Who is This Guy?
My name is Jim Laird, and I am a Strength and Conditioning Coach and the founder and co-owner of J&M Strength and Conditioning in Lexington, KY. To give you a brief history about me, I am an elite-level powerlifter who has competed in the 242 class. I have spent the last three years getting myself back on track from two car wrecks, a nasty fall down the stairs, tons of stress from starting a new business, and a bout of Ulcerative Colitis. As a result of these things, for the last three years, my training took a back seat and I was able to complete one, maybe two, lifting session per week.
My Introduction to IFAST
A couple of years ago, my business partner Molly Galbraith decided to go up to IFAST and see Bill Hartman and Mike Robertson for an assessment. She ended up having a lot more improvements to make than we anticipated, so shortly after she got her assessment I went up and got one. It was quite a humbling experience and I learned a lot about myself and how my body compensates and functions. I have learned so much from Mike and Bill in the last number of years that my understanding of how the body works and functions is now at a completely different level and my clients and business have benefited greatly because of it.
My Re-assessment and Intro to Diaphragmatic Breathing
In the past few months I have started to feel better so I have started to train more often. I decided to visit for a reassessment. The main reasons for my recent reassessment were my right shoulder (torn labrum from a car wreck) and wanting some help with my squat. I’ll be honest: I knew what the assessment was and I was expecting to get run through a collection of drills and tests. For a number of weeks I had been practicing lunges, planks, side planks, and some of the various tests. No one wants to look like a fool, especially someone who coaches people for living.
When I arrived for my reassessment, Bill and I briefly discussed my purpose for the visit. He looked at my squat, then put me on a table and conducted a few tests. He concluded my hips were off. He then gave me some very simple but painful exercises to get my hips right. After that, he looked at my shoulder, and this is where it gets interesting. I could write a book on everything he did with me, but I will try to keep this as simple as I can. If you get the general overall principle of what I learned, it will not just help you with your training; it will also make you a better coach.
Bill did a few tests and then explained I was not breathing properly and my left diaphragm was not functioning effectively (the left diaphragm controls breathing in the right lung). After some simple breathing drills I retested. Wow! What a difference in range of motion! On a side note, a funny thing happened: my spinal erectors released. They are always tight, so much so that my friends and I joke that I “brush my teeth” with my spinal erectors. Bill explained that when the diaphragm is functioning properly it turns on all the deep abdominal muscles. Their number one job is to give us stability while we are walking around, therefore allowing prime movers such as spinal erectors and hip flexors to rest for their job doing things like running from bears and lifting heavy objects. Bill proceeded to do Active Release Therapy, or ART, on my shoulder to get the rest of mobility I needed. Bill explained the ART would not be as effective without the breathing.
Here is one the drills Bill gave me to help expand my right rib cage:
Is This Breathing Stuff Voodoo?
Now I know that for many of you this seems like voodoo.
If you think I’m crazy and should be wearing a tin foil hat, that’s fine, but take a look at this statement before you dismiss what I’m saying:
“The diaphragm will drive intra-abdominal pressure that helps to activate all the core muscles. If you aren’t breathing properly, you can’t get core the right core activation to build a monster, regardless of the transverse activation.” Charlie Weingroff (Quote from: http://deansomerset.com/2012/02/13/a-weekend-with-charlie)
So who is this Charlie guy? Not only is he one strong dude,but here he is working with the BEST of the BEST of the BEST of the NBA:
If you want more information on breathing and how it relates to thoracic spine mobility and function, here is an excellent three part series by Dean Somerset: All Things Thoracic Spine Part 1: Functional Anatomy.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt, 360 Degrees of Pressure, and My Squat
After getting my shoulder squared away we then moved on to the squat. Bill had me squat for him, as if I were squatting a heavy load. Bill told me that my squat looked great and he wouldn’t change a thing other then where I created my pressure. He pointed out like many power lifters I was pushing out too much into the belly instead of creating 360 degrees of pressure. This caused me to go into anterior pelvic tilt and forced me to run into my hips, so to speak. Here is a great video of Bill explaining this:
My Results (Video Proof)
So you’re probably wondering, was this effective for me? All I can say is,“Wow! What night and day difference!”
Here I am doing pause squats with 500 pounds a couple of years ago. Notice that I’m wearing Olympic shoes. Look at my low back at the bottom. I was pretty much squatting with my low back.
Here I am two days after working with Bill. This is accessory work after my pull, as I had no plan on going up to 500 on the safety bar (pretty much a front squat). It felt effortless so I kept adding weight. Notice I wore no Olympic shoes. Getting depth was easy, and therefore I was keeping my pelvis in a good position.
Now here is the clincher: one week after working with Bill and working on what he taught me, here is a 400lbs squat with 400lbs of chain, belt only. I was only planning on working on form that day, hence no training partners. I have not had 800lbs on my back since I last competed years ago and I have only been training one, maybe two days a week for the last year. It felt effortless so I kept adding weight. I also did not have any stiffness in my low back at all the next day, which is a first for me. Notice how easy it was for me to get to and find depth, and look at my low back position. In the past I had to fight and search for depth. Not now, because it feels natural.
Pause doubles 430
370+320 box squat X3
How Does This Apply to You?
I am excited to see what I can do with this new information. I also think it proves the fact that no matter who you are, if you want to be successful, you need someone else to take a look at what you’re doing. Since I discovered how important breathing is and how important being able to create 360 degrees of pressure is to not only my health but my performance, we have added some really quick breathing drills to the beginning of each of our classes/training sessions. The results have been dramatic. People are moving better, and there are reports of low back stiffness going away. Here are the two drills we have added:
Like I mentioned, this may seem like voodoo witchcraft to some of you “squat, eat, sleep, repeat” guys out there, but take it from me, it works. I definitely think we should focus on getting really strong at the basic movements, but remember, the body functions as a unit and it will always compensate and find the easiest way to do a particular movement. If you have any glaring weaknesses/imbalances like I did, you are much more prone to injury. Plus, what if I told you that you were leaving lots of weight on the table and it would only take you 5 minutes a day to get significantly stronger. Would you be interested? I sure hope so! So take a few minutes and work on the breathing drills I linked above. They have worked wonders for me and my clients in a short amount of time. I hope you enjoyed this article! Please comment below and let me know!