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Diaphragmatic Breathing: A Breath of Fresh Air

By Sean | In Recovery | on July 3, 2012

If you’re a regular you know that we stress the importance of being able to maintain mid-line stability in our lifts and movements, and for some that skill and the muscles involved in the action of bracing take time to develop.  Oftentimes, especially when we’re lifting sub-maximal weight during our conditioning workouts it’s really beneficial to be able to maintain your brace while simultaneously breathing so you can recover and keep going.  We’ve posted on how focusing on breathing has an almost meditative effect during your workouts, we’ve posted on the act and importance of bracing here and here, but what I’ve come to learn is that breathing is a skill.  A skill that for some has deteriorated, but on the upside a skill can be improved through quality practice, just ask any Yogi.  The diaphragm (the muscle whose primary purpose is to help you breath and give you hiccups) is more than just the skirt steak you buy at the market, it’s proper function and recruitment is vital to maximizing your breathing potential.

So if you’re like me, I want to be able to tell when I’m breathing with my diaphragm and when I’m not.  There are several variations but they all go something like this:  place your hands on your belly and inhale.  Again, if you’re like me the first movement I felt was my shoulders rising…this is wrong.  Diaphragmatic breathing is evident when the first movement is your belly expanding outwards like a balloon filling with air.  If you continue to inhale and fill your lungs to capacity you’ll likely feel your chest and shoulders rise towards the last phase of the inhale, but initiating every breath by allowing your shoulders to rise is an utter waste of energy and your lung capacity is sorely underutilized.  This is called apical breathing is it’s a lose-lose way for you to be getting your most precious resource, oxygen.  Here’s a thought experiment for you, how many times a day do you breath?  Estimates run upwards of 22,000 times per day, and imagine if you’re an apical breather using your traps and neck muscles and initiate each of those 22,000 breathes.  No wonder so many people “hold tension” in their upper back and neck musculature.

All is not lost, however.  The diaphragm is a muscle and breathing is a skill, and just like any muscle or skill it can practiced and improved upon.  The easiest way that I’ve found to get the hang of diaphragmatic breathing is a yoga technique called Crocodile Breathing.  It goes like this:  lie face down on the ground, inhale, and as you inhale allow your abdomen and belly to push into the ground and expand outward.  Charlie Reid, barefoot running enthusiast and co-author of the ebook “The Best Book On How to Barefoot Run“, was kind enough to post a video on Crocodile Breathing and give some insight on the importance of diaphragmatic breathing:

If you feel like you’re having difficulty you may consider some mobility work.  Well today’s your lucky day! Over the past few weeks on Mobilitywod.com, Kelly Starrett and Jill Miller (of Yogatuneup.com) have been posting a series of helpful ways to improve breathing mechanics through mobility drills and yoga inspired techniques. The three videos below are the ones I’m referring to, but be sure to check back on mobilitywod.com to check for future segments.

I’ll wrap this up with one final question; are you really maximizing your breathing potential? Imagine how improved breathing mechanics can help mid met-con when recovery is essential or when you’re having to evade a pack of wolves or zombies should the unlikely but never-the-less possible situation arise. It could mean the difference of a 5 minute Fran or a 3 minute Fran, or possibly life and death. Give yourself every advantage possible and take some time to work on your breathing.

WOD 7.02.12

Clean 2-2-2

Partner WOD

4 Rounds:

  • 3 Power Snatches
  • 250m Row
  • Rest

One partner works while the other rests.

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