Guest post written by: Lucy Hendricks
If you read my last post, you already know that I’m a huge fan of breathing. In Bringing Awareness to Your Breath I discussed how important it is to notice your breathing, not only at the gym, but also throughout your daily life.
People don’t only come to us to work on restorative breathing though, they come to us because they want to lift weights and gain strength. That means I need them to move properly so I can add load to certain moves like squatting and deadlifting.
In a perfect world, everyone would be able to jump into loaded exercises. However, in the world we live in, the chances of someone having even OK movement patterns when they first walk in the door are very slim. At our gym we accept this and have an awesome tool that helps people get on track!
That tool is, BREATHING.
Here’s what we see when people come in:
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little, but not as much as you think. Or maybe my posture looks normal to you, because people are constantly walking around in extension. The extent varies with each person, but, every new client that comes to GYM Laird is taken through breathing exercises in order to get their core in a better position.
BECAUSE IT’S ALL ABOUT POSITION.
When you think of your core, I want you to think of a canister. A strong, stable, canister that has both ends facing each other.
This canister keeps you stable, but most importantly, it keeps your spine happy and healthy. The problem we often have with people is that their canister is not positioned correctly.
(Ribs and pelvis are not pointing at each other)
When your ribs and pelvis are not positioned correctly, training can be a challenge for the coach, as well as the client.
That’s why breathing has to come FIRST!
I took this picture from Darkside Strength. The reason I am a part of this awesome group is because although we like getting people stronger, we also agree on how important it is to work on breathing and position.
I have asked two amazing physical therapist to show you my two favorite exercises. We have all new clients go through these exercises to get them moving better, and set them up for success in the long run.
This first video is with Sarah Martin PT, DPT, Ph.D. In this video, Sarah takes me through a drill on how to use breathing as a tool for improving abdominal position.
When it comes to breathing, many people are cuing, “push the belly out”, but, I don’t want to see JUST the belly pushing out. I want people to get air everywhere, and with the drill Sarah just shared with you, you are not only getting air through your belly, but also up through the chest, the sides and low back. Through this exercise you are able achieve that nice circumferential expansion that I like to call your “Personal Belt of Protection”. This seems to really help clients understand that they need to learn how to brace correctly if they want to protect their spine.
Side note: When practicing this exercise, make sure you don’t go into back extension during the inhale!
Jim’s powerlifting team had to learn how to brace and create their own protection before they moved up to an actual belt.
I asked Quinn Henoch PT, DPT of Darkside Strength to go through my second favorite exercise: Rockback breathing, or as we sometimes call it, Hunchy Breathing. Sarah’s exercise covered breathing through the chest, belly, the sides and low back. Quinn’s exercise will remind you not to forget your upper back because your t-spine needs some lovin’ too! Getting air between your shoulder blades feels amazing but most importantly, it will allow your shoulder blades to be in a better position.
These are my two go-to exercises that you can use with anyone! Getting clients to understand they have a canister that they move around and control will guarantee better results! It does vary by client, it could be a matter of weeks or months before they find their “abs”, but, once they do, it’s all downhill, at least most of the time 😉
The invisible canister carries over to every exercise we do –>
If you’re reading this and you’re not a trainer: try to do these exercises a few times a week. Get your ribs and pelvis in a better position, and begin letting your abs take a load off your back. You will start to notice improvement in how you breathe, move and feel!
If you are a coach I hope I sparked your interest. Adding these tools to your client’s training will benefit them, and make your job easier! It might be a little more challenging in the beginning, because there’s so much more teaching and educating.
People will get confused when you tell them that they need to be able to lie on the floor and blow up a balloon before they can lift heavy; especially when the gym down the street was allowing them to snatch, over-head press, and train 5 times a week. That’s why it is your job to explain the purpose. You can’t give someone a balloon, tell them to blow it up and just walk away.
When clients become aware of what their brace feels like, they are aware of when they lose it. Our clients know when things are too heavy, and the majority of them are very open about telling us if something doesn’t feel right. This minimizes the risk of injuries in the gym. I’ve often found myself teaching classes where before I can regress or suggest another exercise, the client has already taken initiative and done it on their own.
