You were born breathing, but could your breathing strategy be working against you?
Task 1: When you are done reading this paragraph, close your eyes and sit or lay quietly. Imagine you are doing a squat. Can you imagine your hips and knees bending? Can you envision your glutes and quads turning on? Can you feel the drive from your feet up through your hips as you return to standing? Were you holding your breath or breathing throughout the motion? What was your torso doing?
Task 2: Can you imagine that you are doing a push up? Can you feel your chest and triceps working to control you downward and then power you up? Can you feel your core- your abdominals, back, and pelvic floor? What are those muscles doing? Were you breathing or holding your breath?
My guess is many of you could easily imagine the feeling in your legs with a squat and the feeling in your arms and chest with a push up. It is a bit more difficult to imagine how your breath and core contribute to the proper execution of basic functional and exercise movements. It is even more difficult for most people to key in to what your pelvic floor is doing.
The moral of the story:
Your core (abs, back muscles, pelvic floor muscles, fascial system (and more) are the epicenter of movement and yet we are often least connected with how it works to carry us successfully through day to day activity or how dysfunction in this system can effect the long term health of the remainder of your body. We often take breathing for granted and assume that breathing is a natural body function and that there is nothing to think about. However, it is easy for our body’s to activate a faulty breathing pattern to cover for weaknesses in other areas of our body. Breath dysfunction is NOT an issue isolated to adults. Children may have inefficient breathing and stability patterns too! Even though breath patterning is different when at rest versus sprinting, being aware of your breathing patterns and smaller muscle groups of the core is central to optimal physical health. Below I have listed just a few of the scenarios that may leave people at higher risk of breathing dysfunction. Remember that proper breathing patterns provide a dynamic yet stable platform for our body’s to work. And, inefficient breathing patterns may be impacting your function and long term health. Taking the time to re-establish a strong brain-body connection with your core and breath is invaluable!
Asthma: 26% of Americans have asthma. Even mild asthma can effect the way that people breathe from a young age. The importance of optimal breath patterning when at rest and with activity is critical for these individuals. Working to maintain optimal breath patterning participate at their highest level of activity with less overall strain. It will allow kids to better interact with peers and help to optimize core stability. 55% of women with asthma have been found to have urinary incontinence. This can effect quality of life and general happiness. The earlier young kids with respiratory dysfunction connect with their breathing and optimize pressure management the better.
Individuals with low tone: Muscle tone is not the same as muscle definition. Muscle tone is part of what helps us to hold our body in optimal posture. We all have muscle tone and there are low ends of normal and high ends of normal. Kids/adults with low tone might have slouched posture and really want to sit whenever they get the chance. Some signs of a low tone individual: you’ve had poor posture for as long as you can recall
Back pain: Some of the muscles of your deep core central breathing mechanism are pain inhibited. This means that if there is pain in that area, the muscle turns off. It doesn’t always turn back on efficiently when the pain dissipates. This can leave you at risk for additional injury. Proper breath is central to low back injury recovery and prevention.
Sports: This is the least recognized area of “breath centric” exercise importance in my opinion. Repeated ankle sprains can result in deactivation of the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and then core stability disruption can ensue due to the asymmetric pull of one adductor on the pubic bone or the disruption of specific patterns of muscle activation that act as key stabilizers of our body. This can leave athletes at risk of re-injury. Kids with mild asthma, low tone or generalized weakness status post growth spurt may develop sub-optimal breathing patterns that while developed to optimize a skill, is a poor substitution overall.
Incontinence: A little pee now. A lot of pee later or maybe even organ prolapse. Still so many women I meet, tell me they are just going to keep doing Kegels. We need to make this clear- Kegels are not the answer! The entire system of pressure management in the abdomen needs to work to avoid excessive pressure on your pelvic floor.
photos by John Hain
Is a mom of two, life long exercise enthusiast and women's health coach & physical therapist.