Strength Starts Here: Breath, Control, Express Badassery
I always enjoy when I have the opportunity to introduce my readers to someone new; coach’s who are “in the trenches,” doing great things, and are well articulate in conveying their message.
Ladies and gentlemen I give you Chris Abbott. He’s a coach and gym owner based in Chicago. As it happened, he sent me a t-shirt out of the blue as a “thank you” for what I do on this blog. It was a class move and nice gesture to say the least.
Not long after Chris expressed some interest in writing a guest post, and well, it took me all of three seconds to say yes. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Strength Starts Here
Life is better when you’re strong, and that’s a fact.
Photo Credit: Bill Strong
Over the years as a trainer I’ve worked with average Joes, stay at home moms, significant weight loss clients, professional athletes, and a wide variety of broken and damaged people ranging from hip replacements and torn labrums to herniated/broken discs and torn knee ligaments – to name a few. Every one of these clients had one thing in common; they all reached their goals by becoming stronger.
Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but based off of the people I see and work with daily I feel people may know they need to get stronger, may know they need to get in better shape, but they really have no idea how to actually get stronger, hence strength starts here.
Chris’s t-shirt, which I wear all the time.
Commonalities in Strength
There are certain aspects of strength that are required for success – this goes for sport, individual hobbies, and most importantly quality human movement.
My approach to those aspects can be viewed in the following way; you have attachment sites – your arms at your armpits and your legs at your hips. All movement will come from these attachment sites.
In addition you have your thoracic spine (T-spine).
Your neck, shoulders, and t-spine are all tied together; therefore healthy movement of the neck, head, and shoulders (really the entire upper body) requires healthy t-spine functioning. One could go on to describe how the upper body and more importantly a lack of alternating, reciprocating movement affects your lower body (hips and knees), but that goes beyond this post.
Furthermore, my approach can be summarized by this relationship:
- Positional breathing leads to increased control
- Increased control leads to increased strength development
- Being stronger allows you to do whatever you’d like in life
Let’s break this down a bit further and see how you can own all to generate massive strength gains – and really enjoy life more!
Position and PRI
Are your shoulders really tight or are your scapula maybe just in a poor position which is limiting your range of motion?
This is usually the first time someone looks at me with a sideways head tilt expression of “huh?”
When searching for strength your key to performance will reside within your ability to take a breath properly.
All my sessions start with a common goal; restore proper breathing mechanics and allow your diaphragm to work as a primary breathing muscle rather than a postural stabilizing muscle. This does a few things:
- Triggers parasympathetic activity in the body which results in the body “letting go” or relaxing more
- “Letting go” will lead to increased range of motion at the attachment sites and T-spine
- You’ll feel “lighter” – which never hurts anyone
- You’ll be more focused – which is awesome just about any time
- And most importantly, you’ll be in a better position to get stronger
The approach and exercises I use to correct someone’s breathing mechanics (and ultimately help restore control) stem from an organization called the Postural Restoration Institute, PRI for short. The Institute’s director, Ron Hrsuka, has devoted his life to PRI. It’s a powerful concept and one that immediately grabbed my attention after I first took one of their home study course a few years ago.
In a nutshell, PRI’s take on the relationship of posture, movement, and performance begins with asymmetries and the fact that everyone, whether you’re “righty” or “lefty”, has the same features internally – one heart, one liver, etc.
These asymmetries predispose us to shift our center of gravity and throw off our position; which in turn affects our posture, limits our movement abilities, and decreases performance. As a result, areas such as your shoulders, t-spine, and hips (sound familiar?) are placed under distress – compensation patterns develop and your ability to get strong has been diminished.
Positional breathing can be viewed as achieving the following:
- Re-training your diaphragm from being used as a stabilizing muscle to a primary breathing muscle – this allows your body to “let go”
- “Untwist” your body, positioning it in more of neutral state thus giving you more joint centration and ultimately greater potential for building strength
Positional breathing will open doors that lead to increased control. Remember, increased control leads to greater strength development so taking 5-7 minutes on positional breathing can and will make a difference during your set of heavy deadlifts. Here are a couple of my favorite positional breathing exercises:
90/90 Hip Lift
All Four Belly Breathing
Control is King
Flexibility seems to be the rabbit everyone wants to chase when something goes wrong.