If you take the time to educate your clients, slowly but surely, you will end up with an amazing community of smart people that like to train hard, but also know how to train SMART 🙂
Want to learn more? I hope so, because I love to connect people with good information!
I am very interested in position and how it affects the way people move. It is because of this interest that I began dipping my toes into some PRI. Sarah Martin is educated by the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) and uses PRI in the treatment of patients and training clients. I’m lucky to have her treating my clients, and helping me getting them moving better and feeling better. If you’re a coach, with a strong anatomy background, I highly recommend checking PRI out!
Darkside Strength is a group of coaches and physical therapists that works to educate people by sharing really great information. Whether you’re a coach, or you’re working out on your own, I recommend you check them out!
Jim will also be taking people through this at the Cube Summit in October! And I’ll be assisting!
I hope this was helpful!
Hi there – just wondering if you could comment – the position you show at the beginning of this piece as being an exaggerated picture of clients when they come in and is unhealthy for the spine would seem to conflict with Esther Ghokale’s recommendation that the pelvis should be anteverted – a posture she finds is widespread among indigenous peoples who tend to suffer rarely from bank issues
Lucy Hendricks says
I’m not very familiar with Esther’s work, I’ve only seen her do a small workshop on people’s sitting posture, which people do seem to be rounded when they’re sitting, but that doesn’t mean people are stuck in flexion.
When you lay someone on the floor, you will most likely see someone’s ribs stick out from the lack of an anterior core. They might round and flex when they sit down, but that’s because they have no other option but to collapse in that seated position since they don’t have those core muscles to hold them up. Esther will cue people to get long and tall, which is NOT wrong, but if I get someone long and tall without establishing those core muscles, they will get taller and let their ribs flare up going into back extension. That puts a lot of pressure on their back extensors (which are already stiff).
With the exercises in this article, we are attempting to bring someone back into a more neutral position. I want someone to get long, tall AND keep their ribs down. If I don’t teach someone how to exhale to get the abdominal wall to engage, they will have a hard time getting both ends of their canister to face each other.
I’ll attach a few things that talk about it a little more.
breathing is one of my favorite things to do!
Great article, thanks.
I had a lung disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). My body was continuously creating scar tissue in my lungs and they were shrinking and getting thicker. Basically my lungs were turning into raisins.
I had a bilateral lung transplant this past January. Following the transplant I had to consciously teach myself how to breathe normally, and without thinking about each breath, again.
I’m going to add the two exercises shown in the vids to my routine. Thanks 🙂
Adam Trainor says
Great post. Couldn’t agree more with everything that you have said. Breathing is obviously important through everyday activities but we need to control our breathing the most when working out, to make sure oxygen is getting to our muscles. I think most people don’t realise that breathing is also important when stretching. They need to understand that you need to breathe through the stretch. This also allows oxygen to get to the muscles before and after the workout.
robbin mauger says
Self dx I believe I have Achilles tendonitis, I am taking ibuprofen 200mg q 4-6 hrs, I have ace wrapped (which really makes I feel much better) I have elevated and iced it. Trying to stay off of it. I wasn’t stretching bf running or anything. How long will this continue or is there something else I can do for a speedy recovery? I like to exercise and I am 55 yrs old.
Cant agree with what you said more! Great article, breathing is a powerful tool, and very important!
I found this to be a very helpful cue while doing the elliptical last night, but I’m wondering about day to day. Should be trying to feel my abs and get that sort of stabilized feel as I’m walking or standing in everyday life? Or is this more for while you’re lifting?
This is so confusing!!! My physical therapist said that chest breathing is bad, and that holding the the stomach in is bad, and that you should expand your belly and front and back of belly area when breatihng. If you follow the baloon exercises, then you become a chest breather cause you hold the stomach in all the time.
Anna, I think there’s a bit of confusion here. They are actually recommending diaphragmatic breathing, but this is an exercise to teach you to engage your abdominals while still breathing with your diaphragm so you brace and stabilize yourself when lifting weight.