Balls In Your Pants and Breathing Patterns

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BOO-YAH – how’s that for an introduction!

For many the topic of breathing patterns can be about as exciting as doing your taxes, so I figured I’d push the envelop a bit and use a catchy title to entice people to click on the link.

And, it worked!  I win!!

Don’t worry. Despite the risque title, the topic below is completely PG.

So, now that you’re here and I have your attention, lets watch this video by the Miami Dolphin cheerleaders:

Okay, so, um, yeah……breathing patterns.  It’s a topic that’s gained a lot of momentum (in the mainstream fitness media anyways) in the past year or so, due in no small part to the brilliant life-long work of Dr. Pavel Kolar and the “way smarter than the rest of us” team at The Prague School.

Taken right from their homepage:

The nervous system establishes programs that control human locomotion, which is comprised of posture and movement. This ‘motor control’ is largely established during the first critical years of life. Therefore, the “Prague School” emphasizes neurodevelopmental aspects of motor control in order to assess and restore dysfunction of the locomotor system and associated syndromes.

It’s some deep and innovative stuff for sure, and it’s something that I myself have only just scratched the surface of.

Thankfully there are other fitness professionals out there like Bill Hartman, Charlie Weingroff, Jim Laird, and Dr. Jeff Cubos (to name a few), who have are doing a wonderful job of spreading the knowledge, “dumbing” it down, and exposing people to the why’s/what’s/and how’s of assessing and fixing breathing patterns.

As it happens, one of the major themes that resonated this past weekend at the Spinal Health and Core Training Seminar (of which I was a part of) was the concept of breathing patterns and how there’s a significant interplay between aberrant patterns and how they effect not only performance but everything from posture to dealing with chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder, or lower extremity issues as well.

As it happens, one of the major themes that resonated this past weekend at the Spinal Health and Core Training Seminar (of which I was a part of) was the concept of breathing patterns and how there’s a significant interplay between aberrant patterns and how they effect not only performance, but everything from posture to dealing with chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder, or lower extremity issues as well.

In my talk, titled Spine and Core Training: From Assessment to Badass, I dove into some of the general “drills” we’ve been implementing at Cressey Performance to help teach people more appropriate breathing patterns.

You see, most people tend to be chest breathers and completely leave their diaphragm and the other “inner” core muscles out to dry.

It’s kind of like the playground when we were kids:  one group of muscles bullies the other, says their dad can kick the other dad’s ass any day of the week, someone gets called a big, fat, poop face, punches get thrown, the moms then get involved, and everything becomes one massive ball of breathing dysfunction.

The key, then, is to get everyone to play nice, and work synergistcally.  Ideally, we’d like to see the smaller, inner core muscles – diaphragm, mulitifidi, etc – to work properly, so that the larger, more global muscles can do their job as well and not have to work overtime.


To do so we need to take more of a 360 degree approach to breathing.  Meaning, instead of solely focusing on the anterior core (pushing the belly out: which still isn’t a bad place to start for most people), we need to take into consideration the lateral and posterior components as well.

Before we can do that, however, we need to actually learn how to breath into our bellies.

To start, here are some simple drills you can use:

1.  3-Month Pose

This is a drill I snaked from Mike Robertson, and the idea is to lie supine and focus on breathing into the belly and NOT allowing the rib cage to flair out too much.  You’ll notice how I keep my fingers at my sides to ensure that I’m not only pushing my belly out, but also expanding the sides (and back, into the floor) as well.  Be sure to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

Of note:  a regression would be to start with the feet on the ground, and then once that’s mastered, elevate the feet in the air.

2. Prone/Alligator Breathing

Lying prone on your stomach, the objective here (again) is to breath into the belly and try to get the lower back to rise.  Make sure to inhale through the nose, push the belly into the ground, and exhale through the mouth.

For many, those two drills alone will be a fantastic starting point.

Now, for years (YEARS I tell you!) I’ve always been engrained to “push the belly out” or to “make myself fat” when getting ready to lift big weights – particularly when wearing a weight belt.  Bill Hartman had a fantastic post on this very topic not too long ago, and he noted that when people push out they do so at the expense of going into excessive anterior pelvic tilt which can be a lower back killer.

Below is a longer video where I go into a bit more detail on how we can go about re-grooving these patterns using a weight belt (correctly) and/or regular ole tennis balls (which was an ingenious idea that Jeff Cubos brought up this past weekend). Moreover, it isn’t JUST about anterior expansion. Rather we want to start grooving more of a 360 degree expansion to help increase stability.

A Few Things to Note:

1.  Yes, I’m wearing a gray t-shirt with gray sweat pants.  Whatever.  I’m bringing gray on gray back, baby.  Recognize!

2.  Clearly this is something that Rob – my demonstrator – can work on. Not to throw Rob under the bus or anything (although I kinda am…..sorry Rob), but this would be a fantastic drill for him to utilize more frequently. If for nothing else to give his body the kinesthetic feedback it needs to learn how to breath properly.  Ie:  through his belly and NOT his chest.

I purposely chose him for the video because it allowed me to demonstrate how most people look when you tell them to take a deep breath.  With a little practice, I think he’ll be able to get it down.

3.  As far as when and where to implement these drills.  I’ve been doing more of them at the start of a training session, as part of an extended warm-up.  I may lie down for a good 2-5 minutes and just focus on my breathing. Hell, maybe pop in a little Norah Jones and just chillax.

It’s a bit “voo-doo’ish,” but it works, and I’m willing to bet if you take the time to implement these drills into your repertoire, you’ll feel a marked difference in how you feel.  Try them out today, and let me know what you think!

UPDATE:  for those interested, HERE is the video done by Bill Hartman I referenced above (where he discusses belly breathing and APT).  As you’ll undoubtedly realize – if you watch it – Bill is kinda smart.

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