Assessing Faulty Breathing Patterns

I blogged quite a bit recently about the importance of breathing patterns in posture, muscle tone, optimal movement patterns, injury prevention and cardiovascular functions.  If breathing patterns aren’t optimal, it’s important to train them, or re-train them to make sure your diaphragm functions optimally for all of the reasons above.  Efficient breathing pattern means an adequate use of your diaphragm muscles (yes, you have two), and them functioning optimally is of utmost importance.

But do you know how to identify faulty breathing patterns in the first place?

There are many different ways to assess breathing patterns, some more advanced than others.  Here are simple ways to identify faulty breathing patterns:

1. Neck muscles’ hypertonicity.  When someone has faulty breathing habits, he will tend to “breathe more through his chest than through his belly”.  Breathing through your chest will make your shoulders go up and down every time you breathe and it will put a lot of stress on your neck muscles.  If you have a client who present with hypertonic neck muscles, it might be because of faulty breathing pattern.  This tension in those neck muscles can also lead to pretty severe headaches, as well.

Hypertonic sternocleidomastoid.  Could be the sign of a chest breather

2. Shoulder protraction.  As I just mentioned in the previous point, a chest breather will put a lot of strain on his neck and shoulder muscles as well.  Assessing the resting posture of the shoulders, as well as how they move when the person breathe (looking for significant up and down motion) can help identify faulty breathing patterns.  A chest breather will have his shoulders sitting higher (sort of shrugged up) and protracted because of the use of the wrong muscles to breathe.

Posture looks better on the right. But both present with protracted shoulders which could be sign of faulty breathing patterns.

3. Rib flare.  This is a really easy thing to identify: simply put the client on his back, ask him to pull his shirt up a little bit, and notice the position of his lower ribs.  If they are flaring out it is most definitely a sign of faulty breathing pattern.

  This is a rib flare.

……not to be confused with a Rick Flair.

4. Hyperextension at the thoraco-lumbar (T-L) junction.  This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous point on the rib flare.  If there is indeed a rib flare, chances are that there will also be a hyperextension at the T-L junction.  This can be caused by a faulty breathing pattern, as well as a lack of appropriate thoracic spine mobility.  People often compensate for a lack of t-spine extension with hyperextension at the T-L segment.

This is some of the stuff that I got from Dr. Jeff Cubos’ presentation in Muscle Imbalances Revealed – Upper Body.  That is a resource with great information, and if you’re interested in learning more about breathing patterns, how to assess for them and how to re-train them properly. You can get it by clicking on the link below:

Muscle Imbalances Revealed – Upper Body

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3 Responses to “Assessing Faulty Breathing Patterns”

  1. Rick Kaselj says:


    Great article.

    Excellent point about rib flare.

    Rick Kaselj of


  2. […] Breathing patterns can be seen and used in an assessment, incorporated into mobility or core exercises, and a vital way to improve upon the position of the rib cage.  While being at Endeavor it never ceases to amaze me how the coaches there have an unbelievable passion to learn and apply new ideas, philosophies, and concepts on a daily basis.  From USA Weightlifting, Precision Nutrition, FMS, Postural Restoration Institute (PRI), etc. there is always something we as coaches need to understand more or learn from scratch.  Case in point: Breathing.  OK, back to breathing patterns, athletes or clients with low back pain can be assessed in a variety of ways,  my friend and colleague David Lasnier wrote a great assessment of what to look for, check it out here: Assessing Faulty Breathing Patterns. […]

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