Let me say that title again: Let’s all just take a breath. Now, I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but more of a way for us to settle into breaking down something that is second nature. It’s a perspective and practice that has actually taken over what I consider one of my foundations for addressing not only myself, but my clients as well.
Although the act itself is simple, the effects are profound. So simple in-fact, that we perform this act on average, about 16x a minute (3). That is an average of 960x an hour, 23,040 x a day, 161,280 x a week, 4,838,400 x a month!!! and so-on and so-forth.
Something that starts as a pattern of neurologic signals in the brain stem and works its way down to muscles that help you breath in and out which causes exchange of gases we can’t see on individual little red blood cells that transport those gases like people in a tube on a lazy-river. I mean, this is something that for a significant majority of the time, we don’t even think about, or consider.
THE 360° VIEW
Imagine. You close your eyes… You take a deep breath in through your nose… Only your chest rises, and your neck may even get a little tight… Finally, you take a long breath out of your mouth and start the process over. You brought oxygen into your body and you got carbon dioxide out. With that, it seems that the job has been done, right?
While this may feel normal to some, I must ask; is it really the most effective and efficient way to go about the normal process of breathing? What is the difference between this method of breathing and using more of a muscle that separates the chest and abdominal regions? Have you ever heard of your diaphragm? The Diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that separates the thoracic (chest) and abdominal (stomach) regions. You may have heard that it is the main muscle for breathing… BUT, don’t the lungs do that also?… How does this work? How does it impact and contribute to breathing?
The muscle itself originates from the bottom of your chest bone (Xiphoid process), the bodies of the spinal levels of the upper low back (L1-L3), as well as the lower half of the rib cage (T7-T12). The muscle inserts upon itself at a central tendon, which would explain how this muscle works(1). I want to teach everyone a little trick about muscles. Ready? Say it with me:
**Muscles pull from point “A” to point “B”**
Do you remember me saying that this was a dome shaped muscle, yes? Now, this is how we figure out what the muscle is supposed to do. If you engage your muscle to initiate taking a breath, the muscle will pull from the origin, pulling the top of the dome down into a flatter position. If the diaphragm moves down, this is going to open up space behind your rib cage (thoracic region), allowing the lungs to inflate with air, thus starting the transfer of gases within the lungs and progressing to all of the tissues throughout the body. Woah, right?!
I know that was a lot. There was a reasoning for my method though. Especially (but NOT only) in the CrossFit/powerlifting communities, I find that many individuals are not aware on how to properly breathe with this muscle. This leads to a significant over utilization of the accessory breathing muscles around the rib cage, shoulder blades, and neck. If you’re fatiguing, lifting big weights, and improperly breathing… After reading this, how many of you are starting to realize or notice way too much tension up in the muscle groups that we just mentioned?
This will also continue to affect those in the lifting community once the athlete begins to increase their load. As many of us know, especially with certain lifts (e.g. deadlift, squat) we want to safely protect the spine and increase force production with a lift. This ability to build and maintain intra-abdominal pressure, effectively, may be significantly impaired if we do not know how to use this deep, deep muscle.
I would like to finish this particular writing by a quick breakdown of the muscle itself. Some of the readers may be aware that there are two general breakdowns of the muscle fibers themselves. Type 1 fibers are more endurance based (think that the one with the endurance will finish first). Type 2 fibers are strength based. When completing normal breathing, we are mainly utilizing our Type 1 fibers. For our periods of “maximal breathing”, our type 2 muscle fibers kick in to build tension and prevent dangerous levels of inspiratory fatigue(2). I feel that anyone taking the time to read this far can see the importance of needing to build the tolerance, especially of those protective type 2 muscle fibers, to not only build a solid foundation of safe movement and lifts, but to continue to push forward to safe zones of movement that you may have not thought possible.
Thoughts? Questions? Arguments? Let me know all of them. As always:
Move Well, Live Well, Be Well
By: Joshua Echelson LMT, CES
Want to book a session with Josh? CLICK HERE
Josh is a Licensed Massage therapist with a certificate of a Corrective Exercise Specialist through NASM coming from a background in Rehab since 2015. Josh was born in Southwest Florida where he continues to live raising his son. In his free time, he enjoys anything involving the outdoors and staying active.
1. Gorman, Niamh (2020 July, 08) Diaphragm Ken Hub
2. Chien MY, Wu YT, Chang YJ. Assessment of Diaphragm and External Intercostals Fatigue from Surface EMG using Cervical Magnetic Stimulation. Sensors (Basel). 2008;8(4):2174-2187. Published 2008 Mar 28. doi:10.3390/s8042174
3. Cleveland Clinic (2019 January 23) Vital Signs Cleveland Clinic