Posts Tagged ‘diaphragm function’

My Favorite Breathing Exercise

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

I’ve blogged about the importance of breathing patterns many times in the past, and for a good reason.  Breathing patterns and the muscles responsible for breathing affect so many things in our bodies, yet we too often ignore their importance.  In the presence of a faulty breathing pattern, accessory muscles will compensate for the diaphragm not doing its job properly.  We then see hypertonic neck muscles (scalenes, sternocleidomastoids, upper trap, etc) which can also lead to neck pain and headaches, referred pain in the shoulder, etc.  But this is only the superficial stuff.

If the diaphragm isn’t working properly, chances are that it’s also not positioned optimally.  We could debate which one causes the other (dysfunction causing faulty positioning or faulty positioning causing dysfunction), but it would be a case of the chicken or the egg.

The thing to keep in mind is that when the diaphragm isn’t positioned properly there are also surrounding structures that are affected.  The lower ribs flare out, the T-L (thoraco-lumbar) junction is stuck in extension, and the whole rib cage is positioned differently.  This in turn will affect the positioning of the scapula because it sits on the rib cage, and therefore the positioning of the whole shoulder girdle will be changed.

Faulty breathing patterns can also affect structures lower down the kinetic chain.  Because of the attachment of the diaphragm and its fascial connection through the psoas, that goes through the hips, the positioning of the hips can be affected.  And if the hips are positioned differently, everything below (femur, tibia, foot) might be in compensated positions.

Not the best picture, but you can still see the convergence of the psoas and diaphragm

Before this turns into an anatomy course, I’ll stop here!  The goal was just to make you understand how powerful breathing patterns can be and how it can affect the whole body.  That is why school of thoughts such as the Postural Restoration Institute put such an important focus on breathing patterns and diaphragm function to treat all sorts of problems (overuse injuries, low back pain, shoulder pain, flat feet, etc, etc).  All of their corrective work involve very specific breathing patterns.  They have a bunch of different exercises incorporating breathing patterns to get you back into a “neutral alignment” as they would put it.

I have learned a great deal from PRI and started including a lot of their stuff with my athletes, which has worked almost like magic in many cases.  Here is one of my favorite exercises that I stole from them to teach proper breathing patterns:

The position: Lying on your back with your feet up on the wall and your knees and hips at 90° angle, squeeze a foam roller or a small medicine ball between your knees.  Dig your heels into the wall and posteriorly tilt your pelvis just enough to get tail bone slightly off the floor.  Get your right arm straight up and reach with the palm of your hand towards the ceiling.

Execution: Take a deep breath trough your nose, Blow out through your mouth as hard as possible trying to inflate the balloon as much as possible.  Blow all your air out in the balloon.  When you have no more air in your lungs, pause for about 4 seconds while pushing your tongue against the roof of your mouth (your teeth should not be clenched).  Then, breathe back in through your nose, and repeat the sequence. You can do anywhere from 5 to 10 breaths, but start on the lower end, and make sure you control everything.

Cues: Make sure that the tail bone remains slightly off the ground the whole time and the heels keep digging in the wall.  When reaching up with your right arm, you only want to reach as high as your arm will go, meaning you don’t want to lift your upper back off the ground to reach higher.  The pause with the tongue against the roof of your mouth is probably the most important step.  Do not repeat on the opposite side.

We only do it on one side because the diaphragm on the right side and on the left side are shaped and positioned differently; we want to facilitate the air going into the right side to re-position you in a more neutral position.  This is again part of the PRI philosophy that the human body is assymetrical for a host of different reasons; we have a heart on the left side above the diaphragm, we have a liver on the right side under the diaphragm, the left side of our brain manages motor control, etc.  I’m not going to get too deep in the PRI philosophy as it could be the subject of an entire different blog post, but hopefully you get the concept a little bit.

Don’t overlook breathing patterns and make sure that it’s part of your assessment protocol with everything else you assess for.

Sign up for my newsletter by entering your info below; it’s FREE and you get instant access to my 3 reports on sports performance training!

