Why Are We Breathing Inefficiently (and What Are the Ramifications)?

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Last week I wrote a quick synopsis of a staff in-service we participated in that consisted of  Michael Mullin stopping by for a few hours and proceeding to melt our faces off with the number of knowledge bombs he dropped regarding some of the “inner workings” behind the PRI (Postural Restoration Institute) philosophy.

For those who missed it, you can check it out HERE (< — click me, don’t be shy).

In a nutshell (if that’s even possible to do):  we breath like poop.

I’m more of an analogy guy, so using one that most people reading can appreciate:  if our breathing patterns are like the worst karaoke singer we’ve ever heard, we’d sound like a whale passing a kidney stone.

Yeah, not pretty.

As a corollary to the above post I linked to, current Cressey Performance intern/coach (and resident break-dancing/ Gangham style guru), Miguel Aragoncillo, wrote a quick follow-up that I felt many of you would enjoy.

Why Are We Breathing Inefficiently?

Everyone is breathing incorrectly. We are all stuck, we are all patterned. The real question is… Do you want to get out of the pattern?

Take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed, and believe what you want to (and still breath like an asthmatic Darth Vader).

Take the red pull, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

The stance that the Postural Restoration Institute takes (pun intended) is that yes, we have two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, etc. To elaborate on the PRI aspects of Tony’s blogpost, we have one heart on the left/central part of our body, liver on the right, along with different diaphragmatic discrepancies such as more crural attachments on the lumbar spine, right versus left lung control, and lung structure.

With this anatomy refresher, you have to wonder: how does this affect our ability to use our diaphragm effectively?

To break down how the body compensates, here are a few factors that are involved in the PRI philosophy:

1. Posture

What is your posture like? If you are constantly standing or moving around (or coaching), you are subjecting ourselves to being in a more extended position.  Comparing by contrast, if you’re a desk jockey – a phone pressed to your ear, a keyboard to crouch over and work on, and more often than not, a not so comfortable chair that you plop yourself into everyday – you’re most likely a walking (or more appropriately, a sitting) ball of flexion.

Whether you are extended or flexed for the majority of your day, it is safe to say that the posture you assume for most of your day will definitely affect you in the long term.

2. Patterns

After attending a 2-day PRI seminar at Endeavor Fitness, my brain was mush on the ride home. So to spare your face from getting melted like Tony from our most recent in-service, understand that there are different patterns that we can be classified into, along with the breakdown of what exercise we should use to not only inhibit these patterns, but also “encourage” us into a better working posture.

Further, if you’re an athlete that has extreme unilateral demands (ie: baseball), it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re an ideal candidate for PRI’s corrective exercises.

Personally, as a breakdancer, I’m full of dysfunction and asymmetry – rotating in one direction along with favored limbs for other dance movements falls neatly within the PRI philosophy.

During the PRI Seminar, I had many “A-ha!” moments as to why I move the way I do, along with why I favor one side versus the other during years of dancing.

Now take a look at any sport – baseball exhibits handedness (right-handed vs. left-handed pitcher), soccer shows favor for a dominant leg, and swimmers favor one side over the other to rotate towards their flip turns.

The constant demands of a chosen sport, coupled with your structural posture (thanks to the above reasons) will more often than not “feed into your dysfunction,” which in turn can often exacerbate common injuries seen in specific sports.

These dysfunctions alter how we breathe and how we respond to certain exercises or stretches.

3. Positioning

When we got into the practical portion of our in-service at CP, we were asked to get into some rather crazy positions, even blowing up a balloon. However, by getting into an ideal position, we are more readily able to get ourselves out of this pattern. So do not fear – most of us are able to get out of this pattern, much like Neo did in The Matrix. 

WARNING – I’m going to geek out a bit…

 “The activation/setting of the abdominals pulls the lower ribs down and in (caudad and posterior) and helps to inhibit/relax the paraspinals muscles (trunk extensors) which may help to decrease the patient/athlete’s lumbar lordosis and pain in the paraspinal region through reciprocal inhibition.”-1

(Side note: After performing these exercises, a few mentioned that they felt immediate results – loss of tension in their back, or even getting rid of back pain upon movement after being “repositioned”. Some pretty magical stuff.

On another aside: I asked Michael Mullin to walk me through some of the advanced tests, as I had only experienced the lower half of the assessments. After breathing into a few positions, I had seen immediate results with my shoulder issues. Craziness – I know.)

Putting It All Together

So putting the pieces of this puzzle together shows that a large majority of us may fall into a few of these categories from the get-go. What can we do now? Luckily for us, PRI gave us a few corrective exercises that they use often enough for the unlucky few that are still caught up in “The Pattern.”

Sounds like a Stephen King novel, I know, but bear with me.

One question that’s often been asked: where can we fit more exercises into an already jam packed session of foam rolling, mobilizations, and strength exercises?

The few things I’ve been experimenting with on my own along with coaching at CP are using these correctives after foam rolling, and before a dynamic warm-up, and also between sets of heavy compound lifts.

Note from TG:  For those who feel it a bit strange to use a balloon, you can also use a standard straw for this exercise.  Just be sure that when you inhale, you do so through the nose (which means you’ll have to block/pinch the tip of the straw in with your tongue against the roof of your mouth).

And for those who feel it’s a bit weird or “funky” to do this exercise in your gym, it’s no stranger than the moron who’s performing one-legged squats on an inverted BOSU ball while curling pink dumbbells.

Further, we have even gone on to emphasize with our athletes the importance of fixing our posture when we are standing during games, during our travels, and even at rest – sleeping and sitting. If your commute to work is long, making a conscious effort at shifting your posture can go a long way towards reducing overall symptoms.

What can we expect after appreciating these factors?

Whether you call it diaphragmatic breathing or the zone of apposition, we need to be mindful of how we position ourselves not only during exercise, but during our “resting” posture, and most importantly during our respiration.

With these things under our belt (or diaphragm!), I recommend watching the diaphragmatic video one more time to “see” how the above factors can affect our ultimate goal of performance and getting out of The Pattern.

Author’s Bio

Miguel Aragoncillo, CSCS, graduated from Temple University with a B.S. in Kinesiology. His focus as a trainer is getting people to move better and lift heavy things. Miguel is currently interning at Cressey Performance, and openly enjoys Techno Tuesdays, breakdancing, and powerlifting. Check out his writing at www.miguelaragoncillo.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @MAragoncillo1.


-1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2971640/ – The value of blowing up a balloon

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