Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out…
It's something we do automatically about 24,000 times per day. The only time we notice our breathing is during a tough workout as we gasp for air or if someone reminds you to take a deep breath. Certainly breathing is so automatic that a healthy, athletic person couldn't breathe wrong. Or could we?
Take a deep breath. What type of breather are you? Does your belly and chest expand outward?
Does your belly suck in and chest expands out and up?
Do your shoulders rise up towards your ears with a deep breath?
When we breathe properly, we engage our diaphragm, the large muscle under our ribs. A healthy person should primarily use the diaphragm, the main muscle involved in correct breathing. To properly engage your diaphragm, lie on your back and exhale for 4 to 6 seconds. Lower your ribs with exhalation and hold for 1 second. Then inhale. Air should consume the entire abdominal cavity, while the belly and chest should expand upward. Air should also move into the back of the abdomen. The chest and shoulders should NOT move up towards the ears.
When this occurs, you are compensating by using your neck muscles in place of your diaphragm. Poor breathing patterns are often present with and contribute to low back pain, shoulder, and lower extremity injuries. Dysfunctional breathing allows the hip flexors and back extensor to become overactive and excessively tight. With proper diaphragmatic breathing, the ribs remain low with exhalation and the core stability musclesfire more efficiently.
The Postural Restoration Institute has demonstrated that dysfunctional breathing patterns cause rotation ofthe hips and pelvis to the right and the thorax to the left. It can often be recognized by observing a person standing excessively on their right leg and/or a left anterior rib flare. If you look at the bottom of your ribs, you will often see the left lower ribs stick out further than the right side.
During my last post, I stated that shoulder injuries are often caused in part by glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) and can be addressed by good diaphragmatic breathing. We often find a significant number of people with a rotated thorax and a left anterior rib flare. This places excessive stress and tightness on the shoulder. These individuals often respond very well and significantly increase right shoulder internal rotation and hip rotation following diaphragmatic breathing exercises. The exercises place their body in neutral and allowathletes to train and play in an optimal position.
After you learn basic breathing, two great exercises to strengthen the diaphragm are breathing with a balloon and performing a hip lift while breathing into a balloon as demonstrated by the Postural Restoration Institute.
So go ahead, take a deep breath… slowly… with your diaphragm. It will keep your body in neutral, allow you to move better, and decrease injury risk.