By Hannah Alderfer, BA, CPT, FMCS
When was the last time you thought about the way you breathe…especially during exercise? When you are working out, maybe your only thought is “I need more oxygen ASAP!” But did you know that most adults have trained their bodies to breathe improperly? Watch a resting infant “belly breathe,” utilizing the diaphragm to inhale and exhale. Their bellies rise and fall with each breath. They are deep and slow breaths. They take full advantage of their lungs by using the diaphragm to draw in the most amount of oxygen possible.
Most adults, however, breathe using their chest, expanding the rib cage, and using more energy, smaller muscles, and taking quicker, shallower breaths. This type of breathing can lead to a variety of issues, including poor core stability, chronic neck and shoulder pain, and possibly running-related injuries (for those who run).
The diaphragm has two roles in the body: breathing and core stabilization. It works in unison with other core muscles (the transverse abdominis and the pelvic floor muscles) to produce the stabilization your spine needs to move properly through intra-abdominal pressure. When a person becomes a chest breather (not a belly breather) other muscles must be recruited. Muscles in the neck (scalenes) shorten, the head is pushed forward craning the neck, the upper back begins to round, and the scapula begin to wing to the sides. It becomes the classic elderly person hunch, which results in a variety of postural problems and eventually pain points. It can result in possible injury during exercise because your body chooses to breathe from the chest (and not the diaphragm) leaving the core unstable. You might end up with chronic neck pain, shoulder tightness, or low back ache.
So how do you know whether you are a belly breather or a chest breather and how do you learn to breathe right again?
- Check your natural posture. Do you tend to push your head forward? Is your upper back rounded? Do you hunch your shoulders? If so, you might be breathing improperly.
- Do a breath test. Either lying on your back or seated in a chair, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Have someone watch your hands. Breathe naturally for a few breaths. If the hand on your chest rises first, you are a chest breather. If the hand on your belly rises first, you are a belly breather.
- Breathe right again. Practice proper breathing by beginning on the floor on your back. Focus on using your belly as you draw air in and push it out. It might help to place your hand on your belly as you do this so you can see and feel it rising and falling. Practice this each night before bed and you’ll not only be retraining your body to breathe right but also helping your body relax before bed!
Learn to Breathe The Right Way