Over the past few years, the importance of proper breathing has really been embraced by many coaches and trainers, myself included. I continually see dramatic changes in people after changing breathing mechanics. I’ve seen drastic mobility changes within minutes. Actually let me retract that statement. I’ve seen drastic changes in seconds, not minutes, after changing the breath. The results don’t always happen that quickly, but the immediate changes I’ve seen by changing the breath and rib cage position is nothing to tread lightly over.
There are numerous breathing drills you can work on. There are some quality drills that can be done using balloons, and other tools to help restore proper breathing mechanics. However, my favorite drills are extremely easy to use and require little to no set up time to perform properly. I’m going to cover my top 3 breathing drills and when I use them:
- Crocodile Breathing– Lie on your belly with your forehead in your hands. Get comfortable and try to relax. Since you’re on the floor, you will be able to use that as a sensory tool to ensure you’re doing this drill right. The floor will provide a proprioceptive feedback to let you feel your belly breathing into the floor. Many people will start by feeling the majority of the breath through the chest with minimal movement within the abdominal midsection. Start to learn “belly breathing” in this position. However, you should not only focus on breathing into the belly. You should be striving to fill up the belly, oblique’s, low back, and lungs. You should be thinking about getting wide with each breath…360 degrees every time. Another thing I’ve used with teaching this would be applying a very lightly tightened weight belt. You can work on filing up the entire belt with each breath. Just like the floor, the belt provides the body with feedback to “feel” if you are breathing wide or not.
- 3 Month Breathing– Lie on your back and bend your knees with your feet off the floor. Your hips and knees will be flexed with your feet off the ground. This allows the hips to tilt posteriorly. That is one of the things I really like about this type of breathing. It’s a great tool to use if someone has a natural anterior hip tilt or “lower-crossed syndrome”. You should think about keeping the spine nice and long with your ribs down and chin tucked. This will allow the spine to be as long as possible. The challenge will be holding this position while breathing properly. Just like the crocodile breathing drill, you should be thinking about breathing wide. You should be trying to fill up the oblique’s and low back with each breath, and the pelvis should not rotate either. We want to take each breath by getting wide with a neutral pelvis and long spine. If you have to go into a high threshold strategy to hold this position, place the feet on a stability ball or a wall to help assist holding the legs off the floor. It’s alright for it to be challenging, but you should be able to develop a smooth and natural breath while holding the position. Start with the wall and progress as you get better.
- Child’s Pose Breathing- If you’re familiar with yoga at all, then you’ve probably seen this one. The child’s pose is done by sitting back on your heels with your toes plantarflexed, knees tucked, heels on your butt, and your chest tucked into your knees with your hands overhead. I really like to use this one if someone struggles with getting air into the low back with either the crocodile breath or the 3 month breath. The child pose position allows you to close off the ribs with your knees, and this really helps force air into the low back to stretch the paraspinals with each breath. This is a good one for an individual really stuck in an extended posture. Getting into some major flexion and controlling a breath will be a challenge, but will be useful in getting the posture back in line.
Now that we’ve covered my top 3 drills, what about the timing and when to incorporate these drills into your routine? Honestly, these are quality drills that can, and should, be done as frequently as possible. A heavy majority of people in today’s society are anxiety ridden, stressed to the max, and their bodies are in a state of constant fight or flight. Incorporating breathing and meditation into your routine can dramatically improve your performance in the gym, not to mention the positive carryover it will have into your everyday life. Here are the most common times I work on breathing in my training routines:
- After Foam Rolling– I like to get a minute or two of solid breathing to set each workout up for success. I usually have my clients perform a breathing drill for 10-20 breaths after performing soft tissue work. So they will foam roll, breathe, and then move on to mobility work and your dynamic warm-up from there.
- Incorporate into Superset or Tri-set– I like to throw these in supersets and tri-sets. I use a breathing drill with our major strength and power lifts. I will superset a power clean, a squat, deadlift, or other major lift with breathing drill. Don’t be surprised to see your numbers start to go up either. I’ve seen some killer results in strength gains from incorporating breathing drills.
- After the workout– Breathing drills will help drive the parasympathetic nervous system. We want to get this system rolling after a workout to enhance recovery and regeneration. Finishing each workout with 20-25 breaths is a no-brainer.
- Before Bed– This is usually the toughest one for people to comply with; however, the one’s that do will reap the benefits. I’ve seen drastic changes with clients that have done this. Their whole demeanor seems to change. They seem to just “let go”. You can see the stress their body has been holding on to just melt away. If you’re determined to get better, give this one a shot.