Breathing in my opinion is one of the most overlooked concepts in any athletic endeavor. I have played sports since I was 4 years old and I can’t remember one time where a coach taught me how to breathe or even brought any awareness to it at all. Breathing properly is vital to both performance and general health. In my short career thus far, I have coached various patients on how to breathe properly. More often than not, it is a completely new concept to them and interestingly enough,I have found that some patients even get light headed after teaching them how to breathe properly. Why is that? Oxygen. Proper breathing increases oxygen flow to the brain and muscle tissue, which in turn can increase mental clarity, focus and performance. It also increases lung elasticity which is crucial for optimal lung function and tissue health.
Another major benefit of breathing properly is that it also calms down the nervous system, which in today’s society, is constantly in overdrive. Breathing activates a parasympathetic response, also known as the “rest and digest” portion of of the nervous system. This includes all of the physiological activities that happen when the body is relaxed and at rest. Benefits of parasympathetic stimulation includes aiding in digestion, immune system function, cardiovascular health, blood circulation, pain relief, recovery and decreasing stress.
Breathing and engaging your core can also improve performance, whether it is strength training, yoga, rock climbing or surfing. Utilizing the core and diaphragm is vital in activating the integrated stabilizing system that protects your spine during movement. Being able to control your diaphragm and activate your core musculature prior to limb movement will increase spinal stability during rapid athletic movements. It will also help build your “core” or “pillar” strength and endurance which is important for injury prevention, although this will require some training. Diaphragmatic breathing and bracing is a skill that takes time to learn, but will eventually become second nature.This is a very important concept for optimizing performance, training, and becoming in tune with your own body. Injuries occur when there is a lack of stability, thus being able to activate the proper muscles and maintain stiffness while breathing can be a major part in protecting your body. Synergy and timing between breathing technique and the proper alignment of our joints, or joint centration, gives us the best chance to maximize performance and athletic potential while reducing the risk of injury.
For neck pain patients, it is common for the accessory breathing muscles of the neck region and scalene muscle group to be very tight due to improper breathing patterns. Getting the accessory muscles of respiration of the neck region in sync with the diaphragmatic breathing can help decrease the tone and tightness of theses muscles. Deep exhalations, according to Dr. Shacklock, can also aid in mechanically offloading nerve pressure, which may be causing hand numbness and tingling. For low back pain patients, delayed activation of the abdominal core musculature caused by improper breathing patterns deactivate the stabilizing system that protects us during movement. It is critical to restore proper breathing in order to restore stability and proprioceptive feedback with the brain.
Warming up with breathing is now a ritual for me before I train. I like to take a few minutes to breathe, activate my core, and focus on the upcoming workout. Once I feel in tune with my breathing, I begin my bracing technique. This has been tremendous for my training, and specifically my strength. I teach my patients how to breathe and engage their core because of the significant benefits it has on performance and overall health.