However, as we just discovered, a lot of your flexibility concerns might in fact stem from your inability to breathe properly and your poor position. It’s not uncommon to see a significant increase in range of motion in your attachment sites after performing some positional breathing exercises.
Now that you’re in a better position, you can more easily gain control!
I view flexibility as your ability to passively pass through a specific range of motion – no ownership here, just swinging by to say hi to grandma.
Mobility on the other hand is your ability to control a specific range of motion – you’re laying the foundation and moving in!
Mobility = Control. Control = Strength.
Therefore Strength = Mobility.
In order to be strong you need to have control – you need to have the mobility needed to perform your sport, hobby, or live as a healthy functioning human being. Perhaps another head tilt “huh?”
Your sport/activity will determine how much control is needed at said attachment site(s) in order for you to perform at a high level.
A gymnast for example needs far more control than a basketball player.
You can name plenty of other comparisons that support this notion. However here’s my argument; wouldn’t you rather be able to control a much larger range than you need so as to not only become freakishly strong, but also increase your longevity by decreasing your risk of injury?
I’m not suggesting a football player be able to move like Neo in the matrix – it’s not needed, in fact for some athletes having too much range of motion is detrimental to performance.
But in the game of life – that’s a much different story and can in fact tell you from personal experience and client experience, yes you do want the increased control!
I’m falling more and more in love with Dr. Andreo Spina’s FRC system and its ability to give you loads of control. More importantly it’s blending very nicely with the positional breathing exercises I have my clients perform.
Dr. Andreo Spina is a world-renowned musculoskeletal expert. His system stands for Functional Range Conditioning. Its focus is on three main goals; mobility development, joint strength, and body control (fits pretty nicely with what we’re talking about).
The end result is people doing some crazy sh** that would likely land most people in the hospital.
I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from colleagues who are FRC certified. I myself cannot wait to join them!
Through various series of controlled articular rotations (think searching through your end range in various joint motions) one can find where he/she is limited. Once limitation is found, applying progressive and regressive isometric loading (PAILs and RAILs as he calls them) can be used to increase your usable range of motion – more control = more room for strength.
From there you can play with lift offs and other fun movements but the overall takeaway is clear; you will gain loads of control which can lead to loads of strength!
One of my favorite non-FRC exercises for control is the Arm Bar as it allows the athlete to simultaneously gain shoulder and t-spine control
Life is better when you’re STRONG
This is the fun part. In my mind the end of my little equation is whatever you want.
If you’re an athlete maybe it’s run faster, jump higher, or get stronger.
Or, maybe it’s longevity – for athletes this can mean millions and millions more in income. For people who are injured or de-conditioned it could mean a fresh start or at least a new perspective on life.
The key I’ve realized is this; no matter what sport you play or what hobby you enjoy, everyone needs to be strong and there IS a relatively easy way to get there. It all starts with a breath followed by owning your body – gaining control.
Once you have control you are in fact in control – do what you want!
Until then, keep practicing.
I myself am a simple man. I’ve become attached to swings and getups everyday for my workout. My workout is short, effective, and to the point. My newest warm-up routine has 1 rule – I can’t use anything other than my bodyweight. This has not only placed me in a great position to start my swings, but also led to some fun movement sessions prior to my “workout”.
To summarize; strength starts with a breath, is enhanced with control, and transforms into greater strength – which leads to all around awesomeness in life.
About the Author
Chris Abbott has been a personal trainer for the past 7 years. He and his wife recently moved to Chicago where he started Evolution Strength and Performance – a company dedicated to getting people strong through postural restoration, body weight training, and kettlebell training. He develops programs used for weight loss, total body strength, and overall health and wellness. Additionally, he works with clients who have suffered from back, knee, hip, and shoulder pain.
Along with neighborhood clients, he has worked with a variety of professional athletes including NFL, NHL, MLB, MMA, Pro Lacrosse, and European Basketball.
“I want people to realize there is more to life than the gym, and that life is better when you’re strong. It unlocks opportunities to enjoy life more, become a faster, more powerful athlete, or return to hobbies you’ve been unable to do for years.”