How You Breathe Makes All the Difference in the World
Sep 09, 2019
And now, a guest article by Original Strength Lead Instructor, Mark Shropshire:
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen” – John Wooden
Of the three pillars of Original Strength™ (diaphragmatic breathing, vestibular stimulation, and movement that is contralateral or midline crossing) breathing diaphragmatically is probably the least appreciated. It’s not very sexy – you can’t really compare diaphragms: “Bruh, what’s your diaphragmatic function – do you even belly breathe?” Even in my own gym where we start EVERY workout, group or personal training with it – I still have to remind people to simply breathe. Those that do – always do! They understand at some level that purposeful diaphragmatic breathing if nothing else, makes them feel better. Those that don’t – usually don’t see the purpose of it all.
To paraphrase a few conversations: “How can just breathing through my nose DO anything? It’s just breathing, and I do that all the time anyway”. The devil is in the details, and trust me, if you don’t understand what all the fuss is about – you are far behind the curve and missing a crucial aspect of your fitness training, general health, and how to optimally Press Reset.
If you have been to an Original Strength™ workshop you have received expert advice on how to optimize your breathing pattern, as well as how to use the diaphragm as the main respiratory and core stabilizing muscle. If you have not (what are you waiting for?!), then let’s briefly go over some basics:
Did you know:
- Your diaphragm is located in the middle of the chest cavity separating the lungs and heart from the rest of the internal organs located beneath it.
- When we use the diaphragm to breathe our belly will move up and down according to how the air moves into and out of our body. Air goes in – belly expands and moves outward. Air goes out - and the belly drops and moves inward.
- This is the muscle that mother nature intended us to use for respiration and works best when we breathe through our nose – remember: mouths are for eating and talking, noses are for breathing and smelling.
- This muscle also works to stabilize your core and is the kick starter for other muscles that stabilize your core. Yes, you can get a stronger more efficient core by breathing the correct way …. the opposite is also true!
- Breathing with the diaphragm and placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth (think where the tongue goes when you make the “N” sound – it’ll help you to remember where it’s supposed to go) helps to put the body in a state of relaxation by activating your parasympathetic nervous system – who couldn’t stand a little more relaxation in their life?
You might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, yeah, yeah I know all that stuff – you’ve only been droning on and on for the past 8 years!” OK, I get it. We all need something new once in a while. So, without further delay let’s go for a deeper dive into how your breathing can have a profound effect on your performance, health and maybe even your longevity. As we already know, the ability to use oxygen is a limiting factor in many aspects of sport and performance. IF you want to improve your fitness and let’s face it, we all could stand to get a little better, here are a few things to consider. It all began a long, long time ago……
When we were children the simple act of breathing correctly began to literally shape how we would be able to perform physically later in life. When children breathe through their mouths or suck their thumbs the tongue will rest in the middle of or bottom of the mouth. Over time, as the bones of the face change and grow, the act of thumb sucking, and mouth breathing can bias the shape of the face! The formation of the bones in the face is influenced by the muscles of the lips, cheeks, and tongue. The lips and cheek muscles pinch in on the face while the tongue exerts a light outward counter pressure. When the mouth is closed, and the tongue is on the roof of the mouth the upper jaw will develop according to the shape of the tongue which is wide and U shaped. When we mouth breathe the tongue is unable to exert its influence on the boney development on the face and the jaw. In response to the lack of this important stimulus, the face grows long and narrow and the jaw tends to recede into the face. The net result of all this is a smaller, restricted airway making breathing under the stress of exercise harder than it was ever supposed to be.
Obviously, this restriction of airflow limits the amount and rate of oxygen delivery to the tissues during a workout or prolonged physical activity. As the demand for oxygen increases past a certain point the individual is unable to supply that demand and the resultant sensation can be one of suffocation and panic. This increases the respiratory rate further as the body calls into action it’s “panic breathing” muscles of the upper chest, neck, and shoulders. Rapid fatigue sets in, as well as a quick switch over to the panic / sympathetic fight or flight response of the body. End result: performance— be it of the athletic variety or even just what should be a leisurely hike or jog around the block becomes compromised.
Try it your self – jut your jaw outward and breathe in through your nose, then pull your chin back (retract it) or simply push on the chin with your fingers and do the same thing. You’ll probably feel like the airway is restricted with the jaw pulled/pushed in.
Interestingly, many top-level athletes have broad, pronounced jaws and cheekbones with a wider face and large nasal passageways. These attributes help them supply their bodies with an optimal flow of oxygen – an essential part of athleticism for most sports.
Mike Tyson – world champion boxer
Usain Bolt – World Record Holder: 100m and 200m dash
Hicham el Guerrouj – World Record Holder: 1-mile run
Caleb Dressel – World record holder: 100m butterfly
Serena Williams – Champion Tennis Player: Singles, Doubles, Mixed Doubles
Furthermore, children that breathe through the mouth or suck their thumbs unabated are more likely to have:
- poor posture and associated muscle weakness
- poor sleep quality
- low energy
- higher stress levels
- limited ability to concentrate
So really, the problem isn’t just confined to athletics and human performance but extends further out into quality of life issues.
An obvious question is “What do I do about it now? I can’t go back and change time”. While that is largely true you can begin to improve your own particular situation with the simple practice of mindful diaphragmatic breathing. If you’re not sure what that is or what it looks like, you can take a look here (drag your courser over the word “here” and click on it).
By starting to learn how to breathe this way you can improve the function of your diaphragm muscle – the body’s primary muscle for respiration and deep, inner core stability. After a while, your skill will improve and you can try to breathe this way while you are seated, and soon after, while you are walking. The goal is to be able to breathe through your nose via the diaphragm no matter what position you are in.
At this point, you can try to breathe this way during a workout or in sports practice if you are in athletics. If you lose control of your breathing during a workout, just simply stop what you are doing, resume your proper breathing pattern as soon as you can and then continue. Easy!!
The diaphragm is a muscle and will respond to use and the stress being placed on it like any other muscle – it gets stronger and more efficient at its job. You’ll find that in a few weeks’ time you’ll be able to do it without as much effort as before.
While you can’t change what you did in the past, you can always change what you do in the present and get a little better along the way.
In a future post, I’ll go a bit deeper into the physiology of breathing and explore what happens when you take full advantage of this primary pillar of life and Original Strength™. Trust me, if you are into “life hacks”, performance or you just want to optimize your life in a simple yet profound way, you won’t want to miss it!