movement patterns. And shitty movement patterns lead to, you guessed it, injury.
The inability to effectively breath secondarily changes the performance of the musculoskeletal system. The restrictions in airflow can lead to the hyperinflation or underinflation of the lungs, therefore, creating a road block for movement.
Believe it or not, our ability to be able to move efficiently and effectively in everyday life or during training sessions could come back to the simple notion of breathing correctly.
Recovery is also effected when breathing is altered.
Going back to what most of my clients are like, the increased rib angle and rib flaring puts their low back in a state of excess extension.
You can see in the photo how he is in a classic sway-back posture.
When it comes to recovery we have to look past the musculoskeletal system and look at the nervous system.
The ability for our nervous system to recover is vital to be able to provide output to any movement. We also have to look at the several other systems that make up the human body.
If our nervous system is not recovering, it does not matter how good our strength and conditioning program is due to the domino effect that will occur when the other systems are being compromised.
When our autonomic nervous system is sympathetic dominant, it will effect our body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients from our diet, thus, limiting our ability to replenish energy stores.
Based on what we know in the picture above, this client is most likely stuck in a sympathetic state (fight or flight) due to being stuck in extension. Extension is commonly associated with the sympathetic nervous system. He has difficulty getting into a parasympathetic state (rest and digest) which will compromise his recovery.
Here is a list of what each system regulates.
Being sympathetic dominant isn’t going to be a successful strategy when it comes to improving health and performance. It will lead to the body’s inability to manage tissue inflammation leading to muscles being unable to repair from a workout.
This could lead to degeneration of soft tissue structures like tendons and could then lead to injury.
Put more simply, the more sympathetic dominant your nervous system is from being overworked, stressed, or fatigued then your workout performance or competitive performance will suffer and you will be unable to fully recover from that workout or competition.
The higher demands we place on the body, the more stress we pile onto the nervous system. Things that cause us stress include things like:
- Poor sleeping habits
- Poor nutrition
- Training/conditioning (yes, training is a stress on the body)
- Poor breathing patterns
- Current health issues
- Everyday stressors like work, family, etc.
Some things are out of our control, but other things are not. I believe that improving our breathing patterns should be at the top of the list of things to enhance our health and wellness.
When it comes to recovery, proper breathing patterns can shift the nervous system from being in a sympathetic dominant state to a recovery based parasympathetic state. Being able to effectively tap into each system when it is needed will lead to both improved performance and recovery.
Luckily, we are able train breathing patterns just like you would train any other muscle group. When worked on, we are able to reverse the overtaxed nervous system to a more favorable balance through restoring our breathing patterns.
Be on the look out for the next blog post where I will share some of my favorite breathing exercises to decrease pain and improve recovery.