Welcome to my second blog post with CF1827! This week we are going to talk a little bit about our breathing, how it differs from respiration and the effect it has on our training and recovery!
I'm going to say that 99% of you go about your day without thinking about your breath and the function of the respiratory system in general. Respiration is an interesting function. It has an autonomic function (which is just a fancy way of saying you don't do it consciously) where the brain receives signals from the body and adjusts accordingly. You don't have to think about blood oxygen levels or demands, your brain just does it for you. However, it also has a voluntary aspect to it. We can choose to control how often we inhale, exhale, the duration of each etc. This to me, however, is what I call breathing.
Breathing should typically be done using our primary breathing muscle: the diaphragm. Some recruitment from secondary breathing muscles such as the SCM, Scalenes, Levator Scapula, Upper Traps as well as others, is normal in high exertion exercises that require deeper, faster breathing. However, people tend to make this the norm. These secondary muscles start to overwork while the diaphragm underworks.
Changing the way and the rate at which we breathe or respirate can have dramatic effect on the body. In practice, I use diaphragmatic breathing techniques (just like it sounds: encourage breathing using the diaphragm) to down-regulate my clients and increase parasympathetic nervous system firing. This activates the "rest and digest" aspect of our nervous system and helps us recover better from our workouts and is a great form of stress management. It changes hormone profiles in the body and encourages parasympathetic function such as digestion, defecation, sexual arousal etc. It is also great for pain management. Pain, as we are discovering, is relative to the bodies input from several factors. Stress, or sympathetic nervous system firing, plays a large role in our pain sensitivity. For example, if we know sexual arousal is Parasympathetic in nature, would it be agreeable that during sexual intercourse we feel less back pain? Or perhaps our ankle stops hurting for the time being? I bet if you think about your pain next time you're with your partner, you will notice less pain. So give diaphragmatic breathing a shot on a regular basis and see if you can notice any benefits from it!
On the other hand, breath has a performance aspect to it. We need to recruit our breath for those times when we want to be in a Parasympathetic or "fight or flight" state. First, we can use the breath to create power and efficiency. To do this, we have to harness stability and force from the centre out. What is the centre you ask? Well, I think everyone is familiar with the term "core". To me, our core is the cylinder which is 360 degrees around the abdomen of our body, with a top and bottom to it. This would include the Tranverse Abdominis, Rectus Abdominis, Internal and External Obliques, Thoracolumbar Fascia, Pelvic Floor and the Diaphragm. I imagine most of you reading this have workouts that target your abdominals, your obliques and your back, but how many of you focus on training the other muscles listed? Since we're taking about breath, lets leave the pelvic floor to a pelvic specialist who knows 1000x more than I do about that area. Practicing engaging the diaphragm in different positions will allow you to create that intra-abdominal pressure and allow you to create and receive force more productively and safely.
Protect the low back!
Statistically, 4 out of 5 people will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime. One of the best ways is to protect this low back with not only strength, but that core engagement using the diaphragm and the breath to stabilize. If you've ever had back pain, think back to the time you injured yourself. Too commonly, someone who can deadlift 400lbs hurts their back bending over to tie their shoe, not lifting 400lbs. Why? Because we tend not to brace our cores when bending over to tie your shoes. Strength through our built in "weight belts" and engagement of the diaphragm can help save your back.
Other key points of diaphragm and breathing dysfunction include:
Increase tension in secondary breathing muscles. Tightness leads to inefficiency.
Loss of endurance. Secondary breathing muscles will fatigue faster.
Compromise Thoracic spine mobility
Other muscles making up the “core’ will compensate and become hypertonic and dysfunctional.
So, there you go. If you want to be the best athlete you can be, start with practicing your breathing. It takes 5 minutes and is a great way to end your workout.
Join us tonight, Thursday October 26th, at Crossfit 1827 as we show you how to breathe optimally, challenge the breath in different positions and even have a quick little breathing workout!