Getting Rid of Shoulder Pain in 5 Minutes

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

I’ve had a couple people come up to me recently with a nagging shoulder pain.  One of them was one of the baseball pitchers that I train during the summer who’s now in College.  He’s had a nagging pain in his throwing shoulder for the past couple of months that’s preventing him from pitching at the same intensity as he used to, and now he’s freaking out because the baseball season is starting in a couple of weeks.  The second is a good friend of mine who’s into the Crossfit thing and he was telling me one of his shoulder has been bothering him for a little bit.  They both had pain in their shoulder with either the shoulder clearing test from the FMS (baseball player) or the empty can test (Crossfit guy).

The Empty Can Test

A quick assessment of their range of motion around the shoulder showed an internal rotation deficit in the painful shoulder for both of them.  Shoulder extension wasn’t too bad in both cases and t-spine ROM was lacking a little bit in the Crossfit guy.

Instead of cranking on their range of motion and possibly forcing something that’s not there (and possibly originates somewhere else), I gave them 2 simple breathing exercises that I learned from the Postural Restoration Institute to re-establish proper diaphragm function, as well as ribs, thorax and scapulae positioning.  I also gave my Crossfit buddy a t-spine mobility and scapular stabilizer drill do to because his posture was not great.

The positioning of the diaphragm can affect all the surrounding structures

After only 5 minutes, both of them had an increased internal rotation range of motion in the painful shoulder; and I did absolutely no stretching or soft-tissue work whatsoever.  And even more importantly, their shoulder pain wasn’t there anymore with neither the FMS shoulder clearing test or the empty can test!

This is how important proper breathing patterns and diaphragm function are.  It can affect the way your shoulder, your pelvis and everything around them is positioned.  Before forcing range of motion and hammering the soft-tissue work, make sure your athletes and clients are breathing right!

If you want to learn more strategies on how to deal with shoulder pain, enter your info below to get my FREE report on Shoulder Injury Prevention!

My Top 5 Mistakes of 2011

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Everybody makes mistakes.  And if you think you’re any different and you don’t make any, you’re really kidding yourself and it’s probably time for a reality check.

We all make mistakes, whether we like to admit it or not; this is human nature.  It’s part of the learning process.  Strength and conditioning coaches are not different.  I’m no different.

This is the time of year where everybody makes resolution for the new year or highlights what they learned or changed in the last year.  I’ll give my 2011 review a different flavor by giving you my top 5 mistakes I made in the last year (or the ones that have lasted up to this past year).

1. Recommending minimalist footwear for everyone.  I wrote a whole blog post on the subject not too long ago (if you missed it you can check it out HERE).  The idea is that for too long we have restrained our feet in footwear with a lot of cushioning, big heel lifts and support all around.  That made the feet become lazy, and they stopped doing their job because they didn’t have to anymore.  But the thing is that the problem can originate somewhere else; in other words, the feet are not always the source of the problem, but rather the result from a problem originating somewhere else.  In our lifestyle in 2012, there is more than just our footwear that’s wrong.  Sedentary lifestyles, prolonged sitting, poor posture, long commute in cars, and early development in young athletes who do too much too young are all factors that can wreak havoc on our bodies.  Any of these factors (or a combination of) can lead to permanent structural changes on our bodies.  Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), femoral anteversion and retroversion and other hip problems can lead to different feet position and structural variations.

Probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have this guy run in Vibrams…

Before I digress too much, it simply means that not everyone can get away with wearing Vibram Five Fingers or New Balance Minimus all day.  I used to blindly recommend those type of shoes without assessing the person.  Let’s just say that I’m a lot more careful about it now.  As a side note, overweight and poor running mechanics are 2 other factors that would lead me to not recommend a minimalist type of shoes for physical activity.

