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.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • John J Brooks

    For me, and my scope of practice all of this stuff (whether it is FAI, cuff problems, breathing patterns, whatever) I understand that I have just enough info for a red light/green light/ you must have this little dysfunction to ride the deadlift-o-matic. Fail and you get "we can do XYZ to work around this issue, but I strongly suggest you get this diagnosed by a medical professional." It's one thing to square someone up who has some scapular winging, is compensating for being out of position but doesn't have any weakness, or pain. It is wholly another to "treat" someone presenting with severe weakness in internal rotation cannot externally rotate at all and severe pain with the shoulder is loaded. One is someone who slouches, the other is someone with a medical issue. These tests should be to protect ourselves (and the athlete) from doing further harm, not open ourselves up to further liability by treating injury.

    December 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Miguel Aragoncillo

    Tony, I agree very much so in regards to the overreaction / underreaction side of things. In the grand scheme of things, it is helpful to understand why we may be breathing inefficiently, and how unlocking certain parts of it will help performance. But getting caught up in these diagnoses can be detrimental in terms of overanalyzation. Sure, we train people as coaches and trainers in pain quite often, it just comes down to the degree of pain, and what can we manage and do within that range of pain. At the same time, it is quite helpful to refer out when a problem is clearly outside of your scope of practice. Know your role within the clients' or athletes' issues, and help them by being honest with yourself and your own scope of practice.

    December 27, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Justin

    Tony, This post could not have come at a better time, as I have been discussing this topic with the physical therapists at work over the past week or so. I feel that I am doing a client a disservice by not helping to correct imbalances but at the same time must resist the temptation of diagnosing or getting to caught up in corrective work versus strengthening. I loved Mike Robertson's post on the warm up and it has been great help in keeping me from straying to far from TRAINING my clients. Again thanks for the great post and I look forward to hearing more responses.

    December 27, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Paul Berube

    Tony, I think you bring up a valid point. Our industry is fortunate to have many passionately curious minds, but while this makes for great lifelong learners it also sets the stage for a lot of exploring outside of our scope of practice. Perhaps the best way to keep on track during a training session is to ask yourself: "What is the client paying me for? What am I best able to provide for them in our limited time? Who can better help their other needs?"

    December 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Zak Columber

    Tony, here is my question: where does the balance lie between the two? This is something I have been wondering a lot recently, as I have been reading/watching products by Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, and Gray Cook. There seems to be a divergent opinion: Gray wants us to correct the underlying movement patterns first, while Cressey/Robertson stress the need to treat the client like an athlete and maintain a training effect... How do you blend the rehab stuff with the strength stuff?

    December 27, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Kyle Schuant

      People who spend most of their time working with serious rehab clients want to treat everyone as serious rehab clients. People who spend most of their time working with athletes want to treat everyone as athletes. What I would note is that many people with serious health or injury issues are actually overall in better shape than many "healthy" people - because they've made an effort to improve function. For example, in my gym there's a guy with a below-knee amputation and simple prosthetic who deadlifts his bodyweight and does chinups with a 20kg plate strapped to him, tasks which most males in the gym cannot accomplish. The "disabled" guy is more able than the "able" guys. When is it "dysfunction" and when is it "being weak"? Physiotherapists treat one, trainers and coaches treat the other one. There's a sensible middle ground.

      December 30, 2012 at 7:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kathy Ekdahl

    I think everyone is looking for the "key" to why their clients have recurrent aches and pains/dysfunction- but there is no ONE solution. So- we/they glom on to a new idea and press it forward with everyone. I think the "key" is that everyone is different. There is no one solution. And....that everyone has different goals. Yes- getting stronger is my personal goal- but for some of my clients- getting out of pain, improving posture, decreasing stress, may be their #1 reasons for training. I train mostly your average Joes- so I know coming in that most of them sit at desks too long, have chronic pain, but don't do any myofasical/soft tissue work and eat poorly. For them, I do need to start with corrective stuff. And very frequently- ESPECIALLY with women who hold their stomachs in all day-they do have breathing issues. I am not well educated in PRI stuff- but I am a yoga teacher (OH GOD help me!) and so noticing "complete 3 part breathing" ( as we say in yoga) comes pretty naturally to me. I can then educate them as to the importance of proper breathing and then I refer them out to my PT who can work on breathing, trigger points, muscle activation etc. On the complete other end of the spectrum- me. I know that the stronger I get- the better things work. That's why CP has really helped me for my own personal goals. So- how do you balance it? It's individual to the client.

    December 28, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • Dan Pope

    Good points Tony. I personally don't completely understand the breathing thing and I'm only a few months away from finishing my doctorate in physical therapy. I asked around with some of my professors and they said it could be a missing piece of the puzzle in things like spinal stability but otherwise I wasn't completely sold either way. I teach my respiratory patients diaphragmatic breathing and some people with chronic pain some relaxation training with diaphragmatic breathing but have never approached breathing in my athletic population, maybe I'm missing the boat.

    December 28, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply to this comment

  • PJ Striet

    I'm with you Tony. It's good to understand all of this stuff on a general level (and I've started having some people play with the breathing stuff), but, in the end, if you get someone stronger, in a balanced fashion (pushing, pulling, squatting, hinging, direct core work etc), utilizing progressive overload, you are going to get them feeling, looking and moving better. Getting them to do all this consistently, week in and week out, and also getting them in better condition and improving their overall work capacity is 90% of what we as trainers should be focusing on and judging our effectiveness as practitioners and coaches on. Foam rolling, breathing patterns, "corrective" work, etc can make up the rest, but this stuff is just icing on the cake. Furthermore,

    December 29, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mike Anderson

    (for anyone interested, here is my original post on the topic, I hope you don't mind tony): Tony, thanks for the shout-out. I'm always grateful when you help me get my thoughts out there. I think one of the big things regarding this issue is the "Keeping up with the Jones" mentality. If so and so across town is doing it, then you need to too so that you don't seem inferior. It's a good thing in a way because it drives everyone else to get better, but it's also bad because it's forcing people to do things they don't necessarily need to be doing. We, as coaches, all need to stick to our comfort zone and our scope of practice. Learning more and incorporating certains aspects of these different modalities is important, but let's not forget what brought us all to this industry to begin with. Strength.

    December 29, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Ines Subashka

    I totally LOVED this post! That's what I've been thinking for a while, and you said it really well: "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." I love digging deeper, but just because I want to know more, so I can do my job better- training people, helping them get in shape and become healthier, through getting stronger and more athletic. But I am not God, and just because I like reading a lot, doesn't make me an expert on every topic. Reading a lot, just makes me better at coaching, but doesn't give me the right to "overstep my bounds and take it too far."

    January 1, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Reply to this comment

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