The “Why” and Why It’s Still Important to Get People Strong

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Today I wanted to share a recent email exchange I had with a friend of mine, Mike Anderson, who’s a local personal trainer and strength coach here in Boston.

Some of you might recognize Mike from the handful of guest posts he’e written on this site – namely HERE, HERE, and HERE.

I’d highly encourage you to check them out if you haven’t already, because Mike’s a really smart guy and offers a lot of insight and wherewithal that I only wish I had when I was his age.

Plus, he’s single.  Ladies?

Well, I think he’s single. If not, my bad Mike’s girlfriend!

Anyways, Mike sent me an email last week linking to a post he wrote on the seemingly screaming school girl “OMG-One-Direction-Is-On-the-Cover-of-TigerBeat” overreaction the fitness industry is going through with regards to corrective exercise. And more specifically, to it’s current obsession over breathing patterns.

Including but not limited to:

– What exactly does “breathing patterns” refer to?

– How do we assess it?

– What are we looking at?

– Seriously?  What are we looking at?

– Okay, I’m lost.

– Ohhhhhh, the diaphragm!  I get it.  Most people are woefully horrible breathers and have no idea how to use their diaphragm efficiently!

– Understanding breathing patterns can help “unlock” the key to understanding that symmetry – as much as we try to attain it, and think that it exists – probably ain’t gonna happen.

– Taking even a step further, it’s recognizing that we’re inherently designed in such a way where assymmetry is inevitable, and that how we breath plays a major role in that.

– Taking a brief glimpse into the PRI (Postural Restoration Institute) philosophy, we see that it tries to teach people how to breath more efficiently, which in turn, in conjunction with their corrective modalities, will help attempt to bring people back into a sympathetic state.

– In doing so, with time (and proper programming) we’ll often see improved performance on and off the field – as well as on the gym floor.

– What’s that?  Zone of Apposition?  Apical expansion?  Okay, now I’m lost again.

– I’m hungry.

Appropriately, Mike brought up an interesting conversation:

“Here’s another thing that I’ve been thinking about: why is this all suddenly such a huge concern? People have been strong and healthy for quite a long time without worrying about their breathing patterns. I know the same can be said for things like mobility and soft tissue work, but those things have a readily apparent change on the way someone feels and moves.

Would Bo Jackson had been a better athlete if someone had focused on his left-smaller-diaphragm? Would Arnold have been more symmetrical and better proportioned if he’d be concerned about his Left Posterior Mediastinum Inhibition?

I’m personally having trouble figuring out where all of these other things fall into the role of a strength and conditioning coach. If getting someone’s diaphragmatic rhythm in sync with their scapulothoracic rhythm will get them to a 40″ vertical, a 10.2-second 100-yard dash or a 585 deadlift then I’ll be all about it.

For right now, however, my job is to get people stronger, faster and keep them healthy. I’ll keep doing that.

My Response (along with a massive brain dump/random thoughts)

Well said my man.  Well said.

I completely agree (for the most part), and think the whole breathing thing is starting to get out of hand.  Not out of hand in the sense that I don’t feel it’s efficacious to look into it, that I don’t feel it’s important 0r that I don’t feel it works.

On the contrary:  I think it’s powerful stuff and we’re only just cracking the surface.

I feel things are getting out of hand to the extent that everyone, and I mean everyone (personal trainers, strength coaches, physical therapists, athletic trainers, your Little League coach) are starting to look into this stuff.

And frankly, many have no business doing so.  Well, at least in the sense that many are overstepping their bounds and taking it too far.

I think a lot of the problem stems from those who don’t recognize scope of practice.  I remember when I first moved to Boston and worked at a swanky commercial gym downtown.  I’d watch some of the trainers walk around with Kendall’s Muscles: Testing and Function (a phenomenal book, mind you) as they were training clients.

Basically they carried the book around with them thinking they’d kill two birds with one stone and try to diagnose and train their clients.

Um, no.  That’s just asinine, and a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Of course, on one hand I’d commend any trainer to take it upon him or herself to further their knowledge base and to better understand the human body and how it works.


Now you have those same trainers walking around thinking they’re on the same level as physical therapists, chiropractors, and manual therapists (people who went through additional schooling to do what they do) because they read a book.

Even worse, they get their hands on some of the PRI literature and now they’re assessing breathing patterns (which is fine, because assessing dysfunction what we do) and before you know it, they’re treating people and performing open heart surgery.

It’s crazy.  And pompous.  And completely unacceptable.

It hasn’t gotten to pandemic proportions yet, though. Those types of assclowns are few and far between, and there are far more who understand their limits and don’t step outside their scope of practice.

Having said that, I DO feel that looking into breathing patterns is something to consider with most people.  But the rub is that we SHOULD NOT be spending an inordinate amount of time on it.

At Cressey Performance, we LOVE the PRI stuff.  Eric has been to three or four of their seminars, and Greg Robins recently attended one as well.

Which brings up a valid point:  going to an actual seminar and seeing this stuff done firsthand is A LOT different than just reading about it.

Moreover, we’ve had staff in-services on it where PRI practitioners have come in, talked shop and helped  us comb through some of the finer points to see how we can implement SOME of their modalities with our clientele.

Here’s the deal: at CP we only use like 6-7 drills, total. And not all of them at the same time.

I like how Mike Robertson discussed it in his recent “Warm-Up” article on his blog.  Spend maybe 2-3 minutes on it, and move on.

We take a very similar approach with our athletes and clients.  We may (or may not) include specific breathing pattern drills into their warm-up. But if we do it’s like two or three….tops, taking all of 2-3 minutes to complete.

Afterwards we move on to the dynamic warm-up, and then it’s off to go lift heavy things.

I think the point Mike’s making (and it’s an important one at that) is that far too many fitness professionals are going to get carried away and forget that giving people an actual training effect is kind of important too.  Even worse, many will forget (or neglect) to get their athletes/clients strong.

Just to reiterate:  the why IS IMPORTANT!!!!!!!  I think it’s fantastic when people go out of their way to dig deeper, try better themselves, and gain more knowledge.  I can’t bemoan that point.

What grinds my gears, though, is when people start to overstep their bounds and don’t understand, appreciate, or respect scope of practice.

Worse still: they neglect to actually train their clients.

What are your thoughts?  Agree?  Disagree?

On that note, for those trainers or general fitness enthusiasts reading interested in material that’s easily applicable, I’d encourage you to check out the Muscle Imbalances Revealed series, which features a collection of outstanding webinars from a lot of recognizable names in the industry.  Rick Kaselj, who organized the series, just put the entire package on sale at a huge discount ($210 off!) through this Friday at midnight.  Check it out here.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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