2. Minimizing the importance of breathing.  If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you should know by now the importance I pay to breathing patterns.  I’ve blogged about that many times during the last year, and I must say that the more I learn about it, the more I realize how crucial it is with any movement pattern and for proper alignment (as a side note, I can improve your range of motion just by teaching you how to breathe; that’s how powerful it is).  The diaphragm muscles (yes, there are 2 of them) have fascial connections with the thoraco-lumbar fascia which in turn connects with the psoas (that attaches on the spine) and the hips.

Because of that, proper diaphragm function and proficient breathing patterns are essential for optimal posture and positioning through various movement patterns.  Ineffective use of the diaphragm muscles could lead to hyperextension of the thoraco-lumbar region, faulty positioning of the hips and plenty of other problems all the way up and down the chain.  This is something I coach a lot now, and it has made a huge difference on our athletes at Endeavor.  If you’re not familiar with proper breathing patterns and diaphragm function, I suggest you take a look at the PRI stuff (Postural Restoration Institute).

3. Mismanaging training volumes and intensities.  Whether it is in my own training or the ones of my athletes, I think I have not always been good at managing fatigue and recovery.  On paper, training volumes always look well managed, but the reality is that it goes far bey0nd that.  For one, if you always go balls to the walls when you train and push yourself the the very limit every training session lifting maximal weights and pushing lactic conditioning ’til you puke, chances are you won’t recover properly even if the planned training volume for the week is moderate.  The other thing is that there are a lot of other factors that factors in the equation (quantity and quality of sleep, nutrition, other sports and activities outside of the gym, the party factor, etc).  Whether you like it or not, there aren’t that many athletes that won’t take some time to enjoy life during their off-season, which usually means spending a day at the beach not eating too well (or enough) or have a late night and a couple of beers once in a while.  In their off-season, athletes not only need a physical break from their sport, but a mental one as well.  Nothing wrong with that, as long as they keep it in check and don’t overdo it.  It struck me this past summer when we had one of our pro hockey player return to Endeavor after a very long season in which his team ended up winning the Stanley Cup.  First of all he came back from his team mid to late June, almost 2 months later than all the other guys, but he was also way more beat up physically and mentally.  It was apparent that even after almost 10 days completely off, he just didn’t have the wheels he had the previous off-season (which started in April the year before- that’s a big difference).  He took more days off from training than the previous off-season and the number of days he showed up hungry to get after it were definitely not as frequent.  The off-season is not only about getting ready for the upcoming season, but also recovering from the previous one, especially if it was a very long and excruciating one.  This is where HRV measurement tools are gonna come in handy; it allows you to measure physical and nervous system fatigue and you can manage fatigue and recovery so much better.  And that technology is becoming available to us.  I blogged about this before.

4. Aerobic training is not the evil I thought it was.  I always stood up against aerobic training for team sports because it’s simply not the way most sports are played.  After trying to prove my point for years, and I am starting to realize certain things.  I still don’t think I was wrong about the fact that long slow pace aerobic training is not specific to sports, but I’m starting to realize that the pendulum may just have swung too far.

The aerobic system plays a huge role in recovery for the lactic and alactic systems and a decent amount of the energy produced in a team sports setting will come from the aerobic system.  It still doesn’t mean that you should go for hour long jogs 4-5 times a week to get ready for your hockey season, but there just might be a place for steady state aerobics in a yearly training plan after all.

5. Not enough external rotation based rotator cuff exercises for my baseball players.  With the importance of scapular stability, t-spine mobility, breathing patterns and working the rotator cuff in a stability role, I will admit that I neglected external rotation based exercises a little bit last off-season with my baseball players.

Shoulder injury prevention is about much more than just external rotation exercises, but it might have been another pendulum that swung too far for me because I haven’t done much of it with my baseball pitchers last off-season.  The reality is that the external rotators of the shoulder still need to decelerate the crazy velocity of internal rotation that occurs at the shoulder in a pitching motion (over 7,000°/sec), so it’s still specific to do direct external rotation work with baseball pitchers, so these muscles become better at decelerating the internal rotation.

Those are the mistakes I’ve made this past year.  What are the mistakes you’ve made during the last year?

And don’t forget to sign up for my FREE newsletter!