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Breathing, Anterior Pelvic Tilt, and Voodoo Witchcraft

34 Comments

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.

 

Breathing Drills

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:

 

Conclusion

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!

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  1. Jeremy
    May 11, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Thanks Jim! Your explanations and videos do a great job of conveying the info. I’ve been having trouble with my spinal erectors for a while now and I’m off to try the breathing exercises. Also can’t wait to see how it affects my squat.
    Be well,
    Jeremy

  2. Jim Laird
    May 11, 2012 at 6:38 am

    Gray Cook (super duper duper smart dude)explains the importance of tall half kneeling.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9vcGxRv5yA

  3. john
    May 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Very good article.The O-shoes looked very flat.What type of shoe did you switch to?It looks like you had a very slight heel elevation.

  4. Jim Laird
    May 11, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    John

    I now wear new balance minimus
    http://www.newbalance.com/nb-minimus/

    Now that I don’t go into tilt I don’t need on olympic shoe.
    I will wear the westside barbell staple chuck Taylor as well.

  5. Luke Terry
    May 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Great Stuff! Thanks for the videos, Jim, Robb & Squatchy.

    My first exposure to this type of breathing was through Chinese QiGong & its associated breathing practices. They speak, as you do, of the 360 degree activation. Clearly this activates the obliques and transverse abdominals, as well as many others.

    You don’t talk about it here, but I’m guessing you’re also getting significant recruitment in the pelvic floor muscles, by nature of increasing intra-abdominal pressure through activation of obliques & transverse abdominals, not to mention the rectus abdmoninus, and the bearing down with the diaphragm that occurs. This also squares with the QiGong techniques, which put comparatively more emphasis on the dynamic strength of the pubococcygeus muscles & associatated structures.

    Also, what’s your take on belt vs. no belt? Is it crazy to do this kind of stuff without a belt? My sense is we can develop the strength needed in the core through the breathing & conscious use of the abdominals as you described, such that the belt is unnecessary. In fact, I’m thinking that the belt might actually be deleterious in some ways because it develops a false sense of security. Thoughts?

    • Jim Laird
      May 12, 2012 at 4:57 am

      Like thanks for the feedback and the overview. You are correct the martial arts have had this figured out for centuries. Funny how we seem to complicate things. Yes these principles apply with or without belt. The belt is a tool (to lift as much as possible) I use to compeat in powerlifting. I will go through phases where I will not use it. 98% of my Cleints do not use them. The body will build its own belt (which is ideal). If you check out Dean’s stuff he get’s into all the pelvic floor stuff if I do recall correctly.

      Thanks for the great question

  6. James
    May 11, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Tried these out tonight. Not sure if I am doing this right. You just breath deep and exhale while doing them Right? and you do the left side and the right side on the first one correct?

    I will give it a go for a few days, not sure how it strengthens the core?

    Jim

  7. Jim Laird
    May 12, 2012 at 5:00 am

    James, the first drill was specific to me to help with my shoulder. Look at the drills in the last video.

    Do not think about strengthening, think about turning on a system. When that system is running you body performs better. When it is off it has to compensate.

    I hope that answeres your question.

    Jim

  8. Lisl Croft
    May 15, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Brilliant article lived the end video :)

  9. Mikhail
    May 19, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Great article! Jim, can you explain what is hips off and how you fixed it?
    Thank you very much!

    • Jim Laird
      May 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      This is a huge can of worms lol
      Here is a brief summary from the PRI web site. Link below.

      “Postural Restoration Institute® (PRI) trained therapists recognize these imbalances and typical patterns associated with system disuse or weakness that develops because of dominant overuse.  This dominant overuse of one side of the body can develop from other system unilateral overuse.  For example, if the left smaller diaphragm is not held accountable for respiration as the right is, the body can become twisted.  The right diaphragm is always in a better position for respiration, because of the liver’s structural support of the right larger diaphragm leaflet.  Therefore, the left abdominals are always important to use during reciprocal function, such as walking, to keep the torso balanced.”

      Check it out it will bend your mind :)
      http://posturalrestoration.com/about/

  10. Austin Clark
    May 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Just one shot of that 360 expansion drill standing at my desk, followed by an air squat with my thumbs still pressing under my ribs, and I immediately achieved increased depth. Great explanation and thanks alot.

  11. Jared Woolever
    January 11, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Great stuff Jim. It all begins with the breath. Master the breath, or master nothing!

  12. Jess
    June 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Excellent article and videos! I’m a personal trainer, but also work as a physical therapist assistant so I’m always trying to find exercises that can benefit both types of clients. I think this is hugely beneficial for those clients lifting heavy weights, but also for those that just experience “generalized back pain” and need to learn how to turn that “system” on, as you put it. Thanks!

    • Jim Laird
      July 10, 2013 at 10:10 am

      You are very welcome !! You are correct this stuff is a game changer !! Everyone needs it.

      Jim

  13. Shannon
    September 26, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Absolutely wonderful! I’ve been observing how my 3 year old girl breathes (while she sleeps…it’s not creepy when it’s your kiddo) and I couldn’t figure out what was holding me up. Never would have looked at the shoulder girdle. But good to know how to correctly brace when she stands on my stomach :) are there any more articles/videos on breathing techniques?

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